Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Interview with AJ Wilhelmi

by ann baskerville

Willcountynews interviewed State Senator AJ Wilhelmi, a Democrat who represents the 43rd State Senate District.  Wilhelmi is facing Republican Cedra Crenshaw in the November election.

Issue 1:What is Wilhelmi most proud of achieving as a State Senator

I asked Wilhelmi what 3 things he was most proud of accomplishing as a State Senator so far.

First, Wilhelmi said he was proud to have "had the honor of sponsoring the "Let Them Rest in Peace Act" in 2006 which prohibits hate groups from harassing families who are burying their loved one who died while serving our country in the military.  The bill was necessary because groups were protesting US military policy by showing up at service members' funerals and causing a disruption to the grieving family, protesting at a "completely and totally inappropriate time," Wilhelmi said.  The bill passed with overwhelming support and as he stood on the floor of the State Senate as the bill was passed, Wilhelmi said he "literally had chills up my spine" because he knew the bill would protect grieving families on one of the most difficult days of their life.

The bill: "protects grieving family members and friends by putting a 200-foot privacy zone between the funeral site and protestors who sing loudly, play music, chant, whistle, yell, or make any other type of disturbing noise. SB 1144 also prohibits protesters from displaying any visual images that convey fighting words or threats against any other person, and makes it illegal to knowingly obstruct a person’s entry or exit from a funeral site. Disruptive and inflammatory protests will be prohibited 30 minutes before a funeral, during a funeral, and 30 minutes after the funeral within that 200-foot privacy zone."

Secondly, Wilhelmi said he is proud to have helped pass the Intermodal Facility Promotions Act in 2009.  A public-private partnership, the Act provided incentives for the Union Pacific Intermodal Terminal and Centerpoint Intermodal Center, both in Joliet.   Wilhelmi said the two projects will employ 15,000 over the next 10 years.  Wilhelmi said the act also received support from Republicans, who said this is the kind of legislation we need.

Thirdly, Wilhelmi said he is proud to have fought for and supported legislation that supports: Pre-school education, K-12 education, After-School programs, and the Monetary Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance for college students so they can "get the education and training they need to get a job and support their family," Wilhelmi said.

Wilhelmi said the educational programs he fought for are all ultimately about "improving the community and providing our children with the education and tools they will need to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

When citizens ask Wilhelmi what he's been doing about jobs and education, Wilhelmi says he's been fighting for them and working to ensure all children in the community have access to great education that will prepare them to work in the global economy.  

Issue 2: Jobs

In terms of creating jobs, Wilhelmi said he sponsored legislation that provided Navistar with Recovery Zone Bonds, which was the incentive that led to Navistar's decision to locate in Will County.  The distribution center in New Lenox will create 150 direct-hire, permanent jobs that will pay union-level wages of approximately 40,000.  Furthermore, the Bonds were part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and if the funds were not used, they would have been lost.   

Wilhelmi also related the story of visiting an Iron Workers Retraining Program, which was supplying Iron Workers with the skills they need to install and maintain wind turbines.  This program, funded by a 300,000 grant, is important because it provides workers with new skills needed for working with new technology, Wilhelmi said. "Now more than ever we need job training and tax incentives to bring in job-creating businesses, if we eliminate the incentives, business will go elsewhere" Wilhelmi said.  For example, Wilhelmi said states like Texas and South Carolina offer businesses incentives to locate in their states, so Illinois has to offer incentives to these businesses to remain competitive.  

Wilhelmi pointed to the Ford Motor Company's recent decision to create 1200 new manufacturing jobs building the Ford Explorer south of Chicago.  Wilhelmi said Ford was looking at other states, and it was because of the incentive program offered by the state that Ford decided to locate in Illinois.  Wilhelmi said his opponent would call what Illinois did for Ford "a bribe", but Wilhelmi said every state offers tax incentives to businesses.  Wilhelmi said such public-private partnerships demonstrate how both sectors can work together to create jobs.   Wilhelmi points to Intel, which recently told the US Government it needs incentives to create jobs in the USA, or it will be forced to create jobs in India, China, and Mexico.  Wilhelmi said he does not want to see manufacturing jobs shipped to China or India or taken to Mexico.  

