Monday, November 5, 2018

Bible and the Ballot-Illinois Midterm Endorsements

This is the first time I have done political endorsements. People are constantly asking me what I think about candidates, however, I typically stick to providing them with tools to research for themselves. Increasingly however, I feel compelled to do more. As a person of faith, who cares deeply about the issue of biblical justice and protections for the marginalized in our society, I understand the need to promote leaders who reflect these concerns. Furthermore, given the severe cost of political corruption, it is also important to elect candidates with a history of conducting themselves in an ethical fashion. My endorsements are, obviously, not the only way to view these candidates and referendum questions. Sincere and thoughtful people from all perspectives can arrive at different conclusions. I fully support the government fulfilling its God-ordained role of promoting order and justice (Romans 13:1-7). I also am committed to policies that protect the most vulnerable in our society over those who are in a more fortunate position. I believe this to be God’s heart. (Prov. 29:7) For this reason, each candidate has been considered through this lens. I honestly understand the limits of any political candidate or movement. Consequently, I don’t recommend the following candidates because of some false messiah-like hopes I have. I support them because they appear to be the best candidates running based on the aforementioned criteria. Hopefully, my analysis will help you in the difficult process of researching a host of candidates and issues. Happy voting!

Illinois Governor and Lieutenant Governor-After using his millions to essentially buy an election, Bruce Rauner has proven to be ineffective in the art of governing. Whether fully to blame or not, his budget crisis and inability to coalesce his own party make him weak. JB Pritzker has also bought his way to statewide prominence. However, he appears to have a greater heart for addressing inequality and a solid plan to deal with issues like education and healthcare. We should elect him and hold him accountable to his pledges. If he proves to be ineffective or unconcerned with the aforementioned issues, the next election is only four short years away.

Illinois Attorney General-Having two African American candidates vie for the top legal job in the state is a rare opportunity. Ericka Harold, a dynamic young lawyer, is too ideologically obsessed to win statewide. For this reason Kwame Raoul, the successor to Obama’s State Senate seat, is the best choice. Although Raoul is the recipient of large donations from the Democratic establishment, his record of ethical conduct, commitment to criminal justice reform, and ability to work across the aisle clearly make him the strongest candidate. 

Illinois Secretary of State-Jesse White is uncontested

Illinois Comptroller- The incumbent, Susan Mendoza, is strongly considering a run for mayor of the City of Chicago. In fact, a video announcement of her mayoral campaign leaked this week. Consequently, I support the Republican candidate, Darlene Senger, simply based on this revelation. Mendoza may turn out to be a great mayoral candidate, however, the people of Illinois deserve a candidate committed to doing this job first. While there is a libertarian candidate in the race as well, I cannot support the libertarian ideology. Its commitment to minimalist government through laissez-faire economic principles is socially irresponsible, historically ignorant, and lacks compassion for the marginalized among us.

Illinois Treasurer-Michael Frerichs is clearly the candidate most committed to the issues facing struggling workers and students. He is heavily supported by a host of labor, education, and environmental groups in the state. Furthermore, his proposal for increasing college savings programs at the state level will provide much needed support to working families faced with the rising costs of college education. Lastly, he’s been recognized nationally for his work in government ethics and accountability. For these reasons, I will support him.

Representatives in Congress (2-year terms, one in each district)-This position is geographically based, therefore you should research on your own.

State Senators (4-year terms for one in each of the following Districts that are partly or entirely in Chicago: 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 39)- This position is geographically based, therefore you should research on your own.

Representatives in the General Assembly (2-year terms, one in each district)- This position is geographically based, therefore you should research on your own.

Commissioners of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (3 to be elected to 6-year terms; 2 to be elected separately to 2-year terms)-Barring some major crisis of water pollution, resource mismanagement, or ethical scandal, it is difficult to determine which candidates will be most effective in keeping our water supply safe and clean. The current Democrats in office have managed to keep the ship steady while adding new initiatives designed to protect the environment. However, supporting one of the many Green party candidates running for these seats would not be a poor choice given their party’s undying commitment to the environment. Take your pick on this one.

President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners-Although she has announced her intentions to run for mayor as well, current President Toni Preckwinkle is running unopposed. Her re-election is a simple formality.

County Clerk of Cook County- Current Clerk Karen Yarbrough is running unopposed.

Sheriff of Cook County- Current Sheriff Tom Dart is running unopposed.

Treasurer of Cook County- Current Treasurer Maria Pappas is running unopposed.

Assessor of Cook County-Fritz Kaegi has made countering the corruption and racial bias that plagued the office of Assessor Joe Berrios his number one priority. Kaegi has focused his efforts on outreach to the mostly poor minority communities impacted by erroneous low assessments of their home values. Additionally, he has personally and professionally spent time in the faith community working towards a biblical view of justice for the poor. He should make a great Assessor.

