By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
In a city dominated by Democrats, all eyes were on this year’s primary election. But state Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) can’t claim victory just yet: this November he faces Republican challenger Coby Hakalir on the ballot.
Oakland resident Hakalir, 36, is the vice president of Oak Brook-based Inland Home Mortgage Corporation and a father of two 9-year-old twins and a newborn. A former loan officer at several banks, including Fleet Mortgage Group, LaSalle Bank and Bank of America, Hakalir hails from New York City, where he lived before moving to Chicago around 15 years ago.
Hakalir says it’s sometimes lonely being a Republican here, and that a party balance in Illinois would inspire accountability.
“There are a lot of independents in the district. There are a lot of potential voters who’ve never voted before. And there are an overwhelming number of angry Democrats,” Hakalir said.
Hakalir also says Mitchell is a “nice guy,” but wonders where he’s been: “Why haven’t people met him?” he asks. “Why hasn’t he been talking to people aside from that two months where he’s got to run for his primary seat?”
Hakalir calls his first campaign his second, if you count his first grade bid for class president a civic duty. He has yet to file a D2 with the Illinois Board of Elections, and has instead been funding the campaign with help from his wife and the Chicago GOP.
Yet while Hakalir is a Republican by name and registration, his platform combines traditionally conservative rhetoric with a potpourri of sometimes seemingly contradictory — and at times progressive — stances.
“There are a number of things that I’m not sure about and a number of things I’m on the fence about,” Hakalir said. “I think that’s OK.”
On pensions, education and guns
The 26th District primary election attracted attention from around Chicago — and the state — because of challenger Jay Travis’ opposition to last year’s pension reform deal, area school closings and the city’s unelected school board. Hakalir shares her opposition to these, though his views on government influence and economics are more conservative.
Hakalir said Travis and the Chicago Teachers Union understandably went after Mitchell on pensions, but that he would have levied a more broad-based campaign than Travis did.
“Jay was not running necessarily to the left of Christian; Jay was running on a single issue, which was the anger over the pension bill that Christian voted in December,” Hakalir said.
“And so her message didn’t resonate and she didn’t win, not because she was talking about how we need a new direction in Illinois, but she was really running on that one single issue,” he added.
Hakalir called last year’s pension reform unconstitutional and morally wrong, and said employees who were promised benefits by the state should be affected the least. But he added that he would not seek to overturn the new pension law and that new public employees should pay into a system tied to the market.
“I would like to see more of their money go to a 401K, just like mine does at my job,” Hakalir said.
Arguing that the state’s pension system is already tied to the market, Hakalir added, “I don’t see that there’s any big transition there, it’s just a matter of making sure that we don’t have government making promises it can’t keep. That’s the biggest issue to me.”
Hakalir, who reads weekly to children at Drake Elementary, 2710 S. Dearborn St., as part of the Chicago Public Schools’ Real Men Read program, lives across from recently-closed Price Elementary, 4351 S. Drexel Blvd. He called the CPS closings “disastrous” and said they are the result of families fleeing bad schools.
Hakalir said school closings could be put to a halt if Illinois schools were properly funded, “which we could do very easily, if we got back to a place of fiscal sovency.” He added that the interest Illinois pays on its debt could go toward CPS’ shortfall.
Like Mitchell and Travis, Hakalir said he supports an elected school board.
“Whenever you have anything taken away from a patronage system and put into the hands of the voters, I think that’s a good thing — with the qualifier that voters actually have to come out and vote,” Hakalir said.
Illinois’ heavy reliance on local property taxes to fund schools has attracted ire from many state politicians, including Mitchell. Although Hakalir said there’s no reason for a suburban student to receive more funding than one in Chicago, he chalked up the difference to community influence.
“To say that, ‘Well, that school is better because they’re better off economically,’ well, yes, but it’s because they actually have a bigger voice in the way things are run there. Whereas the people in the City of Chicago, the ones that are on the lowest levels of the socio-economic ladder, they have the least voice, because they’ve been told that government is going to take care of them.”
Mitchell also ran on gun control, a divisive across the state. Hakalir opposes concealed carry, but said but doesn’t know if it’s possible to repeal. Instead, he would seek to make getting a license more difficult.
“Let’s limit the amount of people that can actually get it. Let’s figure out who actually really needs it. And let’s be very strict and very tough on the licensing,” Hakalir said.
Hakalir cited a shadow economy and lack of opportunity as the primary reasons for gun violence.
“I have yet to see any evidence where more guns in a community lowers the level of gun violence overall,” Hakalir said. “But I don’t think the issue can be wrapped up into we shouldn’t have citizens carrying concealed weapons.”
He said that there should be opportunities for concealed carry, but asked explicitly who should receive them said, “I don’t know at this point.”
On the minimum wage
One of the major Democratic causes this year, both in Illinois and on the federal level, has been raising the minimum wage.
Hakalir, however, differs drastically from many Illinois Democrats who are pushing for a higher minimum wage arguing that it would boost consumer spending — and in turn, the state’s economy. He says the cost of higher wages would be passed on to consumers.
“I think we talk a lot about minimum wage as opposed to maximizing employment,” Hakalir said. “And when you raise the minimum wage without having the economy to back it up, what winds up happening is people get laid off from their jobs.”
He added, “I don’t see where the minimum wage has ever upped the employment numbers overall, where it’s ever encouraged businesses to come to Illinois, where’s it’s ever actually taken someone from a position of struggling to not struggling.”
At the same time, however, asked whether he would support tying the minimum wage to inflation, Hakalir said he would — a position shared by progressives like state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie.
“That doesn’t have an effect of actually halting growth,” Hakalir said.
On social issues
Although Hakalir says he’s not running on any social issues, he leans left on a range of them. Unlike many Republicans, Hakalir is pro-choice and supports gay marriage.
“I’m a Republican, not because I believe in all these social issues that you hear Republicans talk about on the national stage, which I wish they wouldn’t — but because I believe in fiscal conservatism,” Hakalir said.
On the issue of recreational marijuana, Hakalir says he has not yet staked a position. He says he has seen arguments for and against marijuana being a gateway drug, but adds that the evidence likely leans against this, and that his instinct is to legalize it.
“My fear on that is: legalize it, tax it and I have no idea where the revenue is going to go in this state,” Hakalir said.