She Runs Illinois 2020! — Suzanne Ness, candidate for IL House of Representatives, District 66
She Votes Illinois is pleased to feature Suzanne Ness, running for IL House of Representatives, District 66. 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
My name is Suzanne Ness and I am a long-time resident of Crystal Lake IL. Married for 24 years, I have three grown children. I am the President and Co-founder of Forward Effect Coaching, a family held firm providing coaching and consulting to individuals and corporations and I serve on the McHenry County Board after winning a seat in 2018. I’m a member of the Northern Kane County Chamber of Commerce (NKCC) since 2005, I’ve served on the Board of Directors for the Chamber, as well as President of a local business group, Business Power Connections. During my time as leader, the group doubled in size and began tracking hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of business exchanged between members, all of whom were local business owners. The group continues to thrive.
As part of my commitment to give back to the community, I created The Living Forward Foundation bringing coaching opportunities to students from marginalized communities. The Foundation has worked with teens at Dundee Crown High School and the Boys and Girls Club of Carpentersville for eight years. In all, we estimate that the groups have impacted the lives of at least 500 young people in Dundee Township area. I consider this work part of my calling and I stay committed to building strong families and leaders through working with young people.
Like so many after the 2016 election, I found myself in Washington DC in January 2017. I was listening to Michael Moore when he challenged everyone, “If not you — who?” That was the day that changed my life.
I thought about what I could do to make a difference. In the Fall of 2017 I decided to throw my name into the ring and run for the McHenry County Board. McHenry County is a long-time republican county. Historically, democrats and moderates ran as republicans, since electoral history indicates democrats never win. That year myself and another woman stepped up to run as democrats.
In 2018, I was elected to the McHenry County Board representing District 2 where I sit on two committees — Public Health & Human Services and Administrative Services, as well as acting as the liaison to the Ethics Commission. Calling for transparency and more board member engagement, I formed a bi-partisan working group, (two democrats and two republican women) who challenged the Board Chair on conducting the budget process according to existing board procedures, thereby limiting the existing behind the scenes negotiations which by pass the elected members on the County Board and the public. As a result, all four of us were appointed to the Rules Committee. I believe adhering to existing procedures or improving them in a bi-partisan manner will help restore trust in government (say what you will do, do what you say.)
A few other moments I’m proud of include my vote against a Valley Hi rebate (the local county nursing home serving indigent residents), calling for a study of long-term outcomes, amidst a move to privatize those services. I also amended the resolution to assure that no resident would be removed from care based on inability to pay. Though an ardent democrat, when necessary I work across party lines to achieve the greater good.
Tell us about the women in your life
My grandmothers, Virginia Vignone and Lorraine Ness. My maternal grandmother was a welder during the war claiming, “It was the best years of my life and the best job I ever had,” and my paternal grandmother was one of the first women working in the computer industry. Both of them were eager learners, smart women, who loved working and making their own money. I remember both of them telling me to “have my own money and know my worth,” even if they never saw salaries that reflected their contributions.
Lou Ness, my mother, an early activist who fought for the passage of the 1984 Illinois Domestic Violence Act and was then cited for contempt when she refused to disclose the identity of a battered woman to the court, set a high bar for me and my three sisters. My mother challenged the system everyday accepting nothing less than full protection for woman and support for ERA.
My mother continues to support my efforts in public life and is quick to challenge my principles and values, mostly as they relate to people who have been marginalized by institutional oppression.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a powerful public figure role model of mine. She used her wit and intelligence to compete in a male dominated profession and found her voice through standing up for women. She continues to faithfully speak truth to power and stand her ground on the Supreme Court. (NOTE: This interview was conducted before RBG’s passing.)
Lauren Underwood, the 14th Congressional District Representative, is another role model. She is poised, caring, intelligent, and remains hard working on behalf of her constituents. I met her the first time on the campaign trail during my County Board race. As I watched her connect with constituents, she modeled the value of making connections and listening to people without judgement of opinion, talking less/listening more. Though Rep. Underwood clearly states her positions, she always recognizes the contributions of others, while embracing respect and compassion for the people she serves.
What led you into politics? Why are you running for THIS office?
After returning from Washington DC in 2017, I observed the leaders in my community. I was shocked at the lack of public service in local leaders. Issues that were important to everyday people were overlooked. The idea of cutting taxes was the presumptive issue, or so we were told, yet public service, the idea that I work for the people was missing. Therefore, I ran for the McHenry County Board as a democrat in 2018 and won.
