Long-time 30th District State Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan will be running again on his record in the 2014 general election, but that's just what motivated his challenger, Don Wilson (R) of Gurnee to enter the race.
In his 17 years as a state senator, Link said he is most proud of his work in passing the Smoke-Free Illinois legislation five years ago.
"If anything is on my tombstone, I want that to be there," said Link, 66, a father of four and grandfather of four. . "It saves generations of lives and saves a huge amount of tax dollars in health care for the state."
He voted against the pension reform measure just passed by both houses of the legislature.
"I firmly believe it will be ruled unconstitutional," Link said. "All we're doing is delaying the process for a year. We'll have to go right back to the drawing board."
Wilson, 41, said after he was elected a trustee in Gurnee in April, a friend suggested he consider running against Link.
"I would say the person that is currently in that seat has had 17 years," Wilson said of anybody questioning his short tenure in politics. "Would you rather bank on a guy with fresh, new ideas, or someone in there without solutions?
"The last thing the state needs is more of the same," Wilson said. "If experience in politics is what's giving us our current climate in Illinois, I don't want it."
One of Wilson's first goals would be to institute a comprehensive tax policy with a set state tax rate "so businesses aren't afraid to do business in Illinois," Wilson said. Creating more jobs, he said, is what makes the difference for local residents.
"We live between Milwaukee and Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, with every train in America, next to one of the busiest airports in the nation," Wilson said. "There is no reason this area shouldn't be exploding with jobs. It's been bad politics and bad policies that kept [businesses] away and driven them away."
On pension reform, Wilson said he is formulating his own plan but was hesitant to release details before it is reviewed by friends who are bankers, actuaries and teachers.
Link said the state's dire finances have been overstated in the press.
"The only way we're in this $100 billion or whatever debt they say we're in," Link said, "is if everybody who has a pension today were to retire. Then we'd be in a lot of trouble. I acquaint it to a rush on the banks." He acknowledges something has to be done about pensions to make it a solvent system, but that the current plan is not adequate..
Link has sponsored an expansion of gambling, to raise new revenue and as a way to attract more convention traffic to McCormick Place.
"If you put a casino in Chicago, you'll see more of these conventions stay and it creates a lot of jobs," Link said. "With conventions, there's the trickle effect to restaurants and hotels having a solid base."
He doesn not see the state as anti-business..
"I don't think we're as unfriendly as everybody paints us," Link said. "I've met with numerous amounts of manufacturers and their concern is not tax rates but more of a level state tax.
"I don't mind giving tax incentives," he said, particularly to such companies as Office Depot and others in order to keep them in state. "But we're getting held hostage by so many companies."
Link said he's never met Wilson and campaigns without regard to his opponent.
"I'm running for re-election," Link said. "People have to make a judgment if they want to renew my contract."
Wilson said he grew up in Section 8 housing in Waukegan and knows how tough life can be on the streets. He slept in his car for a while before being taken in by friends. And he borrowed $800 from family for community college, where he learned about broadcasting. That led to a 20-year career as a professional part-time DJ on air in Wisconsin and performing at weddings on weekends. He now lives in Gurnee with his wife and two children, ages 17 and 12.
"I'm not going back," a choked-up Wilson said. "When I look at people collecting paychecks from the state that are supposed to be representing us and they haven't done anything for us but to continue to facilitate the average, it hurts. So, I decided I was going to stand up."