Q&A: Proft says no compromise on tax relief, education

Ann Knef Sep. 3, 2009, 9:51am


The Record talked this week with Republican Dan Proft of Wheaton, a fiscally conservative, pro-life, pro- right to carry candidate for Illinois governor.

Proft said he's for cutting the state income tax and corporate income tax and for zeroing out the estate tax. He calls for a statutory cap on spending. And, he wants to overhaul K-12 education.

A political commentator for WLS-AM 890 radio in Chicago and small business owner, Proft faces State Sens. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), and Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) in the primary election Feb. 2, 2010.

On the stump, Proft is taking his fight to the leaders of the Democratic Party-the "Chicago 9" as he calls them-which include statewide office holders and the leaders of both legislative chambers. He also blames the Republican Party in general, which he says has failed to have a vision and a message that connects with voters.

He said that 190,000 fewer Republicans voted in the 2006 governor's race in Illinois than did in 2002. Those voters "stopped serving a Republican Party that was indistinguishable from the Democrats," he said. "When we blur distinctions, when we parse words, people take a walk."

A portion of an interview with Proft follows:

Proft explained that Illinois Democrats, led in the House by Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago, need to be held accountable for producing failed programs and budget crises year after year.

"The approach is to make them defend systems they don't want to defend," he said. "To hold them accountable for what has occurred on their watch and to articulate a contrast vision that people can understand so they are clear about the choice before them and then build coalitions."

The solution sounds simple, why hasn't it worked before?

"I do this all the time, I challenge people to come up with, 'what is the big value proposition of the Republican Party in this state as offered in the last 10 years?'

"The Republican Party has made a big argument that they want to be about 'fill in the blank.' Can't do it. It's been aphorisms and just kind of gobbled-gook, it's nothing. So, when you don't present a contrast vision, when you don't want to compete, you just want table scraps to protect yourself, then you're playing on their turf and they've won the battle before it's started.

"Words are the currency of politics. If you don't make arguments, if you don't present a vision, then it's very easy to understand why things are the way they are.

"People say, oh, the bickering in Springfield. There is no bickering in Springfield. There has been general agreement on the wrong ideas for the last two generations. We have made the wrong public policy choices consistently with respect to every big ticket system in state government, which is why you have all these systems that are financially unsustainable, that produce nothing in terms of services for the folks that finance them.

"Because they're fixed, the fix is in for the politicians. State government is set up and these big ticket systems are set up to finance the political patronage armies who in turn provide the support that sustain and advance the careers of Chicago Democrats.

"You have to understand that that's the game and that's all they care about. And they will cannibalize anything in their wake to sustain their political power to sustain those patronage armies.

"The Republican Party's constituency needs to be people who play by the rules in this state, people who have budgeted for the home they bought, pay their mortgage, but are still on the hook to pay for the actions of people who are less responsible, folks that have seen their 401k take a 30-40-50 percent hit, but are still on the hook… I mean that's who the Republican Party needs, that's who our constituency has to be if we are going to be successful and if we're going to bring a lot of Republicans who kind of retired from the party back into the party."

What things will you not compromise on?

"I will not compromise on tax relief. I mean we have to get tax relief. So, I am going to change the debate. If I am governor, the conversation is not going to be about tax increases, which is what the conversation has been under Republicans and Democrats for the last 20 years.

"The conversation is going to be about tax cuts. I am sure there will be some back and forth, but the conversation is going to be about which taxes we can and will cut and how deeply...completely change the terms of debate.

"Safety and education: You will not be able to outspend me on education. But I am not going to invest money in centralized bureaucracies. I will spend money on families. I will invest money in students and give them the money like we do at the collegiate level, have the money follow the child. But, I am not going to fund the Chicago public school bureaucracy, I just refuse to.

"Just at the state level, we have increased spending on education in K-12 32 percent in real terms in the last 20 years. Test scores are stagnant, graduation rates are actually declining. What you have is failing school systems: Chicago, Rockford, Peoria, Rock Island, East St. Louis.

