52nd State Senate Candidates Assess Role of Government
By Jim Meadows
The candidates running in Illinois’ 52nd State Senate race list many of the same basic responsibilities of state government ---- public safety, maintaining infrastructure, education and aid to the poor and destitute. However, there are nuanced differences between Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) and John Bambenek (R-Champaign).
For example, Bambenek talks about how too much government regulation can create a bad climate for business.
“Many of the business owners as I’ve traveled this district say, ‘You know, I get one regulation that I must do X from this agency,’” Bambenek said. “This other agency says, I must do Y, and I can’t do both.’ But they’re both telling me that I need to do this or I’m going to get fined or shut down.”
Bambanek contended state government’s mistakes lie in over-doing things --- over-regulating businesses, requiring licenses for too many professions ---- and in particular, over-taxing and over-spending.
Sen. Frerichs names perks for politicians as one item for which the state should not be spending money. But he is reluctant to name other specific areas where state government should cut back its involvement.
Instead, Frerichs names an area where he wants to make funding a priority --- higher education --- both for the institutions themselves, and for student financial aid. He said it is not just because his Senate district includes the University of Illinois, but because a college education can transform lives.
“You see people like me, who grew up in Gifford, Illinois, my family wasn’t very wealthy,” Frerichs said. “But I was able to afford college, thanks to guaranteed loans and financial aid. And I just see as tuition costs increase year after year, above the rate of inflation, eventually you’re going to have kids priced out. They’re not going to have access to this.”
At a time when bitter partisan wrangling has become the best-known feature of politics, both Frerichs and Bambanek say they understand the need for compromise.
Bambanek points to the legislature’s failure to approve state pension reform legislation as an example of politicians failing to make the switch from campaigning to governing.
“We’ve known for years and said for years, you know, we need to do something about this,” Bambanek said. “And instead of working together, there was political posturing. And now you’re going to see probably a pension bill that’s going to be voted on in a lame duck session by legislators who have already lost election or are not running for reelection, who are going to vote, who are not accountable to those voters. I think that shows some dysfunction.”
Bambanek blames the dysfunction largely on the legislative leaders.
He said if elected, he would make it clear to Republicans in the Senate that he will only support leaders committed to truly addressing the state’s economic problems.
Frerichs said he saw legislative leaders reaching across party-lines to make necessary agreements to cut the budget, but he said those compromises were mostly made in the Illinois House, not the Senate.
In his own chamber, Frerichs said he sees more senators being elected who cater to their conservative base, refuse to compromise and don’t actually get anything done.
”And I guess if you believe that government can’t do anything for anyone, you might not appreciate that,” Frerichs said. “But most of my constituents really believe the government has a role in society. They don’t think it’s the answer to all of our problems, but the government can help out, provide a hand-up and smooth out some of the problems in our society. And those are the people who are really hurt by this sort of ‘my way or the highway approach.”
Both Frerichs and Bambanek say they are not one of those “my way or the highway” politicians, and are ready to work with the other party in a practical way to get the state’s business done.