These are my "endorsements" for the November 2020 IL elections. You can find the ballot I'm working with here. This will be (from least to most) relevant for you if you live in the US, live in Illinois and live in Cook County.
The idea behind this post is that I try to put a lot of effort into voting well each election. I'm hoping to increase the returns on that work by helping others with their voting1.
I published my endorsements for the first time in March for the primary. I was fairly pleased with the results: I got about 63 unique pageviews on that with an average visit time of about six minutes which I'm hoping is a sign that some people found value in my endorsements. I also enjoy writing this guide and I think it's a good opportunity for me to advocate for quixotic causes I believe in that don't neatly fall into our partisan divide.
While reading this, keep in mind that I call these endorsements for a reason: they're the distillation of my values into a binary choices between imperfect candidates. Politics is hard and there are cases where two good people with similar values can disagree. I don't intend this to be me calmly laying out the differences between candidates - it's a defense of my voting opinion. Take these endorsements with that in mind.
Before we start, I want to enumerate my values so people know where I'm coming from. If you disagree with my choices, I'm guessing it's because you disagree with my values - the nature of general elections in a super blue state means that the ideological difference between opposing candidates is vast and it's harder to vote on things like competency (that's for primaries).
- I'm a progressive Democrat and I like the Democratic Party.
I define that progressivism in terms of net benefit. That has a couple implications:
- I do my best to not vote on identity, but to vote on policy and electability.
- I sometimes make compromises that leave a bad taste in my mouth but I think will lead to more progressive policy overall.
- Somewhat paradoxically, I'm one of those high information/involvement voters that political scientists have established vote more on identity rather than personal interest (I'm very happy to raise my own taxes). I do my best to align my identity with what I think the best policy for my values are. This fails sometimes.
- I think politics and policy are really tough. They involve unhappy compromises. People who pretend they have a magic bullet to solve our current quagmires are probably wrong.
This guide was distilled from reading the Chicago Tribune's endorsements, the Chicago Sun-Times' endorsements, and my own eclectic knowledge of politics and policy.
Let's get into it.
President and Vice President
Frankly, if you disagree with me on this, I don't think the rest of this guide will be very useful for you.
Endorsement: Joseph R. Biden & Kamala D. Harris.
United States Senator
This isn't really a competitive race so it doesn't super matter. Dick Durbin being in the Dem Senate Leadership is good for Illinois. I wish he had faced a real primary - the nature of IL is that his opponents in the general election are jokes.
Endorsement: Richard J. Durbin.
US Representative, 8th District
This also isn't a competitive race. There is no Republican candidate and the Libertarian candidate said "Hillary was not locked up, or even properly INVESTIGATED" in his Sun-Times endorsement interview.
Endorsement: Raja Krishnamoorthi.
State Senator, 28th District
Laura Murphy is unopposed. What I wrote for her unopposed primary still holds true:
As a member of IL legislative leadership, a good rule of thumb is that she's not great. Laura Murphy doesn't disappoint. She has been part of IL's mismanagement of the state.
As an aside, she's also been a rabble rouser about O'Hare noise. I'm not particularly sympathetic to suburbs complaining about the consequences of suburbanization (and am glad that she is typically overruled) but it's her job to represent her constituent's opinions. Concentrated costs, and diffuse harms, man.
As in the primary, I will use the luxury of a protest vote.
Endorsement: No one.
State Representative, 56th District
Long angry sigh.
Illinois is not a well-managed state. Say what you want about Republicans but the fault of Illinois' mismanagement falls directly on Democrats. Mussman (the Democratic incumbent) is not particularly to blame for this but she's not particularly innocent either.
Her opponent, Scott Kegarise, is a pretty bland Republican. He does a lot of stuff in the Township and is generally a cut taxes Republican. In years where the Republican Party isn't actively ruining our country, I'd be tempted to vote for him. This is not one of those years: everyone who runs under the GOP banner should face electoral retribution until they reform their party2.
Endorsement: Michelle Mussman.
The Fair Tax Referendum
I'm going to write a lot here which makes it seem like I'm undecided. I'm not: we should pass the Fair Tax Amendment. Rich people should pay their fair share. If you earn less than $250K, your tax burden will go down or stay the same. You can skip the rest of this section unless you care about the details. Click here to skip.
