Illinois Environmental Issues on the 2016 Ballot: Sparknotes Guide

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Good afternoon intrepid voters—election day is right around the corner (good lord let it not be so), and I know you are well versed in every single candidate and their stances on important Illinois environmental issues (and other issues) What’s that? You’re not sure who everyone is on the ballot and what they stand for? Well since I myself am a voter (and am also sheepish to admit I’m cramming for the election) I am writing this guide as much for myself as for you. 

There are many, many excellent resources out there to make yourself familiar with each and every position you are voting for, including the beautiful team at ballotready.org, who’ve made the most user-friendly guide we’ve found for organizing and understanding who’s up for election. Please do check out their website for all the issues and values most important to you. Every vote counts. Every piece of information counts. Try as they might, the electoral college cannot wrest the democratic process (entirely) from our hands. This is especially true of local government, where people are less likely to ensure candidates represent their interests, but where changes can be felt next door: in our parks, schools, water, taxes etc.

President of The United States: Just don’t vote for Trump.

U.S. Senate

Tammy Duckworth (D): Supports the suppression of noise pollution at O’Hare airport (a boon to local wildlife), the Paris Climate Change agreement and the development of Biofuels at the Department of Defense.

Mark Kirk (R): Incumbent Mark Kirk is a republican who believes in anthropogenic caused climate change and has denounced Trump. He supports keeping the Great Lakes fresh and clean. However, he has also made a variety of obtuse comments, including a recent racist snipe at opponent Tammy Duckworth.

Comptroller: Someone who manages the state’s finances; a state accountant and chief financial officer.

Susan Mendoza (D): You can’t talk about environmental issues without talking about animals. And beyond the idea of domesticated pets, there is something to the broader idea that our furry pals help us foster and maintain an emotional connection to the natural world and its stewardship. As City Clerk, Mendoza worked to shut off the puppy mill pipeline, prohibiting pet stores from selling animals obtained from abusive practices.

Tim Curtin (G): Curtin wants to hold Illinois accountable for balancing its budget and funding public education. Since public education facilities are often the site of green programs, greenhouses, rooftop gardens etc, his agenda and position might confer to produce some valuable results for Illinois environmental issues.

Leslie Munger (R): Munger is all about accountability in tax dollars, and launched a website to track it (Open Book) and required front level politicians to wait in line with all other state funded workers for paychecks. While she doesn’t seem to have an overt stance on Illinois environmental issues, Munger’s track record with tax payer dollars does initiate some hope that she will streamline unnecessary spending, working to balance the budget for education and public welfare.

Claire Ball (L): No specific information available.

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner (6 year term): This department deals with water going in and out of Chicago in the form of running water, storm water, sewage, filtration and all of those very important things that relate to daily water usage. There are a lot of candidates on this ballot for the 3 available seats.

Mariyana T. Spyropoulos (D): As incumbent, Mariyana brings a legal background to her role which is always a good thing. She champions the Stormwater Master Plan, which supports addressing existing flooding issues with green infrastructure over additional pipes: filtering runoff through gardens, cisterns and permeable pavement.

Barbara McGowan (D): In terms of Illinois environmental issues McGowan is a clear rockstar. With a proven track record of supporting multiple green initiatives, including my personal dream of making all Chicago waterways clean enough to swim in. The MWRD is Cook County’s second largest land owner, and McGowan supports MWRD vetting tenants to make sure they uphold environmental values. She’s also working to use biological processes for wastewater treatment, removing chemicals from the water supply.

Karen Roothan (G): Roothan believes the most important cause in water treatment is testing water for heavy metals, hormones and other contaminants, whether its coming out of our faucets or turning our frogs into some weird sci-fi experiment. She’s also a member of the Green party so it’s pretty clear where she stands on environmental protection; but we must say almost all of the MWRD candidates and incumbents are excellent picks from this lens.

Josina Morita (D): Morita is a bonafide urban planner, which will no doubt give her valuable insight into how to manage the earth’s most precious resource. She also holds a Masters in Public Policy and has been awarded for her fight against poverty and racism. As we know from experience, the burden of contaminated air, water and soil often fall disproportionately on the poor and disenfranchised, so Josina’s background will no doubt bring her valuable perspective to Illinois environmental issues.

Michael Smith (G): Smith brings his law enforcement and community action background to the plate, which he claims the MWRD needs after scandal abounded in its policing. Smith wants to squash corruption in this large, tax-payer funded entity while protecting the environment and moving ahead on various projects that were supposed to be finished long ago.

George Milkowski (G): Supports Rain Barrel program. Rain barrels are so easy and so effective, using extra water to water plants, wash cars, etc instead of taking it from a hose.

Cook County State’s Attorney: This position is responsible for properly interpreting and enforcing all state laws.

Kim Foxx (D): Foxx supports prosecuting corporations who violate environmental business guidelines and skip fees and fines, as opposed to letting them carry on. She is endorsed by Illinois environmental issues star Barbara McGowan, so that certainly says something!

Christopher E. K. Pfannkuche (R): No specific information available.

Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court: With these local level candidates, especially within the court system, it’s sometimes tough to parse out “green specific” information since their job and political platform don’t demand it.

Dorothy Brown (D): Despite lacking overt eco tones on her resume, Brown has worked tirelessly to update old and inefficient software, implement e-filing for important documents and forms, do away with carbon paper (seriously City of Chicago?!) and has created a whole bunch of online payment systems for users to deal with traffic fines and request court dates. Most importantly, Brown installed information kiosks at Crimanl/Felony, Juvenile Justice and Child Protection Services to look up information quickly and efficiently. Yes it saves paper and ink, time and money, but it also keeps valuable information about family, crime and custody from being lost in a bureaucratic tangle.

Diane Shapiro (R): Shapiro is serious about streamlining spending and is willing to offer 10% of her salary back to the city. She wants to eliminate chauffeurs from carting her and other officials around, insisting that her idea of a chauffeur is “a CTA bus driver”. As a champion for public transportation over wasteful individual car commutes (especially in traffic ridden downtown) this is music to our ears.

Transportation: (From Matt below)

Illinois Transportation Taxes and Fees Lockbox Amendment (aka ‘Safe Roads Amendment’, because, yeah, who doesn’t like safe roads): Did you think the term ‘lockbox’ died with Al Gore’s failed presidential bid in 2000? Nope, it’s back and gracing the top of our ballot in Illinois this election day. Simply put, a ‘Yes’ vote on the amendment (support must exceed 60% for the measure to pass) means you support requiring the State legislature to use all funds collected from transportation related taxes and fees only on transportation related projects.

While this may sound like a good thing, I am voting No. The passing of this amendment will hamstring state politicians from maneuvering money in the budget to things like schools, law enforcement, health care, pensions, emergencies, and other needs. And while now might seem like a good time for an amendment like this, with a deadlocked battle between a governor and legislature unable to pass a long term budget, this would limit the ability of the State to shift money during a disaster or recession. While I am, of course, supportive of transportation spending on public transit, bicycle infrastructure, and repair of bridges and I am not in favor of transportation spending on unnecessary new expressways (Illiana) or widening of existing highways to accommodate more cars. There is no requirement in the amendment that the State only fund good transportation projects, so there is no guarantee that money will be spent to benefit all Illinoisans. A better strategy for voters would be to elect state representatives that prioritize green infrastructure and public transit spending over other types of transportation spending.

As a side note, the supporters of this amendment have spent $3,751,640 to date in campaign contributions, the opposition has spent $0.