By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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LOVES PARK — When Maurice West entered politics a decade ago he did so without party affiliation.
He ran as an independent for City Council, losing to now Mayor Tom McNamara, and then had an unsuccessful bid for the nonpartisan Rock Valley College Board.
“I literally did not know the difference between a Democrat or a Republican, did not care the difference when I first started because I did not think I was going to go into this political arena,” West said Wednesday to a group of business leaders during the Parks Chamber of Commerce’s legislative series at Forest Hills Country Club.
Instead of party loyalty, West said he focused on shaping his own values first. Today his party affiliation has changed, but he said his commitment to community and people over party has not. That was the message West, now a Democrat representing the state House’s 67th District, delivered during his state of the state address. He pledged to work with people regardless of their party or if they live in his district.
“I’m not doing this for any other reason but to serve this region,” West said.
He said he’s continued to think independent-minded, rather than party-minded. He sits on the Republican side of the aisle on the House floor in Springfield, and he was one of 19 Democrats to oppose now indicted former House Speaker Michael Madigan’s bid for another term as speaker. He was the only Black caucus member to stand against Madigan.
While he said his personal values align more with the Democratic Party, it’s those values rather than party that he uses to guide his decision-making. He has a 12-point manifesto adopted from John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, that serves as his guide. The points include working to help everyone have a job, close the gap between rich and poor, protect the environment and promote tolerance and equal treatment.
“Every move I make and every vote I take is not for the party. It’s because the vote aligned with those 12 points,” he said. “If you come in thinking that the party is going to mold you, you’re going to be a dangerous individual and I don’t want to be affiliated with you. But if you understand who you are as the elected official, not what the party is but who you are and what you stand for, then you’ll be successful.”
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West also talked about millions in state funding he’s helped return to the region, including approximately $3 million for expanding a deferred prosecution program in Winnebago County. That program is also an example of a Democrat, West, and a Republican, State’s Attorney J. Hanley, working together.
Approximately “75% of what we pass down in Springfield is bipartisan,” West said. “It’s always the one or two controversial bills that blows up in the media.”
West, joking that giving a preacher a microphone could lead to a speech going on for hours, spoke for about 45 minutes on wide-ranging topics across the 67th District and the state. He delivered his message with a mix of energy and humor, including detailing an email he received the day after being sworn into office on Jan. 9, 2019.
“Jan. 10 I got a message: ‘You are corrupt.’ I didn’t even do anything,” he said, drawing laughs from the audience. “I don’t even know how to be corrupt. I’ve only be a rep. for 24 hours.”
He also talked about ways he thinks the recently passed $46.5 billion state budget will help the area. That includes increased funding in mental health care, education, technology for police and violence prevention.
And he said he’s spent money from his own reelection campaign fund in the community, spending it on things like program sponsorships, helping nonprofits get their 501(c)3 designations and free movies open to the public.
“I’ve given $50,000 of my own campaign funds to my district,” he said. “I raised this money to help my community, not just to sit on it for myself.”
“If I get to a point where I have a tumultuous campaign I’ll raise money and do it some more, but until then I’m investing in my community.”
West is the first of five state lawmakers speaking in the series. State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, is up next on May 18.