Openly gay community organizer and campaign staffer Kevin B. Morrison ( D ) is running in the primary against Ravi Raji. The incumbent is Republican Timothy Owen Schneider, who is currently serving his third term in office and is chair of Illinois' Republican Party.
Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run?
Kevin B. Morrison: I was not planning on running in this election cycle but two things changed that caused me to run for office.
I had just returned from working on the presidential election in Ohio and started working for my Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi as a special projects coordinator. In that job I had to build relationships with the people of the 8th District. It was partially all these incredible Democratic voices finally standing up and taking on incumbent Republicans in DuPage County. That was a huge inspiration to me.
Also, at the same time I was hearing about the frustrations people were having with the direction the county government was headed. When I found out that nobody had stepped up to take on our commissioner Tim Schneider, who is a proud Trump supporter/big backer of Gov. Rauner and was the one who excitedly gave the GOP delegates to Trump at the Republican convention, I felt that was unacceptable. Then I found out a Republican [Ravi Raju] had been petitioning as a Democrat and will be my primary challenger on March 20, I decided I had to put my name on the ballot to make sure there was a strong Democratic voice to represent the people of the 15th District.
WCT: How would you approach the job differently than what the incumbent has done in the past?
KBM: I would actually do my job. I am running to be a voice for the entire 15th District and put our county on a better path moving forward. Our current commissioner has lots of other responsibilities that pull him in other directions, including his own business. He did not knock on a single door to get his petitions signed so he could get on the ballot and is not someone who goes out and is active in the community at all.
I will continue to hear from my constituents by knocking on doors and holding town halls when it is not election season. Also, my office will be easily accessible so everyone can come and tell me the issues they are facing. I think being accessible to district residents is incredibly important. I also plan on attending every commissioner meeting, unlike the current commissioner who has missed 15 percent of those meetings.
WCT: You are one of the younger candidates  running for office. How will that affect the way you do your job?
KBM: I recognize that being elected to this office would mean I would become one of the youngest commissioners ever elected. I think it is time that we start a new page in Cook County government, and for once begin to elect representation that reflects the residents being served. I may become one of the youngest members of the Cook County Board, but that would not change the service I would seek to provide for all Cook County residents.
I believe this is an opportunity to elect a candidate who has the energy and stamina to deal with the demands of this officesomeone who would bring new innovative ideas to the table, and continuously push for policies that would protect the livelihoods of working- and middle-class families. It has often been the case that elected officials pass policies of which negative impacts they would not live to see, so the work and policies I would propose would have the best interests of the county at heart now and into the future.
WCT: You indicated that you would be a full-time commissioner with no other job. Why is that important to you?
KBM: Cook County government represents a population of over 5 million individuals. Seeing that the board oversees the second largest county budget in the nation, our residents deserve commissioners who devote their time to the office they were elected to represent. I want to be a full-time commissioner because I recognize how important and complex the job is. I would be elected to be there representative, not part of the time, but all of the time. I would not part ways with my title throughout my term, and so the top priority of any commissioner should be to serving the needs of Cook County residents.
WCT: What do you see are the most important issues facing the county and how would you address those issues if elected?
KBM: We have a commissioner who is only representing the multimillionaires and is fighting for policies that will crush and eliminate the middle class. I am sick and tired of the burden falling on the backs of working and middle class families. There needs to be a fairer tax system. All these new taxes are harming anyone who is not rich and that needs to change. We need to get rid of those loopholes that give corporations tax breaks.
There needs to be a new push to break down the barriers that are stopping small business creation here in the county. I want to see individuals who might be looking to locate their business outside the county get a two year property tax exemption which will allow individuals to invest in their business operations, hire locally and get it on firm ground. Then after a two year period, the business property taxes over a number of years would begin to rise to where they should be. This will help with the deficit in the long run.
Our county is currently $139 billion in debt. That worries me and I do not want to see our county fiscally collapse because of it. We need to find ways to chip away at that debt so we can safeguard our county moving forward. I do not want us to be another Detroit because that would hurt every Cook County resident.
WCT: What additional measures would you advocate for to provide more transparency in how the county government is run?
KBM: Right now you can see what areas are receiving our taxpayer dollars but we are not able to see how each dollar is spent. If we were more transparent there, we would be able to have a larger voice in ensuring that every single taxpayer dollar is being used to the fullest. I want to make sure there is no waste and we are getting the best deals when we spend money. We need to have this available on the county website and there should be someone at every commission office that knows this information when a constituent calls us.
