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ELECTIONS State Sen. 9th Dist. candidate and current State Rep. Laura Fine on diversity
by Angelique Smith

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In a bid to take over state Sen. Daniel Biss' seat as he runs for governor, state Rep. Laura Fine is running for Senate for the 9th District, which includes townships such as Evanston and Northfield, and villages such as Kenilworth, Skokie and Winnetka.

A Democrat who grew up in Glenview and is currently in her third term as state rep for the 17th District, Fine is passionate and vocal about many issues, including education and the environment. She has supported continued funding for Planned Parenthood, raising the minimum wage, providing paid sick time to workers and was proud to bring her kids to the bill signing for marriage equality in Illinois.

Fine has also been openly critical of Gov. Rauner and President Trump, and this extends to the resolutions and bills she has introduced in the House, including condemning the latter's executive order barring refugees and his plans for "the wall."

Windy City Times: You've said that you're "committed to fiscal accountability [and] bringing integrity back to Springfield." How has that commitment played out while you were a state representative?

Rep. Laura Fine: Under this current governor [Rauner], it's been challenging. Since he refused to work with us on a budget for so many years, it put us in the hole with many unpaid bills, really devastating so many important functions of the state. It's almost like starting from scratch again. We have to make sure we have a balanced budget, that we are really funding the agencies that are important to us.

WCT: As a former teacher, you've mentioned that higher education is important to you. What did you accomplish on the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee?

LF: We were really moving in the right direction until we stopped funding our universities. I take that personally because higher education is so vitally important. It goes back to being fiscally responsible, so many of these universities are the economic engines in their communities. [It] not only devastates the students and the universities, but the entire surrounding communities.

WCT: Tell us about your work on legislation to stop the use of a coal tar.

LF: This has been a many year project of mine. Coal tar itself, it's carcinogenic. The studies are out there, the doctors know. Kids play in the driveways covered in coal tar and they bring the carcinogenic dust into their homes; it's on playgrounds, it's getting into our water.

WCT: Wow—I didn't know about driveways.

LF: I'm on the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus. I was at one of our meetings and Minnesota was talking about how they banned coal tar and that's when I learned more about it. Not only the health damages it causes, but the high price to the communities that have to clean it out of their waterways. I have been trying to work to ban coal tar in the state of Illinois. I kind of look at this as, "Is this the next asbestos?" Asbestos was the most wonderful thing in the world until they found out it was literally killing people. If there's a safe, healthy alternative, I don't see why we shouldn't be able to reduce the toxins to protect people and the environment.

WCT: What are your thoughts on the current political environment in this country?

LF: You've got to look at it from a negative and a positive way. The negative is I really think that under our current leadership, the little guy is getting the boot. It just seems like everything is being done, especially at the federal level, to help out that top 1 percent, to help big industry. Every time the president opens his mouth and does something about the environment, I feel like I'm being kicked in the gut. Allowing coal mines to dump into the waterways; it's devastation to our environment that we're never going to be able to fix. And here we were, I felt like, on a really good track of making improvements and trying to preserve our world for the future; and we have this administration taking us [backward]. I've been very frustrated. If you were to see some of the resolutions I've passed for the House…

WCT: Yes, I've read a lot of them.

LF: It's everything from "Stop what you're doing to immigrants," to "Let's protect Lake Michigan." At the state level, it's been, "Fund our universities and our human-service providers," because that's our job: to protect the people that are the most vulnerable. We need to be the voice of those people.

WCT: Politicians often lose sight of that.

LF: On the positive side, in this past year, I have never seen people become more involved in government. Even in my own community, you've got your core group of people who are always out there. They're going to town hall meetings and rallies and want to be informed. Now, every time we have an event, it's packed. I'm constantly speaking to different groups because people want to know and are tired of being bystanders; they want to be upstanders.

WCT: What would you recommend to have a better relationship between law enforcement and the citizens they serve, including people of color and the transgender community?

LF: There needs to be better understanding and a better relationship. We need to be accepting of everybody's differences. Just this past week, our high school put in a transgender policy, and thank goodness they finally did. This is the way our world is moving and you've got to move with [it]. It also goes back to funding. With the transgender community, make sure our homeless shelters are funded and these young kids are taken care of and they know that they are accepted in society. Once we can start having these conversations, that everybody's good for who they are, we'll start seeing those changes. Unfortunately, it's going to mean a new administration. We were on that path under Obama and now we are hitting the wall.

WCT: In looking at the demographics of the 9th District, I realize there's a difference between Wilmette and Evanston, for example. How easy would it be to foster open conversations, specifically about race when, most likely, looking around the room, diversity of race wouldn't necessarily be represented?

LF: Absolutely. How do you look at diversity, if, for example, part of my district covers Skokie and Niles North High School? Seventy-six languages are spoken in that high school. Even though you look at this and say, "white bread community," it's probably one of the most diverse communities in the area. It may not be as much black and white, but there's a ton of diversity here, and I think people don't realize that. It's not the diversity that most people are accustomed to, but every year Skokie has the Festival of Cultures in May. As part of this, all of the different cultures that are represented in Skokie march in with their flag and it's an amazing ceremony because you realize the culture that's in this community.

WCT: Hmm.

LF: Skokie did this fabulous project, Skokie Welcomes Everyone. So, you could drive around Skokie and see signs everywhere, and people blogged to say, "Skokie welcomes everyone." We've just been trying to reach out to all the different communities and make sure everybody's represented. And, you're right, you're not going to get that much diversity in like, a Kenilworth, for example.

WCT: Right. That was a good example.

LF: But, we have the diversity in other parts of the district.

WCT: Would you install a written policy in your office regarding sexual-orientation and gender-identity discrimination?

LF: Absolutely.

WCT: What would you do to ensure that your staff is diverse, whether it's in terms of sexual orientation, race or gender?

LF: My staff is my Glenview office—it's me and Shiva. It's an interesting office if you look at it because I'm Jewish and she's Muslim. But I have three people that work with me, two more women and one is a man, just because these were the people that I felt were the most qualified for the job and that I was comfortable working with. When it comes to diversity, everybody should have the same opportunities.

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