Cook County Commissioners (4-year terms, one in each district)

Commissioner of the Board of Review (Property Tax Appeals) of Cook County (Districts 2 & 3)

Circuit and Sub-Circuit Judges (to fill vacancies as needed)-The judges are often the most difficult section of any ballot. Using the  website will make your research extremely simple. Each judge is endorsed by associations of lawyers. Endorsements from groups like the Black Women Lawyers Association, the Chicago Council of Lawyers, Women’s Bar Association, the Cook County Bar Association, and the Hispanic Lawyers Association give pretty clear indications of their relationship to poor and minority groups in our area. A cursory look at these endorsements, using the previously mentioned website, should help make the decisions easier.

The City Council assigned three citywide advisory referendum questions to appear on the ballots:

- Should the City of Chicago ban the use of plastic straws within the corporate city limits? Many recent studies have alerted the public to the environmental hazards associated with disposing of these items. I’d hate to see them go, but I’d had to see the planet impacted as well. Consequently, we should support the ban.
- Should the City of Chicago seek that the State of Illinois create a homeowners' property tax exemption for families in municipalities of over 500,000 that have lived in their home for over 10 years and whose income is under $100,000? Yes-property taxes, which fund education in Illinois, are heavily burdensome to middle class families. Restructuring our tax code to provide less exemptions at the top and changing our state education funding system is a sure-fire way to deal with inequality in the state. I support the measure.

- In the event marijuana is legalized, should the City of Chicago appropriate revenue from the sale of marijuana to increase funding for Chicago Public Schools and for mental health services?
Of course! While I am not a huge proponent of marijuana legalization as a revenue source (Although I support decriminalization, there are other revenue options devoid of marijuana’s social costs/externalities) any potential cash income should be used for students and mental health services. 

The Cook County Board assigned three countywide advisory referendum questions to appear on the ballots:

- Shall the minimum wage in your municipality match the $13 per hour Cook County minimum wage law for adults over the age of 18 by July 1, 2020, and be indexed to the consumer price index after that?
Minimum wage laws have historically protected low-income workers from exploitation. They should be supported more often than not. While businesses often complain about their increased costs, the generous benefits in the US tax code still give them solid ground on which to function. Even at $13, many workers face heavy economic insecurity and should be supported in their quest for social mobility.

- Shall your municipality match the Cook County earned sick time law which allows for workers to earn up to 40 hours (5 days) of sick time a year to take care of their own health or a family member’s health?
Yes-The United States is woefully behind most industrialized nations with respect to worker benefits.

- Should the State of Illinois strengthen penalties for the illegal trafficking of firearms and require all gun dealers to be certified by the State?
Yes-gun violence claims the lives of 12,000 Americans each year. Even responsible gun owners should be in favor of stiffer penalties for the illegal trafficking of firearms.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Bible and the Ballot Voting Workshop

Here are a few resources to prepare you for the November 6th 2018 general election… Using this website, you can find information on your public officials, polling places, and download a SAMPLE BALLOT based on your address. You can use this for research and take the sample ballot into the polls with you on election day. You will find a comparison of candidates and questionnaires.  You can search the voting records of your current public officials. These are resources for researching judicial candidates Highlights campaign donations

Important Dates:
11/1/18                                                                                Last day to request ballot for mailing
11/5/18                                                                                Last day to early vote
11/6/18                                                                                General Election Day

Voter Bill of RightsYou have the right to:

  1. Cast your ballot without interference.

  2. Vote if you are in line by 7:00 p.m.

  3. Go to your home precinct and present IDs on election day to (a) register to vote or (b) update your registration, and then cast a ballot if you have not voted already at this election.

  4. Vote at your old polling place if you moved less than 31 days before the election.

  5. Get help voting from the election judges or from an eligible relative or friend.

  6. Use endorsements, sample ballots or notes while voting.

  7. Protect the secrecy of your ballot.

  8. Check your ballot choices and correct any mistakes.

  9. Have your ballot counted fairly and impartially.

  10. Have your young child with you in the voting booth.

Remember, your vote matters!      Happy Voting!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Crime, poverty, and superhero citizens 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9

I recently spent a week in New York City wandering around, visiting old friends. While there, I decided to catch a train to Harlem, the African-American cultural mecca. Unbeknownst to me, my subway ride would the most enlightening and inspiring event the entire week. 

In true New York fashion, a battle over space on the subway platform bubbled over into a full-scale argument. A gentleman confronted another passenger, and what seemed like a simple disagreement quickly became much more. The men, from different ethnic backgrounds, became increasingly aggressive with one another and one lifted his shirt to flash a possible weapon. A middle-aged African-American woman stepped up to this gentleman and grabbed him by the arm. She said to him, "Don't do this brother. You know when the cops arrive, they'll shoot you first. You know that's what always happens. Step back so you can save your life and ours." The gentleman pulled back, collected himself, and walked away. She immediately ran upstairs and outside of the subway. I walked up to her, thanked her, and asked her why she did it. “I saw the guy may have had a gun and I didn’t want to get hurt. I was concerned for myself and everyone else," she said. Motivated by self-interest or not, it takes a great deal of courage to play peacemaker. She momentarily set her own safety aside and decided to get involved. That day she was a true hero who most likely saved lives. 