WCT: As a member of the LGBTQ community, what will you bring to the commission?
KBM: When I decided to run for this office, I was unaware that the Cook County Board had yet to elect a member that was openly LGBTQ. I believe it is incredibly important that all elected bodies represent the diversity of the communities that they serve. Cook County has a large LGBT population. Though my voice would only represent a small segment of our vast LGBTQ umbrella, I would make it my duty to bring a voice to the board that represents the needs and issues facing our entire community. My lived experience and advocacy would allow me to include issues facing Cook County's LGBTQ residents in all policy issues that come up for discussion. I believe it is incredibly important that all vital services that the county provides meet the needs of whomever they are dealing with at the time. No member of our community should feel uncomfortable or discriminated against by any service provided by the county, and I pledge to be a voice that will push for better trainings and more diligent overview of our staff in order to ensure that all Cook County residents receive fair and equal treatment through county services.
WCT: What kinds of LGBTQ related things have you done in the past?
KBM: I was a member of my high school's GSA [gay-straight alliance]; in college, I was a member of the Spectrum Organization on campus. I have always volunteered and worked for candidates who are pro-LGBTQ, including pushing for those policies. When the Trump administration first started eliminating protections for transgender students, I organized a rally for transgender people to be able to speak out about their issues on North Halsted Street. Within two days there were 2,500 people interested in attending and it attracted all local media within Chicago. I also volunteered in District 211where I went to high school, at Conantwith a number of pro-transgender school-board candidates and all of them got elected to the school board. District 211 has been in the national spotlight because of its pro-transgender policies. I also volunteer for various LGBTQ groups.
WCT: What do you see are the most important issues or obstacles facing the LGBTQ community and how would you address them?
KBM: I want to see sensitivity training for every county employee; especially those at the county hospitals, law enforcement and the courts. I want to make sure that every LGBTQ person who needs the vital services of the county gets the best treatment possible. That means they are comfortable having any kind of conversation with those people. More specifically, transgender people and people of color across all sexual orientation and gender identities who experience the most negative interactions with county officials.
As a commissioner, I would be able to talk with state legislators to push for greater protections for LGBTQ people. One of the things I would talk to them about is making a law that requires an LGBTQ inclusive history curriculum and sex education across the state.
WCT: Are there any changes you would make in how the county jail and health and hospital systems are run? If so, what are they?
KBM: We should have LGBTQ counselors present in our jail systems to make it easier for LGBTQ people in jail to report any misgivings they may have while they are incarcerated. I would also like to see people accused of violent and nonviolent offenses separated. Also, have counselors who specifically help LGBTQ people get reintroduced into their communities after being locked up. We need to find ways to rehabilitate these individuals so they do no return to jail.
In terms of our hospital system, any LGBTQ person should be comfortable speaking to all the healthcare professionals and staff they interact with while receiving care.
WCT: Would you have voted to repeal the soda tax?
KBM: I would never have voted for it in the first place because it was a bit too extreme. This tax had huge negative impact across the county. My family owns a restaurant in the county and they buy soda bags that hook up to the soda fountain in the restaurant. The media never told the public that it was not how many ounces in the soda syrup bag that would be charged the tax, it was the ounces of syrup and carbonated water that created the soda. This caused many customers to stop purchasing soda at restaurants, like my family's, which resulted in decreased revenue for their small business.
WCT: What do you see are the best ways to raise revenue so the budget is balanced that do not involve regressive taxation on everyone in the county?
KBM: I am very much against regressive taxes. We have fallen into the habit of putting revenue generation on the backs of working and middle class families.
Big corporations in the county are able to forgo their property taxes by leasing properties. There is so much revenue that is lost because of that.
WCT: If elected, how will your previous work and volunteer backgrounds inform how you do your job?
KBM: I have been incredibly involved in political and issues-based campaigns. In college, I interned for a couple of local aldermen. I worked on the Clinton campaign starting as an organizer and became a regional organizing director for northeast Ohio in charge of four counties. I am someone who's major focus has always been, what is the way that I can give back and help promote better policies that will drive us forward. I see this commissioner seat as a way to give back to my community and help make it better.
For more information, visit www.kevinbmorrison.com/ .