The Fair Tax Amendment changes Illinois' constitution. It is currently against the IL Constitution to have a different state income tax rate for different incomes. That means that poor people can't pay higher rates... but it also means rich people can't pay higher rates. In practice, the status quo only defends against the second: it means that a poor family, an average family, and the wealthiest families pay the same percentage in state income tax.
This is really bad. Part of the bedrock of Democratic politics is that the rich should pay their fair share. Since the rich can survive and enjoy the luxuries of life even with a higher tax rate, that fair share is going to be higher (on a percentage basis) than an average family. I don't think we can call ourselves a progressive state without taxing the rich more.
The Actual Plan The Legislature Has Put Forward
It's important to note that this amendment doesn't actually establish a new set of tax rates: it gives the legislature the right to pass a progressive tax plan. Theoretically, they could use this power to tax 100% of the income of those making less than $10,000. To assuage such concerns3, the legislature has released their plan. I'm going to talk about the family plan because I think that matters to more people. The individual plan is basically the same, the brackets are just at lower incomes.
|Income||Marginal Tax Rate|
|$0 – $10,000||4.75%|
|$10,001 – $100,000||4.90%|
|$100,001 – $250,000||4.95%|
|$250,001 – $500,000||7.75%|
|$500,001 – $1,000,000||7.85%|
|$1,000,001 and above||7.95% on net|
For context, the current rate for all incomes is 4.95%. Since 97% of people in IL earn less than $250K, 97% of people in IL will receive a very small tax cut (that's where that claim in the ads is coming from). For example, a family earning $87,771 (the median family income in IL) will see their tax go from $4,344 to $4,285, a decrease of $69. That's nice but nothing to write home about. The big effect of this law will be to tax the rich a lot more. Here's a chart of total tax owed (in dollars) versus income4:
There's a few things to observe here:
- While the Fair Tax technically gives a tax cut to those earning less than $100K, it's basically indistinguishable from the status quo.
- The tax burden of rich people will go way up.
- There's a straight vertical line at $1M.
What's Up With That Vertical Line
This is my only criticism of this plan. The way marginal tax rates work is you pay the rate for each range, not on all your come. For example, under the Fair Tax, a family earning $20K will pay a tax of 4.75% on the first $10K and a tax of 4.9% on the second $10K. 4.75% *10,000 + 4.9% * 10000 = $965. For some reason, this isn't true for the IL plan for people who earn more than $1M. They pay the 7.95% rate from above on their entire income. Frankly, I don't really care about people earning $1M a year but the result of this plan is that it's smarter to earn exactly $1,000,001 a year than it is to earn anything between $1,000,001 and $1,008,764. It's not a huge deal but it's stupid and should be called out.
All of that said, that rich people should pay disproportionately more in taxes is a dogma of progressive governance. I agree with that dogma. This plan achieves that.
We really shouldn't be voting on this. This is a highly technical job that involves managing wastewater to keep Lake Michigan and the Chicago River (mostly) clean. It also helps prevent floods. Literally nothing about this is political (although a few stupid Republicans usually run that pretend climate change doesn't exist for ??? reasons). In situations like these, it's best to go with the endorsements of news organizations. The Sun-Times and the Tribune agree on their endorsements and those are my choices. They also endorsed the same candidates in the primary so I'll just copy over what I said then.
I'll be heavily relying on endorsements here. Conveniently, the Tribune and the Sun-Times agree with each other on endorsements.
Davis is a no-brainer. He used to work for the EPA, was President Obama's point person on the Great Lakes, and has led the fight against the invasive Asian Carp in the Great Lakes.
Kimberly DuBuclet used to be in charge of the Chicago Park District's legislative affairs, and has done good work with encouraging greener construction. She obviously knows what she's talking about based on her Sun-Times interview.
Eira Sepúlveda has an exceptionally cool background. She's a village trustee for Hanover Park but she got into the MWRD's work because she walked her kids to work on the MWRD's property (the MWRD is the second biggest landowner in Cook County), and when her home flooded, she did her own research to figure out how things work. I adore people who figure shit out for themselves.
