Name: Blaine Wilhour (incumbent)
Seat: State Representative, 107th District
Describe your background, and how it relates to being a state legislator.
I was raised on a family farm in rural Altamont, the fourth of six children. Growing up, I learned the value of hard work while helping tend to our small hog operation each morning before school. I am a graduate of St. Elmo High School, and proudly served in the Army National Guard as an Intelligence Analyst.
Prior to running for state representative, I served as a member of the Fayette County Board. My wife, Amber, and I have three boys and in addition to serving in the Legislature, I help manage our family business, Longhorn Buildings LLC.
My experience of owning and operating a small business has helped me understand the need to bring about real reform in Illinois. We as Republicans and Democrats can all agree on the importance of jobs. The more jobs we have, the more economic activity we have and the more economic activity we have the more tax revenue we have. We can solve a lot of the state’s economic woes by simply creating more jobs. My perspective as an employer has helped advocate for the right policies that will lead to job growth.
Grade the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Illinois ranks among the worst states in the country in terms of deaths per capita. The governor and IDPH have provided little transparency on important information associated with their decision-making. I told the governor personally on a phone call in April that when government takes draconian actions — even if they could be warranted (I don’t believe they are) the public is owed over-the-top transparency. That has not happened.
The majority of the deaths in Illinois have happened in long-term care facilities (LTCs). Still today, IDPH does not have a good handle on the situations in these facilities. My staff and I contact our area LTCs frequently. Testing turnarounds range from three days to three weeks. That is not acceptable. The state of Florida has had full mobile units dedicated to LTCs that can turn around 3,500 same-day tests per week since May. This hasn’t happened because the governor prioritizes positivity ratings over testing that is focused on the people that we know to be at the greatest statistical risk of critical illness and death.
Just recently, I called on the Illinois Department of Public Health and the governor to send mobile testing units to temporarily protect long-term care facilities in Effingham County given the rise of cases in the county. This request was not granted and even if it was, they are not capable of same-day testing.
Early on, I was very active in trying to work with the governor and IDPH to find solutions that were both safe and effective. I authored a plan, at the governor’s personal request, that gave churches safe and measurable guidelines to reopen. I spearheaded a “Back to Business” plan in conjunction with local governments and health departments in counties all over state. Unfortunately, I came to find out that the governor was not really interested in any proposals but his own.
I have had a series of guiding principles that I have very openly advocated for to combat COVID-19.
1. Better education on risk factors and vulnerabilities. Nearly all of the population is at little measurable risk of critical illness or death. This knowledge should be playing a far bigger role in our decision-making on mitigation efforts.
2. Aggressive protection of the vulnerable. We have long known who they are and primarily where they are. This would include things such as fast, frequent testing that is laser targeted at LTC employees and residents.
Many do not realize that inter-familial or same household spread is one of the most significant vectors in transmitting COVID-19. I have proposed that some of the very significant sums of money ($850,000 for Effingham County) that has been granted to local health departments for contact tracing would be more effectively spent on identifying and providing temporary alternative housing for at-risk people, especially in multi-generational homes.
3. Close monitoring of health care capacity. Remember flatten the curve to avoid overwhelming capacity.
4. Time-tested mitigation efforts like proper hand hygiene, having common sense in your interactions, especially if you are vulnerable, and if you are sick stay home.
What can the state legislature do to help with the recovery from the pandemic?
At the start of the lockdowns, I proposed a three-step approach to dealing with the economic fallout. This is still the approach I have today.
Step 1: Immediate Action: Reasonable things that would have broad support from Illinois citizens that the governor should do right now to help job creators retain and hire employees and take care of people put out of work at no fault of their own. These should happen ASAP and some of them have.
1. Fix the unemployment filing system with outside help. 2. Protect unemployment insurance against rate hikes due to coronavirus layoffs. 3. Delay minimum wage increase on already struggling businesses.
Step 2: Policy Prescriptions based on lessons learned through this crisis. 1. Require legislative oversight on renewal of future executive orders. 2. Repeal the corrupt and unnecessary Certificate of Need process that limits competition in the health care industry and discourages medical capacity build-up. 3. Remove regulatory burdens that make it more difficult to fill essential positions like doctors and nurse certifications across state lines.
Step 3: Structural changes necessary to deal with the financial fallout of the lockdowns creating a stronger position to weather emergencies in the future while limiting the exposure of taxpayers to bad public policy. This step can’t be viewed through the prism of current political ‘realities’. The policies that would be considered politically viable in Springfield today have little chance to make your property taxes more affordable, fund education, protect core services or attract high-wage jobs to our state. Poor management and policy decisions by political leaders have put us in a terribly vulnerable position to deal with a crisis like this.
This would include such things as spending caps to protect taxpayers against overspending politicians, the strongest and more transparent anti-corruption measures in America, regulatory reforms and tax credits specifically designed to bring high-wage working-class jobs to Illiniois, and a fair and sustainable pension reform plan that would allow us to properly prioritize state spending.