While on the board, the general assembly passed a bill consolidating townships in McHenry County. After reading the transcripts of the debate, in which David McSweeney said, “several McHenry County Board members agreed with the bill,” I was angry. It was untrue, board members had never seen the bill.
At that moment, I decided to run for the general assembly. I had known for some time that my district, the 66th district, was significantly under-represented and lacked leadership. I thought to myself, enough. I had thought about waiting until I completed my current term on the County Board, however the more I researched the 2020 election, the more urgent is seemed that finding good strong women to run for office at all levels of government was critical to our democracy.
Additionally, many issues the board has reviewed in the past 2 years, require solutions at the state level. I want to be a part of those larger conversations. These issues include improving the state of DCFS, adult protective services, school funding, health care, gun control, health care, immigration and equity for women and children, and a more fair taxing process.
How will you help ensure equitable access to healthcare for people in Black and Brown communities that are hardest hit by the coronavirus?
As recent research has indicated, the health outcomes for people of color are egregious. Not only around Covid-19. This includes all other medical conditions where marginal people live in environmentally corrupt communities, live in substandard housing, have reduced access to healthcare clinics, and blighted and underfunded education systems. As a result of systemic racism, communities have been allowed to turn a blind eye to these conditions that contribute to the over absence of resources that would otherwise assist Black and Brown People in living rich full healthy lives.
The Coronavirus is only the most recent circumstance in a long history of racist, oppressive conduct on the part of elected officials and white supremacy. Though this sounds like a simple question, the solutions are complex, like peeling back an onion.
However, there are some steps we can take immediately to mitigate the condition of marginal health care for black and brown people in Illinois. When I take office on Day One, I will begin to work on the following:
- Explore wider access to healthcare services through local clinics in the area
- Encourage speedy reimbursement of Medicaid payments so doctors will see Medicaid patients
- Partner with local agencies to reduce healthcare deserts — (Mobile health units, in-home nursing visits) reaching out to people in isolated areas.
The long-term solutions require a collaborative effort and vigorous community planning that raises the bar on eliminating poverty and extending benefits to everyone by leveling the field.
We rely heavily on property taxes and assessments for those taxes, that is part of the ongoing disparity. Regulating health care costs would help bridge the gap and ultimately allow more people to receive good healthcare. Many lower income people rely on Medicaid and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find doctors who take Medicaid, plus when they do, payments are often delayed adding to the burden of seeing Medicaid patients. That creates healthcare deserts, just like food deserts.
The 66th district has several areas like this. It’s not enough to direct covid dollars to underserved communities if the healthcare infrastructure doesn’t exist in the first place.
It’s so important that the State mobilize contact tracing as soon as possible so we can identify hot spots and deploy mobile medic teams to those places.
Lastly, it’s important to identify community leaders from black and brown communities that reflect the people in those areas. People who have a deep understanding of racism and its long- term impact on individuals and families and who also have the trust of those communities. It is the only way to get full cooperation and true change.
Have you participated in any BLM protests? What influenced your decision?
Shortly after the death of George Floyd, I attended my first BLM Protest. It was led by young people and it was amazing. I took my niece and nephew to the protest with me. I attended my second protest on June 27th. I wore a mask to both. It was important for me to be there to listen to the stories people shared and to show my support, however since then I have not attended one as I believe with cases of covid-19 rising, it is not a good decision to go among the crowds. I also requested that the McHenry County Sheriff issue a statement on police conduct — which he refused to do. I have continued and will continue to pressure him on this issue.
My daughters have both attended BLM protests, while I have spent my time planning and implementing a virtual campaign. I cannot change anything if I don’t win this election, so while I may not physically stand with the protesters, I know that peaceful disruptive protest is the oil that makes democracy work. I will continue to support the people’s right to protest in the public space when it embraces non-violence.
What is the most important policy you could implement that would help women in your district?
This is a tough question, since there are so many barriers to women’s success. Women’s health is vital, the ability for women at all levels of income to seek and receive excellent health care is primary to their ability to lead rich full lives. Currently there are no reproductive clinics in Kane or McHenry County. In addition, McHenry County turned down Title 10 funding eliminating women and girls’ health care for all low income or uninsured females in McHenry County. Even though Title 10 is currently not viable, beginning the conversation about women’s health is important.
