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Among those sworn into the 103rd General Assembly: B-N's Sharon Chung

Sharon Chung
Emily Bollinger
Sharon Chung

Former District 7 McLean County Board member and Bloomington resident Sharon Chung was among the lawmakers who took the oath of office Wednesday and assumed their seats in the 103rd General Assembly.

The Democrat, who won over Republican candidate and Normal Town Council member Scott Preston in one of the area's more expensive campaigns last year,is the first person to hold a seat in the newly-drawn 91st House District. Chung won the office with nearly 52% of the vote. Her election marks a number of milestones, including being the first Korean American elected to the state legislature.

WGLT caught up with the first-time lawmaker ahead of inaugural proceedings on Wednesday, in an interview that has been edited for length and clarity.

Chung: Because I am from a sort-of underrepresented group — especially in government and in central Illinois, too — I know that I will always have an ear for people who feel like their voices haven’t been heard in the past. It’s … because I’ve been there myself. That’s kind of how, hopefully, be that sort of representative — to be able to listen, to hear those marginalized groups and people who have not been heard… and be able to bring their issues to the floor. That’s something I’m interested in as the first woman in many years… to represent our area and the first Asian American elected outside of the Chicagoland area and the first Korean American elected to the General Assembly. These are all sorts of huge milestones that really aren’t lost on me.

WGLT: I realize it’s difficult to anticipate exactly what you’ll do as 91st House representative without actually being in the seat yet, but do you have any priorities or pressing matters for this district that you think need to be addressed?

Chung: One thing I did talk about a lot during the campaign was … what we have to do to keep the cost down for working and middle class families. Inflation is still a very real thing for so many people — I’m feeling it too, quite honestly. I think that what the General Assembly did last year — they were trying to do things to keep costs down, like tax relief, cutting the gas and grocery tax. I think that people will be wanting to maybe see some of those changes… hopefully be a little more permanent. We’ll see. … It’s something that hopefully we can tackle once I get sworn in on Wednesday.

One of the differences between you and your opponent Scott Preston during the campaign was your stance on gun control. Given your support of certain gun control measures, what are your thoughts on the bill (that Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law this week) regarding the ban on the sale of assault-style weapons in the future?

Chung: I actually have to say I was a little surprised. It’s always interesting to see what kind of issues that the General Assembly will bring up in the lame duck sessions, or the final weeks of session. It’s the sort of thing that I guess we’ll have to see how it’s implemented and how it will affect people. For me, my duty is to the people in the 91st. In … talking with a lot of other lawmakers and my new colleagues, I am aware of how our district is drawn. It’s drawn to be a little bit more moderate. I will have to weigh a lot of these issues and see how it plays out and how it resonates with people in the 91st.

Earlier this week, Gov. Pritzker in his second inaugural address really celebrated Illinois’ identity as a state that has codified reproductive choice into law. As someone who’s going to be a lawmaker in charge of policy, is there anything you would like to see the state do beyond what has already been done?

Chung: I’m so happy and relieved to see that the governor and all the other people in leadership here in Illinois have really made this sort of a big issue for all of us here. … We’re sort of like an oasis amongst a lot of the other states that surround us. I would love to see these sorts of (services) expanded throughout the state a little bit more. I don’t know what can be done legislatively to (accomplish) that, but it’s something that I would love to see. I know in the past a lot of downstate Democrats weren’t able to talk about reproductive rights, maybe because of their moderate districts, but what was heartening for me to see is that it has become a real issue throughout the state, no matter where people are. I think reproductive rights and reproductive health care access is a very real issue for people everywhere.

You’re coming into office at a time that follows the decisions of lawmakers to give themselves a raise earlier this week as well. What are your thoughts on that?

Chung: That’s another thing I was surprised to see happen. I only found out about it after a friend of mine sent me an article that it had happened because I’ve been pretty busy this past week with other things. I do have to say that one of the things, I guess, it’s that it’s… not really to incentivize….but maybe recruit really great talent… who want to step up and want to represent their community in this way. I’m not doing it for the money. I’m doing it for this, really, commitment — this big commitment towards being a great representative and representing community issues to Springfield. Maybe other people are more swayed by money, but I guess it’s just a way to sort of recruit these people who will maybe be great representatives and leaders.

How do you feel?

Chung: I’m a little excited. I’m a little overwhelmed, I have to say. And I have some friends who’ve already asked me… to get a tour. I say, ‘You need to make sure I know where I’m going first before you come down and ask me to give you a tour.’ For this, maybe first month or so, I’m keeping my goals… I don’t want to say low, but more realistic. I don’t want to really get lost too much and I don’t really want to make too many enemies right off the bat. I’m keeping it real and kind of small. It’s an incredible place; I can’t wait to do this. I’ve had the great fortune of getting to know a lot of lawmakers throughout the years in the work I’ve been doing — especially with the Asian caucus. They’ve all worked really hard and we’re watching out for each other, sort of. I feel like I’ve gotten here because I’m kind of known for being approachable and I’m aiming to keep doing that, even in Springfield.

Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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