The causes of violence and subsequent solutions are not complicated. The man who was persuaded to walk away felt disrespected and without agency to prove his own value. He appeared neither wealthy, important, nor powerful. He had nothing to lose, making him a perfect potential victim or perpetrator of crime. According to the Bureau of Justice, there is a clear correlation between crime and poverty. Persons in poor households at or below the Federal Poverty Level (39.8 per 1,000) had more than double the rate of violent victimization as persons in high-income households (16.9 per 1,000).  In a city like Chicago, known for its high levels of gang violence and murder, half of the residents are low-income or living in poverty. 

The desperation, social isolation, and hopelessness of poverty make these statistics possible. With nearly 40 million Americans living below the poverty line, this issue is not isolated. It is all of our problem. Yet when ordinary people step forward and become agents of peace, we have a chance. When people move beyond their own sense of fear and work towards the greater good, we have a chance. When average citizens realize that we are all responsible for a safer and more equitable nation, we have a chance.

Aristotle wrote that poverty is the parent of crime. Consequently, solving poverty requires holistic solutions that are both institutional and individual. Not only must the government commit to this perspective, but also citizens. As we collectively work to promote peace in the face of conflict or help to root out poverty one person at a time, we change the future for us all. Individuals like the woman I met in Harlem can be a great catalyst for this change. As a nation we should empower, support, and learn from people like her.  

Friday, October 5, 2018

Justice and the Van Dyke Verdict

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. Prov. 29:7

The verdict in the Jason Van Dyke trial, was a watershed moment in Chicago and American politics. Some viewed it as evidence of American justice coming to fruition for a traditionally marginalized group. Others saw it as a sad day for police officers, setting the precedent for their criminal prosecution. Still others thought the jury, which convicted Officer Van Dyke of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery, failed to go far enough. 

What can scripture contribute to this discussion? 

It is difficult to ignore the obvious connections between this case and the biblical principle laid out in Proverbs 29. McDonald, a ward of the state, with no wealth, family, or major support structure was not considered a model young man by any accounts. His short life reflected the kind of deviance that makes demonizing him relatively simple. However, this is why his story so tragic. 
McDonald is the exact kind of person that deeply required society's justice in life and now even more in death. 

By definition, the concept of justice means "acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright and good, conforming to a standard of correctness, or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments". Providing justice for the poor and disenfranchised is a biblical priority because, by nature, we tend to overlook this group. Universally, humans have always heaped respect and admiration on the rich and powerful. They are consistently deemed worthy of our highest levels of veneration. The life of a teenage, African-American, poor, orphaned, drug-user is easily devalued in most circles. For this reason, it wasn't difficult for Van Dyke to shoot repeatedly because he subconsciously recognized McDonald's societal lack of worth. Imagine the potentially different police reaction if McDonald was an ostensibly wealthy and drugged out bar-hopper in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood.   

Race and class are as much a part of the American identity as they have ever been. The infamous videotape, which clearly displayed an excessive use of force, was perceived differently based on who was watching. Those who could empathize with McDonald and his identity had a drastically different reaction than those that connected with Van Dyke. However, justice is not about tribal divisions and class-informed perceptions. It is about impartially upholding what is right and fair, particularly for the powerless among us.

Biblical justice is blind. Although extremely difficult to attain, we must strive towards this end. The verdict in this case represents a step in the right direction. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Welcome to the Bible and the Ballot

Welcome to the Bible and the Ballot, a new blog helping people navigate politics from a nonpartisan and biblical perspective.

Dr. King famously stated that “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”

As a person of faith who teaches politics for a living, has worked as a political commentator, and been a candidate for public office, I am often faced with the question...should religion be involved in political decision-making? Dr. King recognized religion's significant role in shaping the morality of the society. He thought that it shouldn't be forced on people. Yet regulating and controlling behavior is at the heart of law-making. Consequently, he recognized the importance of using the law to restrain those that were immoral; guided by no higher law. For them, the law was the final barrier between their potentially deviant activity and the well-being of the rest of society. Therefore, the law was critical in invoking morality and protecting the society from those that would care less about it. For him, public policy was a major tool in guiding the society towards what is right, just, and fair.

When looking at the political landscape in 2018, I am reminded that we need a commitment to a higher moral law. Without it, the injustice, inequality, vitriol, deception, and immorality of much of the political leadership will go unchecked. The scriptures teach in Prov. 14:34 that "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people."

My hope is to explore a variety of political issues from a biblical perspective. However, in my work I have never been interested in strictly ideological answers to our dilemmas. The bible lays out both conservative and liberal principles from which I believe viable public policy can be derived. If you are interested in this approach, I invite you to join me on this journey.

I look forward to it!

-Ted Williams III


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