From Activism to Government: An Interview with Grace Chan McKibben

 /  Jan. 21, 2018, 3:19 p.m.


Grace Chan McKibben is a Democratic candidate for the 25th district seat for the Illinois House, the district in which the University of Chicago and Hyde Park are located. A graduate of the University of Chicago and the Keller School of Management, McKibben has worked in a number of fields, including non-profits, higher education, and government, as well as serving as a part of several civic and community organizations, such as the board of the Illinois ACLU. She spoke with The Gate on her campaign.

The Gate: Why are you running for the Illinois House?

Grace Chan McKibben: There are various different things that drove that decision. The first is that I have had a long history of working in the fields of government and corporate and not-for-profits organizations—I want to bring all of these experiences together. This is my time to step up in public life and contribute a little more. The other huge influence is [the current political climate]. People are worried and depressed. For me personally, as an immigrant, it just feels like we are not wanted in this country anymore, even though some of us choose to come here for better opportunities or a democratic government. I think that it is very important to be able to represent voices that are not often represented. Asian-Americans have never been that much represented in public life even though we now have some Asian-American elected officials. I think representation is important because we are invisible. Being able to have other people see that is very helpful.

Gate: What are the issues that you plan to prioritize if you are elected?

GCM: The biggest issue I want to prioritize is education. Education funding continues to be

neglected in this state, even though last year there was a state law passed to change the funding formula. It is still largely reliant on property taxes; therefore, the districts with higher property taxes tend to do better. But beyond funding, public education in general has not been prioritized. The teacher pensions are not properly funded. The curriculum has not really kept up with the times in terms of innovation and technology.

Gate: Other than education, what are your other priorities?

GCM: Employment is another priority throughout the district. This is a very diverse district that has some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city and some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Tax incentives for small businesses, allowing them to hire more people, are important for creating opportunities for folks that have difficulties finding employment. On revenue, the Illinois budget has traditionally relied on a flat income tax. I think that a progressive tax will go a long way in providing the appropriate level of funding for social services. Folks that make a lot more money have the ability to pay for a lot more, whereas folks that don’t make as much shouldn’t be required to pay the same percentage. There is also a proposal for a LaSalle Street Tax, which taxes the transactions of stock investment transactions. I think that even a small percentage of taxes on these would be able to pay for a lot of the services that are needed.

Gate: What policies would you want to enact on climate change and the environment?

GCM: The Department of Natural Resources has been very underfunded and has seen a lot of budget cuts over the past years. Restoring the DNR to a level where its more properly funded would be a start. Additionally, I know that in the 25th district, on the East Side and in South Chicago, there are old industrial yards that need to be redeveloped and cleaned up. There are environmental issues some of the industries were causing in the area, and I think that whoever is in the state legislature should pay attention to some of those developments.

Gate: You’re running as a Democrat for the Illinois General Assembly, a legislature dominated by Democrats. Do you see common ground to work with Republicans, if so, where?

GCM: Because of working in government, corporate and so on, I actually am used to build coalitions of different kinds of people. I think that it’s important to allow for healthy debate and reasonable discussions, so I think that my prior experience working in arenas with folks that don’t agree with my views is a real asset.

Gate: If elected, you would be filling the seat of State Representative Barbara Flynn Currie. As Majority Leader, she has played a tremendous role in the Illinois House of Representatives. What do you bring to the table that you believe would make you the best candidate to fill Rep. Currie’s shoes?

GCM: Barbara Flynn Currie and I are both on the board of ACLU Illinois, and I have tremendous respect for her. Personally, I have experience in diverse industries, working with everyone from corporate bankers to non-profit grassroots leaders, along with various communities, such as the Asian and LGBT communities. I bring a unique perspective and an understanding of all the different issues that people are concerned about. Making sure that everyone has equal opportunities, education, employment, healthcare, housing and economic opportunities is supremely important.

Gate: What are your views on the gubernatorial race?

GCM: I think we have some really good candidates, but I wish that money wasn’t the main deciding factor on choosing who the next governor is going to be. On the Republican side, Governor Rauner has not had a state budget two of the past three years—this has been devastating to social services and safety net programs. I just don’t think that we can afford to have another Republican governor so I think that the best person that can unify the Democratic party, bring the best ideas, and can bring up the people to vote will be the best candidate.

Gate: For the students reading this article, what advice do you have for those looking to get

involved with politics?

GCM: I think that folks should get involved at whatever level they are comfortable in, whether it is local school council or elected school board or elected library boards. That would be good entry points for a lot of folks, by helping someone run or by running themselves. I think that experiencing politics on a local level is a good experience. That actually brings me to the fact that Chicago is the only municipality in Illinois that does not have an elected school board. I think that makes it very difficult because not only because school boards are not accountable to the people, but it is also harder for people to have those entry level elected positions.

Gate: Are there any last comments you would to make?

GCM: I want to encourage people to be involved, particularly women and people of color, and to think about the political process. I think there’s a lot of rhetoric about winning, which is important, but I also think that participation and representation as a start is supremely important. People should make sure that there are diverse voices heard. Our democratic system relies on the opportunity for people to participate and to make their voices heard. We won’t be able to sustain a democracy if we keep having the more powerful people, the more wealthy people, the already connected people, have control.

Note: the funding formula mentioned in this article was vetoed by Governor Rauner after this interview took place.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity. Image is licensed under Creative Commons, the original can be found here.

Claire Cappaert

Claire Cappaert is a 4th year from Des Moines, Iowa majoring in Public Policy and Russian & East European Studies. This is her third year as the interviews editor for The Gate. In her free time, she enjoys spending time at the lake, drinking coffee, and watching the Chicago Bears.


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