Endorsement: M. Cameron ‘Cam’ Davis, Kimberly Neely DuBuclet and Eira L. Corral Seplúveda
With the obvious exception of the Presidential race and the possible exception of the Fair Tax, this is the most important race on the ballot. This job involves taking the information that police give and deciding who to charge. This has tremendous influence on our criminal justice system. Supposedly liberal white voters voted to disproportionately jail black people for decades (remember, most mass incarceration happens on the state level) by pulling the lever on "tough on crime". Luckily, we have a new generation of progressive prosecuters (Larry Krasner from Philadelphia leading the charge) who aren't continuing that.
The main two candidates are Kim Foxx (Democratic incumbent) and Pat O'Brien (Republican). The major endorsements are split: Foxx with the Sun-Times and O'Brien with the Tribune.
I don't think this race is close. Progressive prosecutors are a great way to change our justice system and O'Brien is not one. His endorsement from the Tribune describes him as one but it's flatly wrong. His website (which has the classic Republican tactic of including a blurry unflattering picture of a black women to play on racism) includes this line "[c]riminals have carte blanche to pillage and burn our cities because Kim Foxx has declared publicly that there will be no consequences for their criminal behavior". That is a flat lie. Cook County should not accept it.
I will say the reason this race is even close is because Foxx had very questionable judgement in a case with a minor celebrity. Her conduct was technically not criminal but it was obviously bad and she never really apologized for it. I'll take that over 90s-era tough-on-crime policies but Foxx should have done better; it's important for prosecutors to be above reproach when it comes to corruption.
Endorsement: Kim Foxx
Clerk of the Circuit Court
This is a mostly logistical job of retrieving records and making them accessible. The reason it's important is because ensuring that criminal records are accessible matters a lot for defendants. For example, let's say that someone is in jail because of a misunderstanding that can be clarified with a record. The retrieval time (which, in this day and age, should be instant) is literally the limiting factor on how fast they can get out of jail. It's currently horribly mismanaged.
The Democratic candidate has lots of government experience but is part of the IL legislature. The Sun-Times noted that she doesn't have many concrete ideas to improve the office but endorsed her because her Republican opponent has no ideas and most of her reputation is in culture-war issues like same-sex marriage. I trust the Sun-Times here on both their endorsement and their hesitancy.
Endorsement: Iris Y. Martinez
Board of Review, 1st District
The Board of Review hears property tax appeals from property owners. Cook County has had a corrupt system for a long time where the rich get their property undervalued (and pay less tax) while the rest pay more than their fair share. It's an elegant reverse Robin Hood situation. The Assessor (the person who comes up with the valuations) is a guy named Fritz Kaegi who's actually good at his job and is trying to be fair. This election is about the Board who will hear appeals against his valuations.
I'm super upset about this race. There was a great guy running in the Democratic primary - Abdelnasser Rashid - but he got voted down (in such a low-information race, I wouldn't be shocked if it was just because he has a foreign name). Instead, the winner, Tammy Wendt, is a lawyer who protects cops that murder Black people from being fired.
The Sun-Times and the Tribune endorsed her Republican opponent, Dan Patlak (incumbent). He's not outwardly opposed to making the system fairer, he's done a solid job so far, and he hasn't made a career of protecting murdering cops. Sounds good to me5.
Endorsement: Dan Patlak.
Judges are irritating to vote for, and honestly we shouldn't be voting for them. There's good evidence they give harsher sentences during election years to appeal to voters. They should be nominated through the executive branch and confirmed through the legislative branch.
Nevertheless, we have to vote for them. I will be using guides from Bar Assocations and the like. They are listed here. In particular, I'll be emphasizing http://www.voteforjudges.org aggregation of recommendations and Injustice Watch's guide. If a candidate lacks a recommendation from any one Bar organization, I will not be endorsing them because the median is having all recommendations. I may still vote for them based on their opponent.
Additionally, I will not recommend any candidate who is a former prosecutor or has the Fraternal Order of Police's endorsement.
I'll also be skimming their platforms (where it exists) to confirm there's no tough-on-crime nonsense in them.
There will frequently be many candidates tied. In those cases, I'll say who I'm voting for but not provide an "endorsement", per se.
These are races where there is a Democratic and Republican candidate to vote for or a candidate from just one party. This is different from the retention ballot (I'll cover that next). The vast majority of these are unopposed. I'll only write about the competitive one.
