As Illinois State Rep. Mike Unes prepares to retire, two Pekinites are vying to fill his seat in the state’s 91st District.

The winner will serve a two-year term representing the district that includes East Peoria, much of Pekin, the southern portion of Peoria County, and part of Fulton County including Canton.

The race between Republican Mark Luft and Democrat Josh Grys will be something of a referendum on the value of prior political experience. Luft served on the Pekin City Council from 2015 to 2019, when he was elected to his current position as the city’s mayor.

"It’s given me a great outlook and education on political processes and what it takes to get things done," said Luft. "I work with others in the Tri-County area to make improvements not only to the community of Pekin, but to our entire region as a whole."

Conversely, Grys’ bid for the 91st District seat marks the first time he has run for public office. His experience as a teacher gave him a chance to observe Illinois’ education system firsthand, and his observations inspired his interest in politics.

"As a teacher, I realized the system was not working for educators, as well as for students and parents in many cases," Grys said. "We need to update the way the education system operates and move our schools into 21st century education programs. By reviewing what the most successful countries in the world do with their education systems, I believe that we can improve the schools in Illinois to provide a better experience for all parties."

In addition to education reform, Grys added that his key issues are health care and the state’s economy. Believing that all citizens have a right to easily accessible quality health care, he supports U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ "Medicare for all" policy and plans to use it as a guide to expand Illinois’ Medicare programs. He also asserted that Illinois’ elected officials need to work hard to create more job opportunities and he would like to see the state’s minimum wage increased to a livable wage for all workers.

"No one should work full-time or multiple jobs, and still live a life below the poverty level," Grys said. "We need to continue to improve these plans for the future as well. Providing $15 an hour for minimum wage is a start. But we need to implement a standard raise increase that increases with inflation so businesses can plan on this."

Should voters send him to Springfield in the November election, Luft plans to push for ethics reform and for the lowering of property taxes. In its 2020 Property Taxes by State Report, the personal finance website WalletHub listed Illinois’ property taxes as the second-highest in the nation — a situation that Luft described as "unacceptable."

"They are way too high and we’ve lost a lot of people from this state due to that," he added. "There has been a continued process in Springfield of bills to lower property taxes, but by the time they reach leadership, they’ve either been put on the back burner or killed. That’s an issue we desperately need to address."

Luft said that the pursuit of legislation specific to the 91st District will depend on input he receives from municipalities in the area. However, he has gained networking experience that will be valuable in gauging and addressing area communities’ wants and needs. His seat on the Heart of Illinois Mayors Commission puts him in frequent contact with 28 area mayors and village presidents. He has also met frequently with such entities as Pekin’s Economic Development Board, chambers of commerce from communities within the district and school boards.

"The network and the relationships are very important in order to educate yourself in what specifics (communities) need and what you need to do to get it for them," said Luft.

Legislation affecting central Illinois that Grys would like to see passed includes the expansion of U.S. Route 24 to four lanes from Peoria to Canton — which is included in the state’s current capital bill. Like Luft, he intends to establish and maintain close relationships with communities within the 91st District.

"I would like to stay in close contact with the city leaders within our district so I can be a conduit for them in Springfield," he said. "I want to work closely with our local leaders to help secure the funds and grants that we need to make our cities more successful for the people of the district."

Both candidates expressed a commitment to working with legislators of other parties. Two years ago, Grys had considered running for state representative as an Independent because he wanted to work in an impartial fashion with both major parties. After the difficulty he encountered getting on the ballot as an Independent, however, he chose to run as a Democrat because he sees himself as more socially progressive than the Republican Party’s platform would allow. He plans to be mindful of his responsibility to represent all of the 91st District’s citizens and will work with any representative, Democrat or Republican, promoting legislation he feels is beneficial to those citizens.

"We need to bring respect and dignity back to politics," Grys stated. "We have grown in division over the past 10 years in a way that I don’t believe I have ever seen before. I believe the people of our district are sick and tired of the hate and division we are seeing."

Luft said that, when holding office at the municipal level, it was not necessary to declare a party, which encouraged him to set partisan politics aside and work as a member of a team to move agendas forward. He acknowledged that there will always be some difference in priorities between the two parties, but stated that quality of life for Illinois residents should be a primary concern for all legislators.

"There has been a major separation, unfortunately, that should not be there," Luft added. "All of us have jobs to do, whether at the community level or the state and federal level. We still all have an obligation to work for the community, for the district, for the state and for the country as a whole."

via Journal Star

October 5, 2020 at 06:52AM