Anne Marie Miles is a Democrat running for the twenty-fifth Illinois House district seat. In her professional life, Miles has served as an elder advocate lawyer, a volunteer for Cabrini Green Legal Aid, and on committees of multiple groups including the South Shore Opera Company and Safe Youth Chicago. She sat down with the Gate to discuss her campaign.
The Gate: Why are you running for the Illinois House?
Anne Marie Miles: I believe that there are things that need to be done on the state level that will make life better for the residents of the twenty-fifth district. One example is passing legislation that will sunset non-violent felony convictions. If, in the ten years after someone has a non-violent felony conviction finishes their sentence, they have been in no criminal activity except for traffic court, then their felony conviction should either be knocked down a level or brought to a misdemeanor. After twenty years, it should be expunged.
As a volunteer for Cabrini Green Legal Aid, what I am seeing is young people doing stupid things in their twenties, who are then branded as felons for the rest of their lives. If you have a felony conviction, you are not entitled to senior housing. If you live with someone in section eight housing, they can be thrown out. You may not be able to get student loans. This stupid act follows you for the rest of your life and I really think we need to change that.
Gate: What are other issues besides criminal justice reform that you plan to prioritize if you are elected?
AMM: Another is early childhood education. In some parts of the district, children don’t see a computer until they come into kindergarten, and normally, the computers are already out of date. We need to make sure we don’t have a digital divide and that all of our children receive a high-quality, technical education.
I am also concerned about transportation. From 95th to 79th Street, South Shore Drive is a beautiful four lane highway, but, once you hit 79th, it becomes one lane in either direction until 71st street, when it becomes four lanes again. This will be an absolute mess with the fifteen thousand to twenty thousand people coming once the South Works project is completed. In addition, the Obama Presidential Library is seeking to close parts of Cornell Drive and change traffic patterns while the Tiger Woods golf course is looking to close some of Marquette. One solution I have is to institute a ferry service, from South Works to Navy Pier with stops at the 63rd Street Beach and Museum Campus.
Gate: You’re running as a Democrat for the Illinois General Assembly, a legislature dominated by Democrats. Where do you see common ground to work with Republicans?
AMM: Common ground to work with Republicans would be focusing on transportation. It is important for everyone—whether you are a Democrat or a Republican. Additionally, infrastructure is important. Downstate, which tends to be more Republican, also has crumbling bridges, just as Chicago does. We all need to tackle the issue of the budget as well.
Gate: What issues do you see currently with the budget? What needs to be changed?
AMM: For the budget, I think one of the problems is that no one is really acknowledging the true deficit. I’ve had Nobel Laureates from our community say, “Anne Marie! Don’t you know how much more money we really owe?” One of the problems is certainly pensions—it’s written into the law what the fully funded contribution by Illinois must be. But this is not actuarially correct, so each year we are systematically underfunding. We don’t put in enough, we don’t make enough, and the hole just gets deeper and deeper.
I think we need to get a true estimate of the deficit. And then we need to systematically figure out how we are going to figure it out.
I also think that we need to have a progressive income tax. Constitutionally, you cannot do this without an amendment. But there does seem to be a way—you can raise the entire rate and then put in special exemptions so it would have the effect of a two or three tiered tax chart.
The other thing I would do is legalize marijuana. That would bring us in probably five hundred million dollars a year in taxes.
Gate: If elected, you would be filling the seat of Barbara Flynn Currie. As House Majority Leader, she has played a tremendous role in Springfield. What do you bring to the table that you believe would make you the best candidate to fill the position after Currie?
AMM: What I bring is a wealth of experience as an elder lawyer. My entire professional life has been spent advocating for the rights of the elderly, the disabled, and underrepresented minorities including the LGBTQ community. I wrote the first set of advanced directives for the gay men’s health crisis in the late 1980s. I have volunteered with Cabrini Green Legal Aid doing sealing and expungement of criminal records. So, I think, as a mother who has raised three children in the Hyde Park-South Shore community, I really have a breadth of experience that most of the other candidates do not.
Gate: For the students reading this article, what advice do you have for those looking to get involved with politics?
AMM: I see running for office and being elected truly as the highest form of public service. Start out working on a campaign. If there’s a candidate you like or even one you are not sure about, call or write to them. Most of us will answer. Come and work and see what is involved in the political process.
We often talk about running for office, but I think we need to see what real hard work it is. I’m up at six in the morning, I try to be at a train or bus stop by seven. Throughout the day, it’s making phone calls, it’s making decisions, it’s sending letters. Meeting with the press, with the representatives of different communities, and, in the evening, as possible, it’s door knocking and making phone calls.
One of the things I would urge everyone to work for is the public funding of campaigns. I think that will bring more independent candidates into the political system.
Gate: Any last comments?AMM: I have been a progressive. I’ve been in favor of marriage equality since the early 80s; I’ve worked with the LGBTQ community. I have represented the interest of the elderly and the disabled and minority communities for all of my professional life. I know Hyde Park, South Shore, and the East Side of Chicago. I believe I am the most independent, progressive, and Democratic candidate.
Opinions expressed in this interview may not reflect the views of the Gate. Image licensed under Creative Commons; the original may be found here.