Curtis Tarver II is an attorney, small business owner, and one of five Democrats vying to succeed Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie in the Twenty-Fifth State House District, which encompasses the University of Chicago. His campaign advocates expanding access to public education for Illinois students, investing in small business owners across the state, and reducing recidivism rates in Illinois’ criminal justice system. He sat down with the Gate to discuss his ideas, background, and political values.
The Gate: Do you see the role of a representative in the Illinois General Assembly as more in line with the trustee model or the delegate model of civic representation?
Curtis Tarver II: Many of my opponents use the “giving a voice to the voiceless” rhetoric which aligns with the delegate model of civic representation. I do not like to assume people are “voiceless,” or weak. Everyone has a voice. You can look at social media and see first-hand that everyone has a political voice. People need proper representation, they need to be informed on their elected officials, and they need to trust their elected officials. As an elected representative of the district I want the people of the Twenty-fifth District to know that I will listen to everyone and take everyone’s concerns into consideration.
Gate: Describe your political philosophy in three words.
Tarver: Integrity, humility and deliver.
Gate: Your campaign literature mentions a commitment to quality education. What would you describe as the most pressing need for Illinois schools that you’ll work to address?
Tarver: I just believe that every student should have the opportunity to go to a phenomenal school in his or her neighborhood. That is the overarching goal. In order to do that several things are important including how we fund those schools. Teachers need to be supported, and that includes allowing for more social workers and other skilled professionals. If the model is for a teacher to be the parent, social worker, and teacher for these students who have a diverse set of needs—that is impossible. I would also work to ensure more diversity in the schools where it is feasible. It would be great to have more interaction at a younger age for students with different backgrounds.
Gate: A lot of Illinois lawmakers have fought gun violence in Chicago for years—what do you bring to the table that we haven’t quite seen before?
Tarver: When we are talking about gun violence we are typically talking about illegal gun trafficking and ownership. I believe that the focus has to be on reducing the number of illegal guns that make it into the city of Chicago. At the same time there have to be more opportunities for young people to provide an alternative to crime.
Gate: You’re running as a Democrat for the Illinois General Assembly, a legislature dominated by Democrats. To what extent do you plan to reach across the aisle to work with Republicans?
Tarver: I attended a panel discuss on Women in Politics a few weeks back, and Leader Currie was a panelist, as well as many influential women in Illinois legislature, both Democratic and Republican. What inspired me most about the discussion was how the women consistently set aside their partisan differences to make the best decision for the state and for the people. I will model that approach to the extent that I can.
Gate: You’re the owner of the first African American brewery in the state of Illinois: Vice District. How has your time as a small business owner informed your understanding of politics?
Tarver: Being a small business owner has reminded me that oftentimes there is a lack of focus on helping smaller businesses not only survive but to scale. There is often a fascination with larger entities and attracting them. That is certainly important and provides opportunities; however, small businesses can readily benefit from an administration and elected officials who understand their value and importance. Larger businesses typically started small, too. That is important to keep in sight.
Gate: What happened in the moment you decided to run for state representative?
Tarver: I felt a sincere feeling of calm. I knew the time was right. I have been preparing for this moment for quite some time through my experience in both the public and private sector.
Gate: Why did you choose to run for public office, as opposed to continued work for a non-profit or a further legal career?
Tarver: My legal career and philanthropic endeavors are rewarding and I believe I have been able to do some positive things; however, I knew that running for office would allow me to build on the skills that I have developed to help more people more consistently. The reason I became an attorney and am involved in non-profits is to help people and to provide solutions.
Gate: Do you have any thoughts on the 2018 Illinois gubernatorial race?
Tarver: I think it is the most important gubernatorial race since I have been able to vote. This is a seminal moment in our state’s nearly 200-year history.
Gate: What do you look for in a governor?
Tarver: I look for someone who is willing to listen and to put the needs of the state over his (as there are no women running for governor of which I am aware) ability to score political points. I look for someone who wants to serve and who will appoint an administration that reflects the diversity of the state from a gender, racial, sexual orientation, religious, etc. perspective. Lastly, I look for someone with great vision. This is not simply about now—it has to be about the next generations and how they thrive.
Gate: What do you aspire to accomplish for your first one hundred days as a state representative?
Tarver: Firstly, if I am fortunate enough to be elected, I plan to learn alongside Leader Currie as much as possible. She is truly a maven—especially when it comes to revenue. I aspire to align my skill set with potential committee opportunities. I plan to provide a thoughtful and analytical eye to bills that have been introduced and to understand how it affects the Twenty-fifth District. Furthermore, I plan to introduce bills that aim to solve issues in the Twenty-fifth District and the state more generally.
Gate: Climate change is a global concern that threatens our urban and rural environments alike. What more can Illinois do to promote the interests of our environment?
Tarver: We have to approach these issues on the praxis of which they disproportionately threaten low income areas. Climate change is real. We have to make sure that clean energy, clean water, sustainable transit, and green infrastructure are available to these communities.
Richard Omoniyi-Shoyoola is a Senior Writer for The Gate and currently serves as a volunteer for the Curtis Tarver II for State Representative campaign. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gate.
The image used in this piece was provided by Mr. Tarver's campaign.
Richard Omoniyi-Shoyoola is a rising fourth year in the University of Chicago studying Political Science. He has served as an Intern in the Office of U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, as a Complaint Counselor for the ACLU of Missouri, and as an Investigations Intern for the Law Office of The Cook County Public Defender. All of these experiences have taught him that everybody deserves an advocate, and that being cynical is overrated.