Detective Sergeant and Schaumburg Township Assessor John Lawson is the Republican nominee in the 56th State Representative district, facing off against freshman incumbent Michelle Mussman (D) this November. Recently, I had the privilege to sit down and talk to Lawson about a host of issues, as well as why he decided to jump into the race and why he feels his opponent has come up short in her two years in office.
A: Several reasons. First, I’ve been the assessor in Schaumburg Township. I'm in my 8th year. I've also been in law enforcement for 27 years. I've been serving the public as a first responder for a long time. I know what its like to be out there helping people at two or three in the morning. I know what it's like to have a gun pointed at me. I know what people are looking for. I look now at what is happening in our state and how bad it is and I think we need somebody in Springfield that has no ties to anybody and we need somebody in Springfield who is going to take leadership.
Q: You have mentioned Medicaid reform as a budget issue you think is important. What specific reforms would you like to see in Medicaid?
A: Medicaid is supposed to be out there to help people in trouble. I’ve learned that $60 million a year is paid to Medicaid recipients who don’t even live in Illinois. I’ve asked the question ‘How can that be?’ To me that is fraud. To me they are commitng a crime. That’s $60 million we can get back just by shutting those people down. The first thing I would like to see done is to have sort of a check and balance to see if people need the assistance of the Medicaid system.
Q: Do you think that is something that would gain support from both sides of the aisle?
A: I think that it shouldn’t matter if you're Republican or Democrat. It should be something that we need to do.
Q: How can you get Democrats on board with other budget issues, especially pension reform?
A: I have a lot of ideas as far as pension reform. I’m a recipient of the public pension (public safety pension). So I do see where the teachers and state employees are coming from. Do we all need to work together to work on a solution? Yes. I think we should all be at the table to work out a solution. I think we know if we don’t work out a solution there won't be a pension available. Can we go after the double dippers? Yes. Can we go after the people who are collecting a public safety pension and are now working for another municipality? Yes. Those things can be addressed, but as far as changing people’s benefits, I don’t agree with that at all.
Q: What are your thoughts on education reform?
A: I want to work closely with special education and special needs. I have a personal interest in that because my son has special needs and my son did work through the whole school district and high school and college using those services, so I think those services are very beneficial. I’d like to see more funding for special needs and special education. There is talk of the state cutting special needs and special education and I don’t support that at all.
Q: One of your recent press releases talks about returning property tax assessments to townships. Can you explain that a little bit more?
A: One of the first pieces of legislation I would introduce is to allow the township assessors in Cook and Champaign counties to do their job and assess. Out of 102 counties, in 100 of them the township assessors do the assessing. That means the township assessors are assessing people's property. Now, in Cook and Champaign the county assessors do that, which means it's Mr. Berrios' office down in Chicago. He has a good staff. However, they have to cover over 1.2 million pieces of property in Cook County. So when it comes to bill time and appeal time [the township assessors] are pretty much correcting the errors done by the Cook County assessors office.
The Democrats would oppose [a proposition to change this]. That relinquishes a lot of power from the Cook County assessor's office.
Q: The Democrats will likely be in the majority though and it may be difficult to get some of these things passed. One thing in particular is concealed carry. Where do you stand on this issue?
A: I support concealed carry. I also sit on the Illinois Chiefs' Legislative Committee. We did not support it three years ago. We now support it. We do know that Illinois is the last state for concealed carry. We did have some issues as to what happens when you are stopped by the police, but that has all been addressed. Like I said, I support concealed carry. The gangbangers out there already carry. The criminals already carry. But the law aibiding citizens can't. I do know my opponent does not support concealed carry. Why? I have no idea.
Q: How would you summarize the differences between yourself and Michelle Mussman?
A: Leadership. That’s my number one. Michelle is a very nice lady. I hear that at the door. But I also hear that she is basically doing what Chicago tells her to do. I hear that a lot at the door. Like I said, we need to send somebody to Springfield who will take leadership as far as the issues go, not on what the leaders want you to do. I’ve been told that once I go down there I’m not going to be making friends by being vocal and supporting my issues. [Making friends] is not my goal. My goal is to go down there and do my job.
Q: Is there any other sort of contrast you want voters in your district to see?
A: One thing Michelle did just recently is that she voted to take away benefits from senior citizens and disabled people which really, really upset me. We have a lot of seniors in this area. We have a compound called Friendship Village that probably has about 3,000 seniors that live there. Voting to disband the Circuit Breaker program was huge.
Q: Ryan Higgins (R) lost to Rep. Mussman by a very close margin in 2010 in a wave election for Republicans. How do you plan to narrow that gap and win in 2012?
A: I am knocking everybody’s door - Republicans, Democrats, Independents - everybody. The responses I am getting from hard Dems is amazing. A lot of people are upset. A lot of people know that my opponent is doing what the leadership tells her to do. It's an outcry. If I had to describe it, I’d say it's an outcry. The people in this district and the state of illlinois are looking and grabbing straws for leadership and I’ve been in that leadership role for many years.
Ryan did an excellent job. What Michelle had over Ryan is she had roots in the community. Michelle has kids in the school system, her husband is a teacher. Well, my kids are in the school system and I’ve lived here for a long time.
Q: Do you think Illinois can ever change the reputation of its leadership and/or maybe even have a Republican majority?
A: I do. People just don’t know what to do anymore. We have had a speaker that has been there for 40 years. It's time to pass the torch. We need to all work together. Once I get down there, I don’t care if you're Republican or Democrat, we need to work together on the issues. The problem is we have some people down there who control everything and it just can't work that way. With the union background I have, I have sat down and negotiated contracts. And now that I am on the management side, I’ve done the same thing. We need to work together.
More about GOP candidate John Lawson at his website ElectJohnLawson.com.