She Runs Illinois 2020! — Karla Bailey-Smith, candidate for IL House Rep, District 88
She Votes Illinois is pleased to feature Karla Bailey-Smith, running for IL House of Representatives, District 88. Follow our series, She Runs Illinois 2020!, leading up to election day as we showcase and uplift the voices of Illinois women running for public office in the upcoming election.
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in Moline, Illinois, and attended IWU and University of Illinois for my degrees in Theater Arts. I have been an activist and an advocate for many years, starting with the push for Marriage Equality in the 1990’s. I was also a union member in those years, and still have strong support and understanding of the importance of collective bargaining, and health and safety training and support. I moved to the UK in 2000 with my British partner, because they already had a provision for immigration for same sex couples. I returned to Bloomington Illinois in 2010 to raise my son with my longtime best friend, and have been a self-employed painter and artist since 2001.
I resumed my advocacy for LGBTQ rights upon returning to the USA, and the Sandy Hook tragedy prompted me to pay closer attention to legislation, and how to build support and awareness. After the 2016 Presidential election, I joined the Indivisible movement, and my local Democratic party. I became a Precinct Committeeperson and worked hard to get good people (mostly women) elected in 2018. My work with Jill Blair, who ran in the 88th, made me aware of my opponent’s lack of engagement with the community. When I realized no one was stepping up to run against him in 2020, I felt compelled to do so. It was a moral imperative!
Tell us about the women in your life
I was 12 when Geraldine Ferraro ran as vice president, and my older brother took me to a rally where she spoke. It was not something I aspired to, but it was important for me to see the possibilities. It was equally important for me in college, to see women doing work in theatre that I had only known men do, such as welding and carpentry. Although I am a small person, I was shown how to carry ladders more than twice my height, and to carry heavy things safely. Illinois Wesleyan nurtured confidence, and that knowing where to find the answers is a key to success.
In 1992, I was fortunate to attend a rally at U of I, where Carol Mosely Braun and Hillary Clinton spoke. That was truly inspiring! I think the next time I felt the same level of pride and inspiration was when I attended the Women’s March on Washington, and heard so many speeches from so many women. I came away from that day determined to bring people together and fight for all the good things. We had 8 women on the ballot in McLean County in 2018, and I was so happy and proud to support them all. I canvassed, I phone banked, I marched in parades, and I worked with the League of Women Voters to organize debates and voter registration. I was inspired by ALL of them! Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, Jen McMillan, Jill Blair, Nikita Richards, Sharon Chung, Shayna Watchinski, Elizabeth Johnston, and Laurie Wollrab. Everywhere in my community, I saw women leading and doing the work of organizing and campaigning. In 2017 and 2018, two women I admire very much, Sally Pancrazeo and Kay Moss pushed for Illinois to ratify the ERA. I attended rallies, collected petition signatures, and gathered postcards to send. The ERA was passed in Illinois in May of 2018.
What led you into politics? Why are you running for THIS office?
Most of my years in McLean County, I would see incumbents run unopposed, and very few Democrats on the ballot. I didn’t even know there was a Democratic County Party until after the 2016 election. I didn’t know how any of it worked. But that quickly changed. I started attending Democratic meetings, I did Indivisible trainings, I made rally posters with other women, and I joined the League of Women Voters. The call to serve that I heard at the Women’s March on Washington in 2017 was always in my head, as was the knowledge that I brought my son from a country with health care for all, which already had Marriage Equality, and had a healthy social service system, into a country where the administration was trying to dismantle health care and human rights protections out of sheer spite. I HAD to fight for all of it!
I was recruited by Kay Moss to be a Precinct Committee person, and that cemented my understanding of the structures that need to be in place to get people elected, and I loved getting to know my neighbors and building support for our candidates.
My moment of decision came when I attended a legislative breakfast with a group of Moms Demand Action supporters, so that we could catch a few minutes with legislators who normally avoid speaking with us about gun safety. I looked at the table and was struck by the fact that every single one of our state reps and senators were white Republican men. They did not represent me or my values. The 20 year incumbent (Keith Sommer) did not represent me, and he nearly always votes against everything I care about. I did not want to waste all the work that we did gathering support for Jill Blair. I wanted to keep the momentum going!