"We fund teachers' salaries and pensions. That's what the systems are set up to do, they are not set up to educate kids. The way you change that system is you change how the money flows.

"...You start empowering parents with choice. I mean people who are right now, let's be honest, are being discriminated against based on their address and their household income, they don't get the same opportunities that Barack Obama has for his children, that my parents had for me, and it's not right because what we know is right now they're being relegated to school systems that we know will fail them, schools that will not prepare them for success in life, that will really drive them into second class citizen status because they are not taught to read, write and think critically.

"This is not an attack on teachers, this is an attack on teachers' unions. The teachers unions are intransigent. They are impervious to evidence, they are resistant to reform and it just can't be tolerated.

"They need to be held accountable just like the Chicago Democrats for what has happened to our schools under their domination. And we're going to change the nature of that debate and we're going to change that system."

What kind of mood are Illinoisans in?

"People are angry and frustrated. They want real system change…I think they really want to see somebody go to Springfield to turn that place upside down and shake it. I mean they are not interested in listening to navel gazing politicians…they want somebody who is going to take the fight to the powers that be in Springfield that have kind of a particular vision and is willing and unapologetic about presenting a contrast vision for this state.

"There is a real opportunity, not just for me, but for the party, for other candidates to provide constructive form to that anger and frustration that's out there, because folks are hurt now, they've been hurt. They've seen their property values go down. They've lost their jobs or are concerned about it, retirement has taken a hit.

"They're picking their head up and they're looking around and they're not liking what they're seeing. And they're really sick and tired of every time they turn around they got some Chicago Democrat poking their finger in their chest, saying give me your lunch money. They're tired of being bullied and pushed around and I think they are looking for leadership that is reflective of a desire to take the fight forward."

Your reflections on the embarrassment caused by former Gov. Blagojevich?

"Blagojevich really wasn't the governor. Quinn isn't the governor. They're pretending to be the governor, they're playing a role. Mike Madigan is the governor.

"The thing that is embarrassing to me is what the state has become in spite of all the advantages we have -- centers of commerce, transportation infrastructure, vibrant arts and humanities across the state, wonderful colleges and community colleges -- all of the inherent advantages the state has and we have become a banana republic.

"I mean across every metric, we are at the bottom five or 10 states in terms of any indicator of quality of life or robustness of economy, and it just doesn't have to be that way. That's the thing that's embarrassing to me, I mean Blagojevich was just kind of a court jester.

"Frankly, what's embarrassing to me about Blagojevich is how the Republican Party allowed him to win two elections. I look at his election particularly in 2006, that's a failure of the Republican Party, that was a failure of us to present a contrast, that was a failure of us to have a vision and message that connected to voters, so instead of pointing fingers and saying it was all Blagojevich's fault, which people know isn't true, our problems pre-dated Blagojevich and they extend beyond him. Understand that he is an ancillary player in this story; understand there are no white knights in this story.

"Nobody has the moral high ground. Focus on what we failed to do that gave rise to somebody like Blagojevich and what our opportunity is going forward so that we don't have another Blagojevich."

Proft also talked about his tort reform agenda.

He said he favors caps on non-economic, or punitive, damages that would be proportional to compensatory damages. He would also like to explore a loser pay system that would discourage "frivolous" lawsuits.

Proft did reveal a tax that he does favor-one which would foster the "altruistic instincts" of trial lawyers:

"To really send a message to trial lawyers, and as well as to juries, I would like to impose a windfall profits tax on lawyers," Proft said.

At what rate?

"I am not ready to say 100 percent yet," he said. "Trial lawyers are Democrats and they are all about the working man, so I hear. They're not in it for the money, they are in it for social justice, so I am going to help advance their interest in social justice by re-purposing their money to better use.

"You know, maybe what we could do then, because I know they are concerned about the quality of healthcare-because they say so-we'll re-purpose their money to help fund nursing programs, and to help local hospitals and community clinics. We'll re-purpose their money to help major employers in regions, finance workers' comp costs. We'll help them to do the good work that they want to do. I want to help foster their altruistic instincts."

He said he would explore the constitutionality of such a measure.

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