Covering the Land of Lincoln

James “Jimmy” Garfield: Illinois House 12th District Democratic primary candidate

Candidate profile

James “Jimmy” Garfield

Running for:State Representative, 12th District

Political/civic background:I have long been active in working to elect progressive candidates to various local and state positions. As an attorney, I’ve been working to hone my advocacy skills, and intend to bring that to the state house.


Education: BA, DePaul University and JD, DePaul University College of Law

Campaign website:


Twitter: @jimmygarfield

Instagram: @jimmyg4staterep/

The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for the Illinois House of Representatives a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing Illinois and their districts. James Garfield submitted the following responses:

Please tell us about your civic work in the last two years, whether it’s legislation you have sponsored or work you have done in other ways to improve your community.

In the past two years, I have served as a mentor in the juvenile justice league’s mentoring program, a campaign volunteer on both an aldermanic race and a race for state representative, and served on the board of the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization.

Please list three concerns that are specific to your district, such as a project that should be undertaken or a state policy related to an important local issue that should be revised.

1) Amending the constitution to allow for a graduated income tax will afford relief from the property tax increases that are pushing people out of their homes and causing the population in our state to decline.

2) Expansion of the use of green energy. This will provide thousands of new jobs in our community and spur economic growth. But it will also directly impact our community. We are seeing lake erosion at our front door, and it threatens many peoples’ homes, our sewer system, and even our transit. It’s not an abstract goal of saving the world. It’s the very real need to save our homes.

3) Full funding of education, especially early childhood education. There is no unified system for early childhood education, which means we are throwing our tax dollars at a patchwork of different systems, hoping it will produce results, despite history showing us that it doesn’t.

What are your other top legislative priorities?

Criminal justice reform – I support House Bill 3347 to eliminate the cash bail system. We have to stop throwing people in jail for nonviolent crimes. We have to stop making any felony a life sentence for obtaining employment.

Ethics reforms (government) – Illinois should have term limits on leadership positions in the legislature. Illinois should expand the use of vote by mail and ranked choice voting.

Protecting a woman’s right to choose – Other states are passing measures that threaten to take these rights away. We are lucky to live in a State that has passed measures like HB40, but we must never let down our guard to ensure that a woman’s right to choose is absolute.

Expanding protections for LGBTQ community, especially the trans community – We have seen several hundred trans women of color murdered over the last year simply for being themselves. We have to make sure that our schools, police, and community get the information and training needed to ensure their safety.

Health care reform – Our health care programs are woefully underfunded, and not just programs at hospitals, but home health care, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and others. With an aging population, we need to make sure we have a system that can take care of our older neighbors and provide appropriate support without bankrupting families.

What is your position on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax? Please explain.

I support it. Graduated income taxes are simply a fairer tax than any other. They allow us to be able to actually afford the services and programs that we want.

Illinois continues to struggle financially, with a backlog of unpaid bills that tops $6 billion. In addition to a progressive state income tax — or in lieu of such a tax — what should the state do to pay its bills, meet its pension obligations and fund core services such as higher education?

There is no line item for waste or graft, but we can see where massive inefficiencies across the State are causing us to spend our tax dollars poorly. There is a massive amount of money that can be saved by addressing inefficiencies. Rather than letting every one of the state’s nearly 7,000 administrative units* bargain independently of one another, a collective bargaining effort would be both money-saving and improve the ability of municipalities to coordinate in ways that will improve efficiency, delivery of services, and safety.

Some of these inefficiencies have been in place for decades, and because they benefited the people who were there, we have been unwilling to change them. We have to have the courage to look at what is necessary for the good of the citizens of Illinois and not just politically expedient.

Education – With higher education, for example, is our mix of in- and out-of-state students sustainable? Or do we need to bring in more students from outside Illinois in order to shore up our budget?

The largest increase in costs in education has not been educators; it has been administration. Do we need all of the new administrative positions that are swelling our expenses and our pension costs? We need to be absolutely sure that these positions are necessary.

Pensions – The current model is not sustainable. But promises were made, people are relying on this pension as their only means of retirement, and Constitutionally we must meet those already existing obligations. We had a fully-funded pension system. Legislators robbed the fund because it wasn’t locked down. The pension fund must be protected from similar practices now and in the future.

That said, the State will have to look at changing how future pensions are structured; not for any fault of the people who have been or are in the pension system, but because it is the reality that previous generations of lawmakers left for us.

Cannabis -We’re about to have a lot of new revenue from cannabis sales. That money must go into pensions until they are fully funded.

* According to the U.S. Census of Governments

Should Illinois consider taxing the retirement incomes of its very wealthiest residents, as most states do? And your argument is?

The very notion of retirement incomes is so complex that a simple yes or no answer to this question would be insufficient. First, we must carefully define what both “income” and “wealthiest” mean. Depending on those definitions, I could support a tax on that. In the abstract, the question lacks the detail necessary to make an informed decision.

What can Illinois do to improve its elementary and high schools?

Private business talks about spending more for top talent, but we change the narrative when it comes to teachers, who are often well-qualified and highly educated, but seen as expendable. We need to stop thinking of schools as businesses; they are not here for profit, they are to make sure we have an educated populace.

A major challenge is the fact that we rely so heavily on local property taxes. Wealthier areas can afford better-funded schools as a result of this system. The children who live in less affluent areas will not have the resources to provide a good quality education. That produces a socioeconomic – and often racial – disparity in education.