If you were currently in office, how would you use your office to address the economic harm from COVID19 in your community?
I would push for support with rent and mortgage payments, for creative solutions to get vulnerable kids out of homes and into supervised small group learning centers. I would make sure all of our low income and rural residents have the connectivity they need to work and learn from home. I would encourage full street closures to get people eating and drinking outside as much as possible. (Indoor dining and indoor drinking at bars is a terrible idea right now!) And I would make sure that small businesses get as many considerations as possible, while enforcing mandated safety measures such as wearing masks and keeping distanced. We will not have economic recovery until we have fewer cases.
Recognizing that systemic racism is built into policies and laws, what changes to policies and laws are you prioritizing for change/implementation in order to address systemic racism and why?
Before running for office, I was already working with my UU church and community partners in the effort to end cash bail. We are now part of the Pre Trial Justice Fairness coalition in Illinois. I support criminal justice reform. I also support policy changes within housing, DCFS, Judicial oversight, economic development, and oversight of sheriffs, who often have too much autonomy in their counties. Housing should be integrated, and public housing should not stand out and be as segregated as it is. Public housing vouchers and placements should try to keep families together instead of telling a family that if the mother were single she could be placed immediately. Racist judges should be held to account, as should racist sheriffs. We have both in McLean County. Food deserts need to be resolved. All of these things disproportionately affect BIPOCs. We also need updated, truthful, inclusive Black history taught in our schools. Outdated history books, written by white men, gloss over slavery and civil rights, and perpetuate implicit bias. In 2019, we passed LGBTQ inclusive curriculum. We can do the same for truthful, accurate, sensitive Black History AND BIPOC history.
How will you ensure that women and femmes sitting at intersections of oppression are prioritized for policy that will help their quality of life?
We need universal pre-K and affordable child care for women to be able to continue in their careers. I would like to see some creative child care solutions, including multi-generational services in one area. Nearly everything I look at comes back to health care as a right. We are all paying too much for health care, everyone, but women especially, should have the freedom to do entrepreneurial, flexible work when their children are young. Unfortunately, too many of us are forced to choose a job with more hours than we would like to spend away from our families, simply because we need health insurance. Illinois can be a leader in health care reform within our state, just as Massachusetts was a leader before the ACA. Women need good options and support when they are pregnant and for maternity leave. I had maternity pay from the government in the UK even though I was self-employed. I got a child tax credit paid into my bank every month. I got higher tax credit for working part time than when I chose not to work at all. We can support women in these ways, too.
What do you wish you had known before you decided to run for office?
How much time it would take to do this right. I have to keep working for a living, and that is the hardest part. I can’t quit my job. I also wish there had been a very clear, very concise “How To” specifically for this position, in this state. I jumped into it with no training, and started getting training after I started collecting signatures. I’m still learning and getting tips.
I am running to #Unite88. For too long, parts of this district have been ignored. Even when people reach out to their incumbent representative, they rarely get a personal response, if any. I have already been working on building relationships with community members and advocacy groups. In spite of the pandemic, I have done a town hall nearly every week, highlighting a topic, a reason to vote, a group or issue I support. My opponent is anti-choice, anti-gun safety, anti-union, and does not support clean energy jobs or criminal justice reform. I am the polar opposite. I am ready to listen, to do the work necessary, and be the voice we need in Springfield! I have seen how much we can accomplish when we work together, and I want ALL the people of the 88th district to recognize our shared web of connectivity, existence, and reliance on one another for our economy, our health and safety, and our collective wellbeing.
If you would like to learn more about Karla Bailey-Smith and her platform or volunteer for her campaign, please check out her website at unite88.org. Don’t forget to follow her on social media @Karla4IL88th. Reach out today and help make a difference in the upcoming 2020 election.
(The information contained in this post is provided only as general information and does not imply an endorsement by She Votes Illinois.)