Abdelnasser Rashid and Matthew Schultz, who are competing to represent the 21st District in the Illinois House, engaged in a spirited Zoom campaign forum on Sept. 29 hosted by the LaGrange Area Chapter of the League of Women Voters.
They are vying to succeed incumbent State Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside), who Rashid defeated in the Democratic primary.
Schultz, a 27-year-old Republican and resident of Brookfield who works for the anti-tax group Taxpayers United, was the aggressor for much of the debate. Schultz mostly focused on economic issues and crime, saying that Illinois was in a bad place after decades of Democratic control in the General Assembly.
“Illinois is falling apart,” said Schultz in his opening statement. “We’ve seen radical laws that attack our safety, our businesses are closing down and moving away, our people are leaving.”
Schultz is a decided underdog in the race in the district that ranges from Cicero to Justice and includes most of Riverside north of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad tracks and a large chunk of Brookfield. The district strongly leans Democratic.
The candidates disagreed on the SAFE-T Act, which will eliminate cash bail on Jan. 1. Schultz said it is badly written law that will endanger the public and noted that many prosecutors, including some Democratic ones, oppose the law.
But Rashid said eliminating cash bail is a matter of fairness and the law will give judges the discretion to hold dangerous people charged with crimes in jail pending their trial.
“Whether you have access to wealth, whether you have access to a large bank account of have family members who can provide you with money to get out of jail, that’s not fairness, that not justice,” Rashid said. “Judges will actually have more, not less, of an ability to hold dangerous offenders in jail because decisions will be based on the public safety evaluation not on whether a defendant has access to cash.”
The candidates also had different views about banning the sale of automatic weapons. Schultz said he would consider such a ban as a last resort but said that prohibitions usually don’t work, and the more immediate problem is a shortage of police.
“Let’s get the basics done first and then let’s discuss additional laws,” Schultz said.
Rashid jumped on that response.
“The issue in Highland Park on July 4 was not ‘not enough police.’ The issue in Uvalde, Texas, was not ‘not enough police,’ the issue at Sandy Hook was not ‘not enough police.’ The issue is guns getting in the hands of the wrong people and we absolutely do need to ban assault rifles,” Rashid said.
The two candidates also disagreed, to a degree, on pension reform. When asked if they would support a constitutional amendment to allow current state pensions to be reduced, Rashid said no, stating that a pension is a promise. Schultz said he would prefer to solve the state’s pension shortfall by increasing economic growth but would consider supporting a constitutional amendment as a last resort “nuclear option.”
“But if it comes down to public services or pensions, we should have a constitutional amendment,” Schultz said.
The candidates agreed on a number of issues. Both said that they would vote to protect abortion rights.
“I do not want to infringe on a woman’s right to choose,” Schultz said, vowing against any changes to Illinois abortion laws.
Both supported eliminating the Lyons Township Treasurer of Schools office, known as the TTO, which manages money for local school districts.
“I think it’s redundant,” Rashid said. “I think the school boards can handle that function.”
And both supported the general idea of more governmental consolidation in Illinois, which has more units of local government than any other state.
“I know there is a North Berwyn Park District and a South Berwyn Park District. Do we need both?” Rashid said.
The candidates also agreed that the local community should welcome immigrants and refugees.
“I support any people, especially Venezuelans that are fleeing so called democratic socialism in Venezuela,” Schultz said. “I know a lot of people from the former Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic, and Poland that fled those countries when they were communist and came over here. … I hope that they join our community, become American citizens and I hope that they become as wealthy and prosperous as the Czech and Polish communities.”
A heavy favorite in the race, Rashid, 33, attacked Republicans generally as opponents of abortion rights, doubtful of climate change and as threats to democracy.
Schultz tried to distance himself from Trump-supporting Republicans who still deny the results of the 2020 election, complaining that Rashid was not addressing his positions on the issues.
“You’re not engaging with anything that I am saying,” he said. “You’re just talking about other Republicans, who I strongly disagree with.”
A resident of Justice, Rashid is from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. He worked the 2016 presidential campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and the 2015 Chicago mayoral campaign of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. He has also worked in government jobs for Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi and former Cook County Clerk David Orr.
Schultz tried to tie Rashid to Democratic machine, noting that Rashid accepted a $50,000 contribution from the Illinois Democratic Party in 2018 when he was running for the county board and the state Democratic Party was controlled by former Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan who is now facing federal corruption charges.
Schultz’s bare bones campaign has been largely funded by the Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, the extremely conversative owners of the Uline Inc. a packaging company and prolific funders of conservative politicians and causes.
Richard Uihlein gave $6,000 to Schultz’s campaign in May and his wife Elizabeth Uihlein contributed another $6,000 in October. Schultz’s campaign also received a $2,000 contribution from the campaign fund of House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) in September.
Rashid’s campaign spent just over $434,000 to defeat Zalewski. As of Oct. 1, the campaign reported additional contributions of $21,587.18 since the primary. In October the Democratic paid a little more than $17,000 for mailers for Rashid.