Judge, 13th Subcircuit (Vacancy of Kulys Hoffman)
This is rather tough. Susan Groebner did not receive a "Recommended" rating from the Cook County Bar Association, and is a former prosecutor. Her opponent previously called himself "the only true Republican" in a race from 2018. I don't love either candidate. I won't endorse her but the Tribune's endorsement of Groebner tips it to her.
I'll vote for: Susan Groebner.
This is a simple yes/no vote on whether someone should stay a judge. I'll do this in a table and only explain only a few.
|Aurelia Marie Pucinski||Yes|
|Mary Katherine Rockford||Yes|
|Michael P. Toomin||Yes||The Cook County Democratic Party is against him because he investigated Kim Foxx. He's well qualified and has integrity. Keep him around.|
|James Patrick Flannery, Jr.||Yes|
|Mary Ellen Coghlan||Yes|
|Shelley Lynn Sutker-dermer||Yes||Prosecutor but worked on child sex abuse.|
|Patricia Manila Martin||No||Awful candidate but she's stepped down anyways so your vote doesn't matter.|
|Kenneth J. Wadas||No||A lot of his decisions are reversed by upper court and his mistakes mostly seem to be in the direction of imprisoning the innocent.|
|Gregory J. Wojkowski||Yes|
|Robert E. Gordon||Yes|
|Margaret Ann Brennan||No||A lot of her decisions are reversed and her mistakes seem to mostly be in the direction of big corporations.|
|Janet Adams Brosnahan||Yes|
|Peter A. Felice||Yes|
|Kerry M. Kennedy||Yes|
|Laura Marie Sullivan||No||Good chance there's some corruption happening here.|
|Michael B. Hyman||Yes|
|Joan E. Powell||Yes|
|Patrick J. Sherlock||Yes|
|Maureen Ward Kirby||Yes|
|Edward A. Arce||Yes|
|James N. O'hara||Yes|
|Mauricio Araujo||No||Serial sexual harasser but he's stepped down anyways so your vote doesn't matter.|
|Thomas J. Byrne||No||A lot of his decisions are reversed and his mistakes mostly seem to be in the direction of hurting the innocent.|
|Donna L. Cooper||Yes|
|Anna Helen Demacopoulos||Yes|
|Diana L. Kenworthy||Yes|
|Pamela Elizabeth Loza||Yes|
|Jackie Marie Portman-brown||No||She's rated unqualified by several Bar assocations, likes to lock up innocent people and locked her 6-year-old niece in a holding cell for a few minutes as punishment for some reason.|
|Dominique C. Ross||Yes|
|Kristyna Colleen Ryan||Yes|
|Debra B. Walker||Yes|
|Anthony C. "Tony" Kyriakopoulos||Yes|
|Caroline Kate Moreland||No||Former prosecutor and denied foster care visitation rights during COVID.|
|Thomas J. Carroll||Yes|
|Cynthia Y. Cobbs||Yes|
|Daniel J. Kubasiak||No||Missing Bar recommendations and served as campaign manager for a racist in 1987.|
|Andrea M. Buford||Yes|
|Pamela Mclean Meyerson||Yes|
|John Michael Allegretti||Yes|
|Steven G. Watkins||Yes|
|Abbey Fishman Romanek||Yes|
|William B. Raines||Yes|
|Patrick Kevin Coughlin||No||Former prosecutor in charge of drugs. Almost certainly part of War on Drugs.|
|Megan Elizabeth Goldish||Yes|
|Robert D. Kuzas||Yes|
|John J. Mahoney||No||Missing Bar recommendations and former prosecutor|
|Terrence J. Mcguire||Yes|
|Bridget Anne Mitchell||Yes|
|James Paul Pieczonka||Yes|
|Diana Rosario||No||Missing Bar recommendations and former prosecutor|
|Patricia O'Brien Sheahan||Yes|
Insert spiel about zero marginal costs.↩
I actually know both candidates. My family is friends with Michelle Mussman. Scott Kegarise also refereed one of my youth soccer games in 6th grade and turned in possibly the worst referring performance I've seen in my life. I'll leave it to the reader to decide if I'm still salty about that and am withholding my vote on that basis. 😊↩
Although, frankly, I think the existence of democracy should assuage such concerns.↩
I didn't include deductions or child credits in this graph. Those laws aren't changing so they should be the same before and after the Fair Tax.↩
Fun fact: this will be the first race where I have ever voted for a Republican.↩