Jen McMillin says she decided to run for office last year on the day two Democratic heavy-hitters—Lisa Madigan and Barbara Flynn Currie—announced they weren’t seeking another term.
McMillin is running for the 101st House District, which includes communities like Heyworth, LeRoy, Downs, Arrowsmith, and Saybrook. State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, is not seeking re-election. That’s opened it up for a race between Republican Dan Caulkins and McMillin, both from Decatur. (The bulk of the district’s population is in Macon County.)
“It’s a travesty that we don’t have more women from downstate running, that we don’t have more families represented in Springfield,” said McMillin, who works at Lincoln College. “And that day, I decided, win or lose, we need to have that voice. And I jumped in the race.”
McMillin is one of several Democratic women making her first run for office in November. In a report last week, an expert panel said a solution to sexual harassment and gender equity in Illinois politics would be to elect women to half of all political offices in the state.
McMillin said she supports a progressive (or graduated) income tax similar to the one proposed by Democratic candidate for governor JB Pritzker. That would replace Illinois’ current flat-rate income tax. Pritzker said it will force wealthy Illinoisans to pay more, although Republicans like Gov. Bruce Rauner criticize it as a backdoor way to raise taxes on the middle class.
McMillin said she wants to know more about the exact tax rates Pritzker would support. She said she would not support any tax increase for low or middle-income earners.
“We’ve already been hit very hard in the state of Illinois with property taxes. We need to very mindful that our tax system has been very regressive, just because it is a flat tax,” she said.
McMillin said she wants to see Illinois offer universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as expand the Child Care Assistance Program. How would she do it and pay for it?
“It really does all start between zero and age 5. We have the research to know it’s important to get students started on the right foot before kindergarten. We need to make that a priority and fund that,” McMillin said. “We’ll have to fight for the priorities that we really think will improve the state economically and educationally. With using a (progressive) tax model and other sources of new revenue, as well as cutting. We need to look for some more efficiencies and make sure we’re best utilizing tax dollars all around, to find some dollars for universal pre-K.”
The 101st is a Republican-leaning district. Mitchell, who is retiring, faced a Democratic challenger in 2016 but she didn’t wage a full-fledged campaign like McMillin’s. He won handily.
Caulkins, a former Decatur City Council member, holds the fundraising advantage over McMillin. But McMillin said the 101st District is a good fit for her working-class roots and “farm nerd” childhood. Her father was a teamster, her mother a nurse. McMillin said she’s a Democrat because it’s the party that stands up for working-class families.
She said she hopes the district votes for the person, not the party.
“The vast majority of the people in my district are mad at both parties. And they’re just thankful to hear from a politician—I tell them how it is, and what I believe, and listen to what they believe," she said.
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