Jason Gonzales, a 41-year-old consultant running his first political campaign, is posing a formidable challenge to Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan for the 22nd District House seat.
Gonzales, a Democrat, has already raised nearly $50,000 for his campaign with the majority of the money coming from backers of Bruce Rauner and other Republicans looking to oust the powerful Speaker from office.
“We have attracted people who have given to both parties," Gonzales told Ward Room. "Many of the people who have given to my campaign are supporters of term limits and redistricting reform and have given a lot of money to those causes."
During the course of his campaign, Gonzales said he faced some resistance from the Madigan political machine, even noting a Madigan aide waited for Gonzales at the Illinois State Board of Elections as he filed to run for the March 15 Democratic Primary ballot.
Gonzales said the aide then filed for two additional candidates, Joe Barboza and Grasiela Rodriguez, to appear on the ballot.
“Diluting the ballot is the oldest trick in the book," he said, "but we don’t believe it’s going to change things very drastically."
Gonzales, originally from the Chicago suburbs, has had an atypical path to the campaign trail.
In 1991, after dropping out of high school in his teens, Gonzales spent two months in jail for the unlawful use of credit cards. All told, Gonzales was convicted of six crimes between 1991 and 1994.
“As a teenager, I went down a bad path; I dropped out of high school and had non-violent run-ins with the law,” Gonzales said.
Following these run-ins, Gonzales said he re-enrolled in high school and was inspired by a teacher to pursue his academics more seriously.
“That moment, while seemingly small, was what fueled me as I moved my life forward and graduated from high school at 21 and eventually graduated from Duke, MIT and Harvard.”
Gonzales was pardoned for his crimes in 2015 by former Governor Pat Quinn.
As a candidate, Gonzales said he supports property tax reform including a progressive tax to replace the state's current flat tax.
Gonzales is also a champion of closing the funding gap in public schools and increasing funding for higher education and job training programs. Gonzales also said he is committed to ending the pension crisis.
“I will fight to make sure that every person receives every cent that they were promised," Gonzales said, "and that this situation never happens again by preventing lawmakers from having access to the pension funds in the future."