Schools need social workers, nurses, counselors, and librarians. It’s not a question of what teachers want. These are the support staff that allow students to have a full education. Simply asking teachers to take on these new roles is not what they trained for. It’s not what their job is supposed to be.

Mass shootings and gun violence plague America. What can or should the Legislature do, if anything, to address this problem in Illinois?

Gun violence can’t be looked at in a vacuum, and we can’t legislate in a vacuum. We have to address the core causes of the violence, not just the symptoms.

We can reduce gang-related gun violence by targeting the root causes of violence in our communities; legalizing and regulating many of the illicit drugs that are the reason for turf wars, funding education—especially after-school programs that have consistently been shown to reduce gang involvement and violence, and economic opportunities so that joining a gang and fighting over turf isn’t the only financial opportunity that people have. Focusing on these areas, we can make great strides in reducing gun violence.

Most of the weapons that lead to gun crimes in Illinois are coming from other states. The ATF has been prohibited from having an actual database to track where guns have come from in the first place. What we have to do is lobby Congress to let the ATF do their job.

Do you favor or oppose term limits for any elected official in Illinois? Please explain.

In a system where elections are fair, we have term limits; incumbents are voted out when they are no longer effective. In Illinois, however, the system has been designed to protect incumbents, allowing those in positions of power to circumvent the democratic process. An effective legislator should have the right to keep their job if the voters want them to. But a democracy requires that new ideas and new people be able to come to the table. I could support term limits.

Everybody says gerrymandering is bad, but the party in power in every state — Democrats in Illinois — resist doing anything about it. Or do we have that wrong? What should be done?

The fact that the legislators themselves pick their own voters is inherently dangerous for a functioning and fair democracy. It does not matter what party is doing it.

A computer system can produce an initial map, and a nonpartisan board can ensure that groups of voters are not disenfranchised. The board could be selected by the governor and approved by the legislature.

There are people out here who have a genuine sense of duty. They can be trusted to step up and make a map that is best for democracy and not just narrow personal or political interests. As an example of a nonpartisan governmental body, look at the work of the Congressional Budget Office, and you see people who have personal partisan views, work together to produce trustworthy information.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago is investigating possible official corruption by state and local officials. This prompted the Legislature to pass an ethics reform measure to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act (SB 1639). It was signed into law in December. What’s your take on this and what more should be done?

It is a good start. It closes some loopholes that were clearly being exploited by lobbyists and politicians. But that measure really focuses on lobbying and lobbyists, rather than the corruption by state and local officials. We have reports of members of the legislature who, without any kind of lobbying, were able to secure for themselves loans that required no collateral. This was clear favoritism towards those officials, in the hopes that the legislator would then make sure the lender didn’t face the kind of regulations they might otherwise.

A legislator, by definition, is advocating to the other legislators for certain bills they want to pass. This does not count as lobbying. And yet, SB 1639 actually adds a clause saying that should a lobbyist become an elected official (or vice versa), they simply have to register that. 25 ILCS 170/5(f).

The fact that the Secretary of State will make publicly available the amounts that these registered lobbyists give and receive to politicians is a good thing; I’m all for government transparency. But it seems to me that nobody should be able to be a lobbyist and an elected or appointed public official at the same time.

When people use the internet and wireless devices, companies collect data about us. Oftentimes, the information is sold to other companies, which can use it to track our movements or invade our privacy in other ways. When companies share this data, we also face a greater risk of identity theft. What should the Legislature do, if anything?

Because of the nature of the internet, this issue really touches on a great deal of interstate commerce, which is almost entirely in the hands of Congress. We should lobby Congress to actually hold companies accountable for the loss or breach of our data. Until they do, States can form interstate compacts to prosecute these companies for civil damages for the loss of the data, and coordinate criminal investigations of those who attempt to steal our data.

The number of Illinois public high school graduates who enroll in out-of-state universities continues to climb. What can Illinois do to make its state universities more attractive to Illinois high school students?

Every state is asking this same question. Across the country, state universities draw different students based on their varying specialties.

If we want to keep more Illinois students in Illinois schools, we need to find out what kind of programs they are looking for, and attempt to shift or expand our system to accommodate. That said, there are a lot of students from other states that we should be attempting to bring to Illinois as well.

One way to do this is to offer programs in new, emerging, and expanding fields. We should be investing in environmental and healthcare expansion in Illinois – so we should make sure our universities have programs that can help students get the education and training they need in those areas right here, rather than needing to go to another state to get that education.

What is your top legislative priority with respect to the environment?

Massive investment in the use and expansion of renewable energy sources is my highest legislative priority. There are the standard things we can do: installing solar panels and wind turbines, for example. We have medians on interstates which sit unused. Solar panels could be on these sites collecting energy every day. There are solar panel windows which we could offer tax incentives to install. Imagine installing these windows in high rises and new construction across the state. This will drive down cost so homeowners can then afford them. These kinds of practical policies are central to making a real impact in mitigating climate change, and by making choices with an eye to the green economy, we can also build our economic future.

What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.

Abner Mikva. Ab Mikva was a true reformer who set out to make change and challenge the status quo, and did so despite being the “nobody that nobody sent.”

What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?

Star Trek. First, I was raised on it. Secondly, the vision Gene Roddenbery had was to show humanity as our best selves. So many of the stories are about the crew encountering scenarios that look at issues of today and show where we, as a society, can do better.

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