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Unemployment, pensions top of the list in 31st District race

MelindBush candidate for state senate 31st district. | Special Sun-Times Media

Melinda Bush candidate for state senate 31st district. | Special to Sun-Times Media

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District 31

Illinois Senate District 31 follows north along the Wisconsin state line from Zion and Winthrop Harbor to Antioch, stretching south to Wauconda. In between it includes Beach Park, Gurnee, Grayslake, Gages Lake, Lindenhurst, Wadsworth, Old Mill Creek and the Round Lakes.

Updated: December 25, 2012 1:15AM

Candidates for the Illinois Senate’s 31st District, Republican Joe Neal and Democrat Melinda Bush, are touting their experience and leadership as medicine for what both say ails the state — high unemployment, pension hangover, and partisan politics.

Bush, 56, of Grayslake, who was elected District 6 Lake County Board Commissioner in 2008, draws a connection between the state’s “terrible” economic situation and a lack of “honest ethical leadership.”

“I’m the kind of person we need in Springfield, someone who is willing to stand up and do the right thing,” said Bush, who adds that she wrangled ethics reform, including public oversight, in county government after she discovered members had turned a blind eye to an illegal septic field on forest preserve land. The field belonged to a former board member,

“We need to elect people who have experience fighting for ethics reform,” Bush said. “I’ve done that at county and I’ll do it at the state level.”

Neal, 44, of Wadsworth, a civil engineer and Newport Township Republican chairman, said he’ll bring common sense to the statehouse.

“I’ll work across the aisle with Democrats to come up with solutions and not use those solutions to bash each other during election,” he said. “I’m not going down there to wave a Republican banner. I want to immediately build relationships and trust.”

Both Bush and Neal have a comfort level with diverse people and settings. Bush attended the College of Lake County, and as a young woman worked on the assembly line at the former Kleinschmidt teletype factory in Deerfield, She also worked in Grayslake schools, ran a business — the former Center Street Market in Grayslake — sold advertising, wrote a newspaper column and served one term as a Grayslake village trustee.

Neal, who joined the Navy Reserves in 2008, holds a masters of transportation engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. As a member of the Navy Civil Engineering Corps, he has deployed to Nicaragua, Cuba and Iraq. As a military officer in charge of a Seabee detachment in Iraq, he oversaw a crew of 60, both women and men, ranging from age 19 to 58,

“I bring a unique background,” said Neal, who noted that he would be only the second civil engineer in the state senate. “That along with my military background, which fosters leadership, discipline and problem solving, will be of great value.”

Bush is an experienced hand at budgets. As County Board commissioner, she helped coax a new FedEx facility to Grayslake, a fete forged on a tax abatement incentive.

“We kept them in Illinois by working with partners and five different taxing bodies,” she said.

Neal too wants to keep jobs from moving north.

“We’re right next to Wisconsin so our district is uniquely at risk when our economy is bad and our business environment deteriorates,” he said. “It’s a friendly environment over there because of taxes and regulations. The fact that we’re a bankrupt state makes businesses fearful of our economy here overall.”

Both candidates insist that if elected, they will pursue pension reform.

“But labor has to be at the table,” Bush said. “Until everybody’s at the table and working to solve our huge pension deficit, we won’t solve it. I’m willing to look at COLAs and we absolutely have to end the process of sweeping funds and pension double- and triple-dipping.”

Those officials who took state pension funds for other uses and never replaced them are guilty of theft, Bush said. “These union members paid their contributions faithfully every year and the money in those funds has been stolen from them.”

“Pension reform is a necessity not only for our state’s financial stability but also so we can make sure we have a pension system that’s reliable and sustainable,” Neal said. “We need to protect pensions from politicians in Springfield who have raided the funds for so long and been irresponsible.”

Neal supports repealing individual and corporate tax increases.

“But that also means we’re going to have to agree about reducing spending and reforming state programs to bring spending in line with projected state revenue,” he said.

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