This is the first in an occasional series I will run, profiling interesting folks I know doing interesting things in the world. The common denominator between all of them is how much I admire and respect the many Good Things they do.
Ron Sandack and I met way, way back in 1993. Think Gin Blossoms on the radio and Seinfeld on the TV. Justin Timberlake had just signed on to the New Mickey Mouse Club. Mom jeans were in style, minus the irony.
I had just been hired by a Chicago law firm as their receptionist. Ron Sandack was one of the associates. Within a few months, he would officially become my first ‘real’ boss in the ‘real’ world when I became his secretary.
While still practicing private law, Ron Sandack has served as Mayor of Downers Grove, a Chicago suburb, appointed an Illinois State Senator, and is now up for re-election as a State Representative. I had no idea that the guy I was hanging out with during my 20s would turn into such an upright citizen, but I should have known. Ron was always one of those folks you just know is a good guy.
You are very clear about the distinction between being a politician and being a public servant. Please explain the difference.
I try and emphasize the difference through my actions even more than my words because, as James Freeman Clark put it, “a politician thinks of the next election and a public servant thinks of the next generation.” This goes back to my time as Mayor of Downers Grove. Then it was all about good local stewardship through good governance and responsible leadership. So when I was appointed to the Illinois Senate, while I was humbled with the opportunity, I recognized the importance of the appointment and decided not to accept the offered pension and health care benefits. I knew part time elected officials should not receive benefits reserved for full time employees and felt like a leadership moment was sort of thrust upon me then. Since that time, twenty-two of my colleagues in the legislature have followed suit and declined these benefits. Together we now have the ability to lead, unencumbered, on pension reform. My focus on leading by example is not always the most popular path, but I believe it is the best path to ensure a stronger, brighter future for Illinois. I serve to protect the future of our families, not to collect a pension.
What does the average voter not know about governance?
If you have time to watch the news, you get national and local news, but what you don’t get is State news. Springfield does a lot of things no one knows about. There is a culture created through isolation that breeds indifference and a status quo mentality. That sets up State government for slow change at best. With one party with all of the numbers, the gridlock is out of control. It frustrates the heck out of me. Lots of folks on both sides of the aisle care deeply about this State, but things aren’t happening fast enough.
You are very active in social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, even Instagram. How did that happen and how does it support your work as a legislator?
I am in real time with the voter about government issues. Like I said, Springfield is isolated and out of the news. I use my platform – and I have no handlers, just me with my device – to communicate openly and transparently with my constituents. Sometimes even from the House floor during votes. The typos kill me! Basically, I engage in a thinking process and critical dialogue with the voters and my constituents through social media all the time. I wanted transparency, and social media is a great tool for that. It connects me with what constituents are concerned about with no filters.
You’ve demonstrated political courage by voting against party lines for things like immigration reform and same sex marriage. (Ron was one of three Republicans who crossed party lines to vote in favor of Illinois marriage equality in November 2013.) What, if any, fallout have you seen with these choices?
Focusing on doing the right thing (for our State) as opposed to the safe thing (for re-election) is truly a liberating feeling – and produces, I think, better policy results. The process and discussion that went into both debates was interesting and certainly took on a life of their own at times. In the end, both issues were weighed heavily on the merits of doing what is best for Illinois families. I listened, deliberated, discussed and repeated. Often. Ultimately I voted my constituency and my conscience. To that end, not everyone agreed with my vote(s). Some have loudly vocalized their support or dislike and others have quietly encouraged or disagreed. With votes such as these I remember Ronald Reagan’s 80% rule: “The person who agrees with you 80% of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20% traitor.” Luckily, I have lots of 80% friends and allies.
Who is your political hero?
I have many and they are very different. Abraham Lincoln is at the top of my list. Being in Springfield, one can’t escape his palpable presence, still. And I think that’s a very good thing.
What or who inspires you?
I am motivated to push on by my family, my friends, my belief that I can offer something different, but helpful, to Illinois. I am not the standard issue legislator. I do not need this “job” and am perfectly happy returning to my previous life as a private citizen.
There are lots of voters and people who are fed up with politicians and don’t/won’t see a distinction with public service. How do you see what you see, up close and personal, and still stay in the game? Basically, what keeps you motivated to work so hard to create the change you believe needs to happen?
Without a doubt there are numerous times during a legislative year when it gets hard not to get discouraged. Thankfully, my friends, family, neighbors and constituents have been a wealth of support and encouragement. When I am home I am regularly stopped at the grocery store or at the dry cleaners and offered sincere words of encouragement. Those moments truly help me. After a legislative week when I return to my family, I am reminded why I continue to fight for what is right. We cannot idly stand by while our children’s futures are in jeopardy. I want my kids to have the same opportunities I had — access to a good education, job opportunities, and a safe place to live and raise their families.
You can follow Ron Sandack easily via Facebook or Twitter (22K tweets and counting!). Ron is up for reelection in the 81st District House seat in the March 18th Republican primary. I’d say vote early and often (it’s the Chicago way, right?), but that would be wrong, so don’t do that, but do vote in the primary if you live in district. And visit his election webpage or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He really does take that transparency stuff seriously.
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