Alleviating the burdens of working families (mostly women) through affordable, safe child care options, strong FMLA practices and assuring that when women work, they don’t have to choose between family or employment/career. Men rarely have to make this choice. It means elevating parenting as a joint equal partnership and engaging with the community to implement structures to support parenting, while building a career.
One policy position that could improve the health and wellbeing of women in my district is extending paid leave for new parents including, but not limited to, maternity leave, FMLA for caretakers who may be taking care of aging parents or other family members, and more assistance to single parent households-whether that be in the form of a childcare subsidy, or transportation- in other words, working to remove the obstacles that set women back especially when they have children.
The number of elderly women who live in poverty because the “work” of raising families has no dollar value is shocking. Raising women’s worth means giving women the opportunity to be self-reliant and choose fully how they will manage their lives.
What do you wish you had known before you decided to run for office?
What an interesting question. First, it’s harder to get things done than I thought. The amount of insignificant things discussed at meeting is frustrating, still it’s the way it’s been done forever. Women have to shout over the din of the “Good ole boys,” in order to be heard and we are chastised if we don’t leave our emotions or our humanity at the door.
Now I understand that as I serve, so does my family. As much as I have sacrificed, my business, my right to privacy, tolerating the mudslinging and name calling, so does my family. Their support is invaluable to me and I am able to do what I do because of them.
After my election nothing about my job was offered to me, everything I learned came through my requests, I had to earn my credentials and it took time from other things. I know that same thing will happen at the state level, though now, I am more experienced and better prepared .
The biggest challenge I’ve encountered since being elected is how the good ole boy network has created rules and procedures that have kept women out. The words might be different, but the culture it creates is the same. The other thing I wish I had known was how much of my first year would be voting on things that had come before my time. I didn’t understand the importance of the budget policy until we were already well into the budget process. Everything I learn I have to ask- it has not been freely shared. Lastly, while I knew it on some level, your life changes especially with relationships: all of my neighbors know who I am now and what I stand for and some people may not like that. I’m fortunate that I have a wonderful and supportive network of family and friends.
If you take your heart into public life, your life changes in ways big and small, I had no idea what the changes would be. I don’t think you can fully prepare people for the transition until you are steeped in the work.
First and foremost, I am Suzanne Ness, a woman who knows herself and lives by a set of principles and values that inform the choices I make. I am accountable for what I say and do taking responsibility when things go wrong. I am also a daughter, a sister, a spouse, a mom, a business owner and now an elected official who cares about others and believes that government can be a force for good.
While I have always held public service as the highest standard, I do not see myself as a career politician. There will be a time when my political life will come to an end. Having said that, I understand the importance of recruiting ethical, principled women to run for office. During this election, my campaign team and I have consulted on four races, where women are running as first-time candidates. Replacing ourselves with good women is a priority.
I believe that the changes that matter are the ones that are built on collaboration and a hope for something better. The current narrative of fear and scarcity is driving a wedge between Americans; between families, and between friends. To bridge that divide, it’s important to have leaders that can bring people together for the greater good. I have done variations of that in every role I’ve ever held: seeking to create a vision that excites people while working with people I don’t always agree with, but that I respect and can align with in order to serve the greater good.
The people in the 66th District deserve a representative who will do more than show up and shout. The voters deserve someone who is committed to restoring civility and compassion, respect and empathy in government. A candidate willing to exercise thoughtful, deliberative conduct while researching issues, asking constituents questions, and listening to their answers. They deserve someone who will dig in and work with others to find the answers to complex issues facing Kane and McHenry County. While on the County Board I’ve learned “it takes time, energy, and thoughtfulness” to be the leader who makes a difference. I will bring community leaders together across county and city government to begin the process of talking about issues relevant to the local communities. I will ask questions of everyone and then do the one important thing I can which is to listen with an open mind, and work together towards solutions.
I believe one of my greatest strengths is my ability to set aside my personal agenda in service to the greater good. It takes something to do this, giving up my right to be right. It’s the art of collaboration that gets things done. I excel at that. In closing I believe, my district, the 66th is a great district. It is rich, diverse, and it suffers from a lack of regional leadership: someone who can bring diverse groups of people together for a common goal. It takes time to do that, it’s worth the effort, and I’m the woman who will get it done.
If you would like to learn more about Suzanne Ness and her platform or volunteer for her campaign, please check out her website at citizensforsuzanneness.com. Don’t forget to follow her on Facebook @Vote4SuzanneNess. 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.)