Besides the pandemic, what is the biggest issue facing the state, and how does it affect the people in your district?
Public corruption and excessive taxation brought on by too much special interest influence — who are steadfastly dedicated to sustaining the broken system, lack of fiscal responsibility, and a completely unworkable public pension system that is draining the life out of every core service.
Our government cannot move forward with any credibility until we first put in place the strongest anti-corruption and pro-transparency safeguards in the country to ensure that corrupt politicians never accumulate this kind of power again.
I have a plan to do it. I call it the Public Servant Trust and Accountability Act, which includes a series of bills including HB 5370, creating one of the strongest, most-detailed economic interest disclosure in the country so citizens, journalists and watchdogs can follow the money. HB 4810 creates an independent and aggressive Legislative Inspector General that has subpoena power and doesn’t have to ask the legislature for permission to investigate them. HB 4809 bans legislators from lobbying for three years after they leave office. HB 4811 creates a detailed definition for a lobbyist, bans them from the General Assembly, and disallows a General Assembly member from lobbying other units of government on the side. HB4812 forces General Assembly members to make a choice between public service and personal profit by intensely enhancing conflict of interest laws and requiring recusals.
We will never be able to lower property taxes and properly fund core services like education, infrastructure, and a safety net for the vulnerable without serious reform to our public pension system. My Public Pension Security and Sustainability Act is a series of bills that protect and secure working-class pensions and shield taxpayers from the people abusing the system.
HB 3860 ties Cost of Living Increases to the Consumer Price Index ensuring that the system stays in line with living conditions and the taxpayer’s ability to pay.
HB 3859 caps total public pension payouts at $132,000 — the max contribution to Social Security. This protects the more modest working-class pensions while putting limits on the unaffordable excesses at the top.
HB 3919 creates a new Tier 3 system that will be a market-based, pay-as-you-go system that all new hires will go into.
Describe an issue that is unique to your district and how you would address it in the legislature.
My district is overwhelmingly a working-class district and the people in the 107th District are often forgotten and betrayed by our state leaders and the organizations that are funding these leaders. Big money special interests take from working-class people and give to politicians in order to buy influence to maintain the status quo. All of this is done to prop up an unsustainable system that has failed before and will continue to fail the very people they are supposed to be protecting. We need to change course and stop looking out for the special interests and focus on making Illinois better for EVERYONE.
One way we can bring high-wage middle-class jobs back is through smart deregulation. Specifically, we need to re-tailor our regulatory policies to benefit working-class wages and new opportunities instead of just legislating to benefit the major corporations and special interests. Take advantage of our ability to be an energy producer and exporter. Create a robust all-of-the-above energy plan to utilize our vast natural resources to put people to work on solar, wind, coal, oil and gas.
These simple steps will go a long way towards revitalizing the economy in my district and stemming the mass exodus of people from Illinois.
What is your position on the progressive tax amendment? Why do you support or oppose it?
I am strongly opposed to the amendment. This is another example of Illinois government refusing to deal with the real budgetary problems. They choose instead to come back to the taxpayers for more money to continue to feed a system that can’t be sustained.
This is NOT a vote on the tax rates. This is a vote on whether or not you want to give Springfield politicians the POWER to set rates at different levels for different folks with just a majority vote.
Do we really think the answer to our problems is to make these failed, corrupt politicians even more powerful?
Making it easier to raise taxes is a bad idea that discourages the real and sustainable spending reforms that we need. It will be a short amount of time before we figure out that we can take all the money from ‘rich’ people (small business owners) and still not be able to make a dent in our budgetary problems. Without significant reforms (which they are not interested in) they will have to raise rates on middle class folks because we will always be in a fiscal crisis and that is where the bulk of the cumulative money is. Voting down this amendment will force Springfield to the table to hash out real solutions.
If you are elected, how would you reach out to constituents who did not vote for you and what would you do to make sure their concerns are heard? How in general will you stay connected to your constituents?
I will continue doing what I am doing now. Anyone who comes to my office with an issue or concern is treated with dignity and respect regardless of party affiliation. I represent the 107th District and that includes everybody — Democrats and Republicans and everyone in between.
Describe how you would find ways to work with legislators on the other side of the aisle.
I have been working on a bipartisan effort to reduce the number of school districts in the state. The legislation (House Bill 3053) creates the School District Efficiency Commission and requires the commission to vote on recommendations and submit a report to the Governor and the General Assembly. The commission’s recommendations must focus on reducing the money spent on duplication of efforts; lowering the property tax burden; providing recommendations on what the net cost savings of realignment is to the state; and reducing the number of school districts by at least 25% through the reorganization of school districts into unit districts.
I have also been instrumental in moving some common sense criminal justice reforms that are geared toward opening up more opportunity for non-violent offenders through committees and onto the house floor for approval. The License to Work Act and the Clear My Good Name Act were both bottled up in committees before I broke ranks and allowed for the passage.