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Illinois House of Representatives Minority Leader, Representative Tom Cross
Representative Tom Cross has served the 84th District of Illinois for eight terms, since 1992. He was elected as the Minority Leader of the Illinois House of Representatives in 2003. Currently, his top priorities in this legislative session are to create jobs as well as protect families in one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression. Representative Cross has pushed legislation to combat foreclosures, lower taxes, reform medical malpractice and prevent raids on Illinois’s pension systems. He is a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and Cumberland Law School.
Why did you decide to enter public service? What advice do you have for teenagers who aspire to be elected officials one day?
Serving the public has always been one of my personal and professional goals. My government service began while working as a prosecutor in the Kendall County State’s Attorney’s office. During that time, it became clear that becoming a state representative would allow me to further the goals and needs of our local community.
It is important for teenagers to take an interest in politics and public service. The last election showed our nation’s youth can have an impact on the political climate and culture. No matter what field of study or professional aspirations you have, one of the most important things you should do is register to vote. It is not only important to register, but to also take an active part in understanding the policy positions put forth by elected officials and those aspiring to run for office. Most elected officials begin their career at the local levels such as running for the school board or other municipal, township, or county types of offices. Be aware of the various opportunities for those who want to service as an elected official. There are more types of government in Illinois than in any other state in the nation, so tremendous opportunities exist.
How does one work up to becoming the leader of a caucus in a particular legislative chamber?
A caucus leader is elected by his/her peers in each chamber of the General Assembly. History shows that most caucus leaders have served as a member of their respective chambers for a number of terms while gaining seniority, committee assignments, and other leadership posts within the caucus. Every two years, each of the four caucuses meets to elect its leaders to service two-year terms. It is important to remember that each leader is elected by the voters of his/her district to a state representative or senate seat, then the other representatives or senators vote on the caucus leader. It is important for a caucus leader to have a statewide and not merely a regional perspective.
Could you give some background information on the current budget gridlock gripping Illinois and what House Republicans are proposing to do about it?
At the time these questions are being answered, a budget for the FY10 fiscal year has been enacted. However, that does not mean that the state’s fiscal problems have been solved. One of the main problems is that over the last six years, the state has literally borrowed and spent too much money. The gridlock has been caused because the same members who moved forward with the reckless borrowing and spending proposals have also proposed raising taxes to maintain these irresponsible spending habits. House Republicans stand ready to be full partners in solving our budget problems, but not until every dollar of state spending has been reviewed to ensure that our taxpayer dollars are being utilized in a cost-efficient manner. Further, there needs to be substantial changes in the way that the state runs/operates programs, funds our pension system, and spends federal stimulus money.
One of the key areas to watch over the next two years is how the state utilizes the federal stimulus dollars that were provided to them by President Obama’s stimulus plan. These federal stimulus dollars were designed to be a temporary infusion of dollars to help the state’s and other local governments get through difficult financial times, but it is concerning that these funds are being used to expand current programs which will create additional state pressures once these funds have been exhausted.
Speaker of the Illinois House, Michael Madigan, is famous for his power in Illinois politics. Can you explain how he is able to keep the rank-and-file in line with whatever he wants?
Speaker Madigan has held his current position for almost 30 years. One of the ways he has maintained control for so long is because of the way that Illinois reapportions its legislative districts every ten years. That process is broken and it has been my goal to implement a reapportionment (redistricting process) that is fair and balanced to make districts more balanced and open to substantial competition which will only increase the power of the individual voter and minimize the power of career politicians.
Prior to 1980, there were multi-member districts in the Illinois House, in which three members were elected per district. Through a process called cumulative voting, voters could spread three votes between three candidates (such as voting three times for one candidate, one and a half times for two candidates, etc.) It was ensured that one of the representatives from each district would be a member of the minority party. However, when 1980’s Cutback Amendment was approved, multi-member districts and cumulative voting was abolished and replaced by the single-member districts in place today. The Illinois House has shrunk from 177 members to 118. How has the Cutback Amendment affected Illinois politics, specifically in the House, and do you think multi-member districts should be reinstated?
The Cutback Amendment was passed with good intentions to downsize government. Unfortunately, as we discussed earlier, the results of eliminating two-party representation in every part of the state has done noting more than centralize the control of the General Assembly to a few defined individuals. This centralized control needs to change and one of the fundamental reforms that is needed is a fair and balanced redistricting process. The last three legislative maps that have been drawn have been finalized by a random process such as flipping a coin or drawing a name out of a hat. Not only is this a reform proposal that has my support, but recently the Illinois Reform Commission that was created by Governor Pat Quinn and chaired by Patrick Collins, a former prosecutor, made the same recommendation. It is my goal to pass this needed reform.
Medicaid is considered ‘out-of-control’ in Illinois, with some research going as far as to say that one out of two births and two out of every three nursing home residents are covered by Medicaid. What do you propose we do to solve this burgeoning problem?
There is no doubt that the growth of Illinois’s Medicaid program continues to outplace inflation and state revenues. This is partially due to the fact that various expansions to this program that were mandated by federal and state governments have not come with dedicated revenue streams. We need to examine ways to provide Medicaid services in a more efficient manner, such as requiring managed care recipients to enroll in HMOs or other managed care programs.
With that, expanding Medicaid is also a central theme of President Obama’s health care reform bill that is being negotiated in Congress. While the press reports that the President’s plan will provide insurance to all, it is concerning that one of the ways that his plan intends to accomplish is by further expanding eligibility for Medicaid programs. States generally have to cover half the cost of all Medicaid programs, so in a time when state revenues are declining, it is also of concern that the federal government might place an additional burden on our state budget. This has to be monitored closely.
In December, Illinois was rocked upside down with the charges of corruption against former Governor Rod Blagojevich. Did you see this coming at any time during the former governor’s tenure?
The day former Governor Blagojevich was arrested was a sad in Illinois’s political history. No one could have predicted what day he was going to be arrested or ultimately impeached, but the level of federal scrutiny that had been made public about the former governor’s actions and his close associates that had been arrested and convicted it became evident that the former governor was going to have some serious legal issues facing him.
What has been your greatest legislative accomplishment so far?
Serving the residents of my local area has been my proudest legislative achievement. The 84th district comprises some of the fastest growing communities in the county and it has been necessary to provide the infrastructure and development goals to make sure our communities continue to flourish. Some of my great accomplishments have been reform in ethics and the death penalty as well as fighting childhood obesity and working on preventing and curing type I and II diabetes.