As evidenced by the February primaries, if graded on the effectiveness of their campaign ads, Illinois lawmakers would probably receive gold stars.
However, according to the Applied Research Center, many state legislators would be on academic probation regarding their support for legislation designed to equal the playing field among the races.
The 26-year-old, non-profit group’s second annual report, Facing Race: Illinois Legislative Report Card, which was released last week, examines the voting records of lawmakers in the Illinois General Assembly.
Some of our local elected leaders fared well in this year’s report, though the report overall gave the General Assembly low marks.
The report’s methodology involved analyzing votes taken on 56 bills dealing with the needs of Illinois’ minorities, focusing in areas including education, health care and civil rights
The study also chronicled members’ support for the measures. The report uses a point and letter grading system for lawmakers.
State representatives Lashawn Ford (8) and Deborah Graham (78), and state senators Don Harmon (39), and Kim Lightford (4) each received a ‘B’ on their voting records. State Rep. Karen Yarbrough (7) received an ‘A’.
“There is no doubt that the funding of schools in Illinois is the most inequitable in the country,” said Josina Morita, senior research associate for the center, and primary author of the report.
“The average black child in public school receives $1,153 less each year in school funding than the average white child. If HB 750 would have passed, it could have created the School District Property Tax Relief Fund and reduced reliance on property taxes.”
Morita claims the bill would have, among other things, increased per pupil expenditures. The bill, he noted, languished in the Illinois senate.
The center’s report, however, counts a “present” or “not present” the same as a “yea” or “nay” vote. It also doesn’t take into account opposition to a portion, certain language, or attached amendment to a bill that a lawmaker might in theory actually support.
Morita admits that the methodology is not perfect, but asserts that simply saying “no” to legislation, and not contributing to its reworking, is no excuse.
“If you are not present when the bill is presented then does it matter why?” asked Rev. Patricia Watkins, co-founder of the United Congress of Community & Religious Organization (UCCRO), which conducted research for the report.
“If you cared that much about the legislation you would have been present or at least tried to provide a solution to the issue you have with the bill.”
The report also revealed that minority legislators were more inclined to take leadership roles when promoting issues regarding race than legislators who are Caucasian. In this area, minority members averaged a grade of ‘A’ while whites averaged a ‘C’ grade. How legislators played to their constituencies was another area of highlight in the report. Those representing predominately white districts were less inclined to vote on racial equity measures. Those representing minority districts, though, were more likely to vote in favor of such bills.
The connection between voting records and party affiliation was also present, though Morita cautioned, “There were Republican legislators that did very well and Democratic legislators who did very poorly.”
It should be noted that Springfield state Rep. Raymond Poe (99) is the only Republican legislator to sponsor a racial equity bill, though his overall grade was a ‘D’.
Still, Democrats did better in supporting and sponsoring racial equity legislation, according to the report.
Last Thursday, more than 250 members of United Congress, traveled to Springfield to personally deliver the report card to individual legislators.
Seventeen legislators who received an ‘A’ were presented with awards. Those who did poorly were dismissive of the group, said Watkins.
Those lawmakers, she explained, argued that the report was not fair, or failed to look objectively at their entire record, rather focusing on the previous two House sessions.
“Nevertheless, facing our elected officials on these issues,” Watkins said, “helps us hold them accountable to ensure that these initiatives result in real change in every part of our state.”