Meet Melissa Sanchez: The youngest government official in Illinois
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The youngest person currently to hold a local government office in the state of Illinois happens to be a student right here at UIS. With dreams as a child to serve as a peace officer with the State Department, 22-year-old Melissa Sanchez is excited to take oath to her four-year term starting May 20.
Sanchez, senior political science and legal studies major, was recently voted on as a trustee of Algonquin Township. She started serving as a precinct captain for Algonquin 61, distributing information about local races, primaries and general election, as well as inform people about their right to vote. It was as precinct captain that she found out more about the issues her town cared about and got more involved – she got to know her neighbors personally.
“They would give me issues and they would say, ‘Melissa, could you do something?’ and, unfortunately, I’m not allowed to, because I am a precinct captain and not an elected official.”
Sanchez said her interest in running for trustee stemmed from working on Dave McSweeney’s campaign for state representative and Dan Duffy’s state senate campaign, along with other local offices. “I was just seeing how towns and townships and counties were able to change peoples’ lives,” she said. “For instance, taxes: they would just raise taxes and nobody would hear about it, nobody would say anything and it would be perfectly legal. There was no way to say ‘No,’ and I don’t really agree with that.”
Taxes aren’t just an issue as a political officer that concerns her. It is about something a bit deeper, according to Sanchez. “I come from a very big family – a family of 11; nine children. When we moved to the area [8 years ago], we just noticed how many taxes were being applied to my parents’ mortgage and it became very hard when my father lost his job and then my mom lost her job [at JPMorgan Chase],” she said. Her parents went from being full-time employees to barely working part time.
Sanchez said people were surprised when she expressed interest in running for office. “My mother wasn’t surprised but certain people were like, ‘Really, you’re serious about it?’, and they gave me a second look,” she said. “People in my neighborhood were like, ‘How old are you?’ and then they have to do the five-minute interrogation on your doorstep but they were reassured.”
Sanchez said her friends and family were very supportive. “My little sisters walked with me a lot, distributed information. I made flyers, and handouts and business cards and all that ,and they were really helpful. My dad was the most surprised – he thought I was doing it [campaigning] for an organization. But then it was in his face and he was like, ‘It’s like official, official.’ He was really happy for me.”
Her election helped Sanchez see where her township could be more efficient. “For instance, this election, there was something called Proposition 377 that we really got killed election night and that would make a new department for people with disabilities when we already have those services and places for people who need them. It would have added a 37-cent tax to every 100 dollar value you have on your house. My parents, even though they are struggling financially, the one thing we have been able to keep is our home. I was talking to my parents about it and they just want to be able to afford another $900 added to our mortgage.”
Sanchez said she also wants to work on accountability while in office. “I would like to stop rubber stamping things (officials not looking at what they’re signing),” she said, “I would really like to stop that because it’s a big issue in the township. We have a leader and they have something and they want to pass it through and it needs all of our [four trustees] signature to get through.”
She also wants to tackle transparency and waste reduction. “Considering how the economy is right now, the trustees kept raising their stipend to the maximum level each month. There’s a lot of people hurting, there are a lot of foreclosures in my neighborhood. We’re actually hoping to cut back our stipends so that will be pretty drastic.” She added that her and her fellow trustees are planning not to burden local area residents with any unnecessary taxes.
Sanchez says she’s ready to handle the responsibilities in front of her as trustee. “I’m walking into a storm with how things are handled right now, and I know that and I just want to make sure everything is kind of laid out for the people in after me,” she said.
And, for those readers who were wondering – Sanchez said she does want to one day work for the federal government as a peace officer abroad.