There’s a three-way race among Democrats in the 34th State Senate District.
INTERVIEW AUDIO: 1) Dan Lewandowski 2) Steve Stadelman 3) Marla Wilson
It’s a seat that covers much of Rockford and has long been held by Republican Dave Syverson: during last year’s redistricting, Democrats drew the map to move him into the 35th district.
Two of the three Democrats going after their party’s nomination in the 34th Senate District have been there before. Dan Lewandowski is a Rockford attorney and the former head of the Democratic Party in Winnebago County. He lost to Republican Dave Syverson six years ago. Marla Wilson owns a small business in Rockford. She lost to Syverson two years ago. Steve Stadelman was a television news anchor and reporter up until he decided to run for office. He’s the political newcomer of the three. Two more Democrats had filed to run in the 34th, but challenges to their nominating petitions eliminated one and caused another to withdraw and run as an independent.
Dan Lewandowski says the number one issue in his campaign is jobs. He sees a casino for Rockford as critical in supplying construction work and as a catalyst for other new businesses. He says the state can help put people to work by funding Rockford’s infrastructure: he says it’s Springfield’s role to allocate the appropriate funds to the Rockford area for the right projects, including those targeted to improve southwest Rockford.
Marla Wilson supports “green energy” projects to help rebuild Rockford’s manufacturing base, and wants the state to help small businesses by guaranteeing more loans. She says she wants Illinois to lead the nation in energy independence while putting people – and old buildings –back to work.
While jobs are important, Wilson calls education her number one priority. So does Steve Stadelman. He also says quality educational opportunities at every level are key to improving Rockford’s employment picture: he says it’s sad when companies in the area can’t find qualified workers locally. That can be remedied, Stadelman says, by making sure workers can get the necessary job skills.
One of the most important issues facing Illinois lawmakers is dealing with the state’s pension liabilities. Wilson says first, she’d like to see an end to pensions for state lawmakers. She says they need to lead by example, and it might help representatives get a clearer picture of the issue if they are not directly affected by it.
Wilson and Stadelman say they would support a bill in the Senate creating a three-tier system for state employee pensions: employees could pay more for their benefits, pay the same for fewer benefits, or choose a 401K type retirement plan. Lewandowski says state workers and teachers oppose the plan, and so does he: “The leaders in Springfield can’t ram it down state workers’ throats, or teachers’ throats.” That’s why he believes having the support of labor, he can be an honest broker, a strong advocate in Springfield, and a strong State Senator.
Stadelman says pension reform is a lot like the state’s massive budget deficit -- lawmakers have put off the tough choices long enough, and people are angry: “I think we need lawmakers in office who are willing to take a stand, make a decision, and begin efforts to put the state’s fiscal house in order.” Stadelman says it’s all about trying to make the right choices to improve the state’s finances.
Stadelman says he’s the right choice for voters in the 34th senate district because of his knowledge of politics from an outsider’s perspective: he adds that makes him attractive to voters, especially because of in-fighting in the local Democratic Party.
Wilson is still angry about the petition challenges she had to fend off: she and Stadelman say they came from Lewandowski supporters. She says she’s the best choice for the nomination because she’s not interested in politics: she got into the race because she sees problems in Springfield and her district and wants to fix them. She says people should be able to say what’s on their minds and support whomever they please without fear of retribution, including being threatened about a future job. She says if she wins, she will make it a better atmosphere to get things accomplished.
Lewandowski says it’s his political experience and connections that voters should consider on primary election day. He says his ability to lead sets him apart, including his former role as Democratic Party Chairman.
The winner of the Democratic primary in the 34th Senate district will go on to face Republican Frank Gambino and independent Jim Hughes in November.