Meet the Illinois 72nd House District Candidates: Gregg Johnson and Tom Martens

Grace Kinnicutt

Democrat Gregg Johnson and Republican Tom Martens are in the race for Illinois’ 72nd House District. 

Johnson ran for the 36th District state senate seat in 2018 and narrowly lost against incumbent Republican Neil Anderson. 

He retired from the Illinois Department of Corrections after 32 years, where he worked as a corrections officer and then as a supply supervisor while holding a leadership position in his local union. 

Martens currently resides in Rock Island and is employed as a senior electric-motor mechanic at Rock Island Electric Motor Repair. He served as a military police officer in the Army reserves until his honorable discharge in 1990. 

The Quad-City Times sent questionnaires to the candidates, asking for their views on several matters, including the state’s budget and pension, criminal justice reform, climate change, and more:

What is your number-one priority if elected?

Johnson: “My top priority is to act ethically, honestly, and in the best interest of my district every single day. That means supporting legislation to create stricter ethics laws and crack down on shameful pay-to-play corruption in Springfield.

“From the time I was 19 years old until I retired a few years ago, I worked for the Illinois Department of Corrections. I learned that respect and trust aren’t given freely – they need to be earned. Restoring trust and faith in our government can only happen if elected officials earn it through transparency, responsiveness, and honesty.”

Martens: “Election integrity and tax cuts.” 

Where can Democrats and Republicans find common ground?

Johnson: “When I talk to voters, the most unifying issue is education. We all send our kids to the same schools. We’re in this together. I don’t know any Democrat or Republican who doesn’t want their child to get the best possible education and opportunities. Some of us will have different ideas of how to accomplish that goal, but we have a shared goal; that’s the best place to start building bridges.”

Martens: “Not taxing Social Security benefits.” 

Did Illinois appropriately spend COVID-19 relief funds? If yes, why? If no, how should the state have spent them?

Johnson: “I was pleased to see that the General Assembly voted to pay back federal relief funds early, creating a significant savings for Illinois taxpayers. This kind of responsible budgeting is key to Illinois’ future. There are lessons we must learn from addressing the public health and economic crises caused by COVID-19, including better and more efficient distribution of vaccines. We must also develop better and more consistent guidelines for addressing future pandemics to avoid the confusion and other problems people in our community, especially parents, faced during the last pandemic.”

Martens: “Governor Pritzker picked winners and losers when it came to relief funds, and it should never happen again.” 

Illinois is expected to end fiscal year 2023 with an estimated surplus of $444 million. How should the state spend the extra money?

Johnson: “Unexpected or extra revenue should be dedicated in the short term to addressing Illinois’ overall debt, and in the long term put toward education. In the most recent budget, $500 million extra was put into Illinois’ pension obligation, which will save taxpayers roughly $2 billion over time. I believe that we should prioritize these obligations with budget surpluses in the shorter term to save a great deal of taxpayer money in the long term. As the General Assembly continues to meaningfully address Illinois’ financial health and lowers those costs, we also must increase state funding for education.” 

Martens: “I don’t see how a surplus is possible with all the pension problems Illinois has. The excess should be given back to the taxpayers.” 

What changes do you propose to the state’s budget?

Johnson: “Fully funding education is the most important budget priority in my eyes. I have a daughter in public school, and I want her to have the education and opportunities she deserves right here at home. Increasing the amount of state funding into local school districts will give kids in every part of the state a better and more equitable education, regardless of how wealthy their community is.”

Martens: “Stop paying any benefits to people here illegally, and let the people of Illinois vote on pension reform using the Illinois Forward Plan.” 

What can the General Assembly do to lower property taxes?

Johnson: “… if the state fully funded education at the required levels, it would remove the upward pressure the current education model puts on property taxes. This would allow school districts to re-evaluate and lower their property tax levy. We should also explore expanding property tax exemptions for seniors, disabled veterans, families struggling economically, and others who deserve these exemptions. At the same time, we need to crack down on wealthy entities that game the system to avoid paying their fair share.

Martens: “Pension reform and change the property-tax rate to compete with neighboring states.” 

What do you propose to fix the state’s pension problem?

Johnson: “Illinois’ pension issues were caused by decades of fiscal mismanagement and can only be solved by smart financial decision-making. Recently, the GA has made pension payments in full and on time, even paying an extra $500 million into the pension system … As time goes on, a larger and larger percentage of the retiree pool will be part of the Tier 2 pension system, which will lower the total pension obligation over time. We are already seeing significant improvement in the state’s pension system. Smart financial decisions, rather than politically-convenient but unconstitutional ‘pension reform plans’ that have been floated over the years.” 

Martens: “Let the people of Illinois vote on pension reform using the Illinois Forward Plan.” 

In 2021, the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) was signed into law, one of the most comprehensive pieces of climate legislation. How else can Illinois improve land, air, and water quality?

Johnson: “Global climate change is a threat to everyone on this planet and needs to be addressed, in part, by phasing out fossil fuels. Illinois is a leader on environmental issues and I hope to continue that momentum. The single greatest environmental challenge we face is also a tremendous opportunity. I support full implementation of CEJA, which puts Illinois on a path to 100% renewable energy by 2045. We also must support electric vehicles being manufactured here in Illinois.”

Martens: “CEJA should be removed. It raises taxes and fees on businesses, farms, and other property owners. Equal opportunity does not mean equal outcome. It’s another attempt to transfer wealth.” 

What is your stance on abortion?

Johnson: “When I was eight years old, my mother experienced serious pregnancy complications with what would have been her fourth child. The doctor told her that neither her nor the child would survive the pregnancy. That was a few months before Roe v Wade was decided and she did not have access to a safe and legal abortion in Illinois. By the time she saved enough money – working extra hours, skipping medication – and got a ticket to New York, the doctors told her she was too far along to perform the procedure. A few weeks later, my mother died due to complications with her pregnancy. The lack of access to reproductive healthcare cost me and my sisters our mother. My daughter will never know her grandmother because she didn’t have the right to choose in Illinois. I support the right to an abortion because I refuse to let any more families go through what mine did.”

Martens did not provide an answer to the question, regarding his position on abortion. 

Some provisions of the Safety, Accountability, Fairness, Equity-Today Act, known as the SAFE-T Act, have already gone into effect with no cash bail set to take effect Jan. 1, 2023. What are your thoughts on the justice reform? What else might be needed for the justice reform?

Johnson: “I do not support repealing the SAFE-T Act, but I do believe it is an imperfect bill that needs further clarification before it takes effect. Working in the Illinois Department of Corrections for over 30 years, I have seen what works and what doesn’t, and the current status quo does not work. Determining bail based on an individual’s danger to the community, rather than how much money they have in their pocket, is a major improvement for public safety. As it stands, a domestic abuser or drug dealer can buy their way out of jail and immediately pose a threat. That’s simply wrong and the SAFE-T Act addresses that issue.”

Martens: “The SAFE-T Act is not criminal justice reform and it needs to go. Having bail is supposed to be the first deterrent when deciding to commit a crime. No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head and making them commit crime. Sentencing guidelines need reform more than anything.” 

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