Rep. Lou Lang is no stranger to controversy in the state House, though disputes with an opponent will be hard to find on the campaign trail since he is running unopposed in the 16th District.
The Democratic candidate has fought for hundreds of bills during his more than two decades in Springfield. In 2009, he introduced one of his more controversial proposals in HB 2514, also known as the medical marijuana bill, which would alter Illinois' current medical marijuana statute passed in the 1970s. However, the legislation has since stalled in the House's Rules Committee.
Like his legislative efforts, Lang isn't taking anything for granted. Despite the absence of a challenger, he is taking the campaign seriously and taking what some may consider unpopular stands.
Among them is he wants people to stop voting for candidates based on party labels. The only way for people to bring about change in their districts is through voting, the incumbent said.
The 16th District, which includes Skokie, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles Township and portions of northern Chicago, first elected Lang into office in 1987. Since then, he has risen through the ranks to become assistant majority leader and has been an advocate for senior citizens, women's rights, education and the working class.
Though he now lives in Skokie with his wife Teri and has raised five children, Lang grew up in Chicago. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor's in political science and obtained a doctorate in law from DePaul University.
As part of Patch's Election 2010 coverage, Lang sat down with us recently for a question-and-answer session. Some of the responses may have been edited and condensed for length and clarity reasons.
Patch: What strengths, expertise and skills do you have that would enable you to show leadership in this office?
Lou Lang: During my 23 years in the Illinois House, I have moved up the leadership ranks. I've served as the floor leader, the assistant majority leader and as deputy majority leader. I know what's going on in the House because most bills must go through my office. I've also served on a variety of committees and task forces.
Patch: In what way should the state of Illinois pay its bills and balance its budget?
Lou Lang: We do not do a good job of paying our bills. The national recession has hurt us all. The state did not set aside money for a rainy day and figuratively speaking, it's raining now and because of that, the people of Illinois have suffered.
People say we need to make more cuts but we've already cut $3 billion from the budget, and so most of the fat has been trimmed already. We'll continue to cut where we can, but that alone will not close the deficit. I would support a temporary income tax [hike] to help raise revenues, not because I want to but because I feel we need to.
As the national economy improves, so will Illinois' and so we could then eliminate the temporary tax increase.
Patch: Does the state have to consider raising taxes? What would you do with the revenue?
Lou Lang: I would only support a temporary income tax. We already pay so much in property and sales taxes.
We need to prioritize where we spend our money. I feel that the priorities should be in education and human services first. And these are areas in which I oppose cuts to.
Patch: If the state doesn't need a tax increase, where would you cut spending?
Lou Lang: I feel we need a temporary income tax [hike] to increase revenues, and we should continue to cut spending where we can. However, with a deficit in the billions of dollars, it's really difficult to find any other programs to cut. Even cuts in the hundreds of millions of dollars would hardly make a dent in the deficit.
Our biggest expenditures are in education and human services and I'm not about to make cuts there unless someone can find some wasteful spending there.
Patch: What would you favor to create jobs in Illinois?
Lou Lang: I already chair the Illinois House Job Creation Task Force and so I am leading the effort to find ways to create jobs in the state. There are many ways to create jobs but it can't be done without attracting businesses to the state first.
In order to do that, we need to cut the red tape in government that makes it difficult for businesses to set up shop in Illinois. For instance, it takes longer to obtain business permits in Illinois than in the surrounding states and so businesses go elsewhere.
We must entice business to come to Illinois by offering tax incentives as well as low-interest loans. I support a review of all tax incentive programs and permitting procedures to make them more effective and attractive to businesses and investors.
Patch: How would you retain businesses in Illinois, and attract new businesses?
Once we are able to bring in businesses into the state, we must do what we can to keep them here. We need to help them grow. Businesses need state support and creativity to keep them going.
Patch: What measures do you endorse to end Illinois' culture of corruption? Would you support campaign disclosure laws? (Note: Illinois has some of the weakest laws in the nation on what it requires elected officials to disclose.)
Lou Lang: We have already passed some finance reform laws in Illinois but there's still much more work to do. Illinois won't be the Wild West anymore. We'll still be the West, just not the Wild West.
I support campaign finance reforms but I'd also like to see limits on campaign expenditures. When a campaign is limited on how much they can spend, it helps level the playing field for everyone. Millionaires and candidates supported by big businesses would no longer be able to buy their way into office.
Transparency is also a big issue. We must do more to show Illinois taxpayers what we're doing, especially in the wake of former Governor [Rod] Blagojevich's corruption trial. We need to renew voter confidence and let them know that we work for the taxpayers, not the special interests.
I'm opposed to term limits though. State representatives run for office every two years. So if a representative is not doing his or her job, they [the voters] can be removed them.
If you believe in democracy, then you don't need term limits. The problem with term limits is that just as a legislator has learned the political process and has become an expert in finance or pensions or other issues, removing them artificially through term limits only hurts the state when you replace them with a less experienced individual. It makes no sense.