Wilhelmi said he is concerned about recent reports concerning warehouse work in Will County.  Wilhelmi said he has met with the Warehouse Workers for Justice, local ministers and the NAACP to discuss this issue.  Wilhelmi said he has met with community leaders in order to make sure that the jobs created in our distribution centers are good jobs.  Wilhelmi said, "We want to promote direct-hire, permanent, living-wage jobs."  Wilhelmi said he is committed to getting all stakeholders in the warehouse industry together in a roundtable forum where the issues and problems can be discussed and solutions can be created.   Wilhelmi says he is fortunate to have been given the support of the Illinois Manufacturer's Association and also the AFL-CIO.  Wilhelmi says it is important that Democrats and Republicans, and Labor and Business come together to create solutions to the problems our families face in these tough economic times.

Finally, in regards to the minimum wage Wilhelmi points to his vote to increase the minimum wage from 6.50 to 8.25.  Wilhelmi said that in these economic times, to talk about rolling back the minimum wage is "irresponsible and insensitive."  

Issue 3: Education

Wilhelmi said his view of education is in stark contrast to Cedra Crenshaw's.  Wilhelmi said that Crenshaw stated during an interview that she would be willing to vote for teacher layoffs and funding cuts.  Wilhelmi said "this is the wrong direction for Will County and it is the wrong direction for the State."  

Wilhelmi said he "can't think of a better investment than to invest in teachers and what they do for kids."

Wilhelmi also said his opponent stated she would not have voted for a capital bill that funded a new school for the Joliet Elementary School District.  Wilhelmi said a brand new school behind Gompers is not pork.  Wilhelmi said his opponent has aligned herself with Bill Brady and his plan to cut 10% across the board.  Wilhelmi is not in favor of cuts to education.

Wilhelmi said his opponent referred to public schools as indoctrination centers.  Wilhelmi said "I do not believe our public schools are indoctrination centers."

Wilhelmi said without training and skills, our children will not be able to compete in the global economy.   Wilhelmi also said education is a great investment.  He pointed to the fact that the police chiefs across the state believe in early childhood education, because every dollar spent there saves 7 in future criminal and social service expenses. 

Issue 4: Legislative Scholarships

Background: During a recent WJOL debate between Crenshaw and Wilhelmi, Crenshaw claimed Larry Walsh appointed Wilhelmi to his State Senate seat, and Wilhelmi then awarded Walsh's nephew Kevin Walsh a legislative scholarship.

What was said on the WJOL 
Wilhelmi: "My opponent has said that Larry Walsh appointed me to the Senate Seat.  That is not true....That is a falsehood.... Larry Walsh never appointed me to the Senate seat.... Secondly, Elwood's a small town, we get applications from Elwood, Manhattan, Joliet, Romeoville, Rockdale, Bolingbrook. The fact of the matter is, I have a very fair and balanced application process.  I have limited numbers of folks applying....and I don't think Larry's extended family should be penalized because they happen to be related to the county executive."

Scott Slocum (host): Ok. Cedra, any rebuttal to that?

Crenshaw: "I find it quite astounding that Senator Wilhemi sees no moral problem with giving a legislative scholarship to the person who did in fact appoint him to the Illinois State Senate.  And that therein shows the problem, one of the problems, in Illinois, in terms of the leadership or lack thereof that we have."

Wilhelmi: "Larry Walsh did not appoint me to the Senate Seat."

You can listen to the entire debate 
here, I have condensed it above for the sake of space.

I asked Wilhelmi to clarify the truth on this issue because, obviously, during the debate two opposite claims were made.

Wilhelmi said: "I was selected by a committee of 3 people: George Mushro, the late Dave Evans, and Tom Braxton.  14 candidates were interviewed and I ended up being selected."  With regards to Crenshaw's claim that Wilhelmi was appointed by Walsh and that Wilhelmi was involved in pay-to-play, Wilhelmi said: "It's just false, in fact, she knows it's false."