Not many state legislative districts in northern Illinois will be competitive on Nov. 6 because of gerrymandering, the process by which the politicians pick their voters instead of the other way around.
One that is, though, is the 68th District, which takes in a swath of Winnebago County and parts of Rockford, Machesney Park and Loves Park.
For the past six years, the 68th has been represented by state Rep. John Cabello, a Republican from Machesney Park. Although the 68th has been a reliably Republican district for years, Democrats and their union allies this year are putting lots of money into an effort to elect Democrat Jake Castanza to the seat.
So, in the next two columns I’ll to talk to Castanza and Cabello about issues important to them.
Today it’s Castanza. Tuesday’s column will feature Cabello.
Castanza, 28, is a Rockford native who directs Project First Rate, an association of building contractors and construction trade unions.
“My father was a labor leader with Local 32, my mother was in manufacturing. We grew up in a traditional Italian-American family,” he said.
Castanza graduated from Boylan High School in 2008, earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and a master’s degree from Purdue, then came back to Rockford at 22, despite warnings from friends to seek opportunity elsewhere.
“I had an opportunity to work in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the banking industry, but Rockford needed people to step into leadership roles, and I love where I grew up,” he said.
Castanza first worked at a bank in Loves Park, but with a mountain of college debt he needed to make more money. He went to work for the YMCA as executive assistant to the director, then was promoted to fundraising director, boosting contributions from $350,000 to $1.2 million.
He has helmed Project First Rate since 2015.
Castanza said he began thinking about running for state representative during the two-year budget impasse between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly, which seriously damaged social service programs throughout the state, including at the local Y.
“The budget gap affected programs like child care assistance,” he said. ”The YMCA was gutted, making it impossible to provide after school care for parents and children in many schools. I believe lack of funding was related to a rise in crime. We reached out to lawmakers, including my opponent, and never received a call in return.”
Political division instead of a willingness to work in a bipartisan manner to solve problems affects both parties, though, I reminded him.
“Our area has not benefited from divisiveness. Both parties have been guilty of obstructionism,” he said. ”Our airport, our schools, a representative who votes no just to be obstructionist. We could use better representation. Several community leaders came to me and said we could do better in Springfield.”
So, in September 2017 Castanza took out petitions and began knocking on doors to gather at least 500 signatures needed to put his name on the Democratic ballot. “Since I’ve started knocking, I’ve knocked at 25,000 doors,” he said.
I asked Castanza what to do about Rockford’s growing public safety pension payments, which by 2038 will eat up all property tax revenue. The problem isn’t Rockford’s alone — it affects all cities and villages. The state makes the rules, not the cities.
“I think that retirement with dignity is due,” he said. “Under Illinois tax codes, we are heavily reliant on property taxes. Growing our economy and creating good jobs will help. I look at our community as one that has been overlooked. We need to make sure we bring back every single dollar from Springfield we can.”
Castanza also talked about several ways to ease the property tax burden on Illinoisans, who pay the second-highest property taxes in the nation.
• “We need regulatory reform to bring down the cost of prescription drugs instead of allowing big pharma to write the laws,” he said, a move that would allow the state and the people to save money on needed medications.
• He also advocates a gambling expansion bill to bring a casino and gambling tax receipts to Rockford, preferably on the Clock Tower site.
• And he wants to explore the idea that corporations and millionaires should pay more taxes, although he stopped short of advocating that.
“I don’t necessarily want to raise taxes but two-thirds (of corporations) don’t pay anything.” Instead of offering multimillion-dollar cash incentives, he said, “a ready and capable workforce and infrastructure are key to bringing companies here.”
Chuck Sweeny: email@example.com; @chucksweeny
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October 13, 2018 at 10:59AM