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Thanksgiving has come and gone.  I hope your turkey was juicy, the sides delicious, and the pumpkin pie delectable.  The holiday season is definitely upon us with Christmas and the New Year just around the corner.  To echo Andy Williams, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

The 100th General Assembly convened for the last time in 2018 this past week.  It was the final week of work for 45th District Senator Tim Bivins.  I agree with actress Loretta Young, who said, “Giving credit where credit is due is a very rewarding habit to form.  Its rewards are inestimable.”

Senator Bivins began his public service long before his time in the Illinois Senate.  Before he was Senator Bivins, he was Lee County’s Sheriff Bivins, the longest serving Sheriff in Lee County history.  Overall, Senator Bivins served for 32 years in law enforcement, engraining in him a desire to keep Illinois communities and neighborhoods safe, a commitment he continued in the Illinois Senate.

Since entering the Senate in March of 2008, Bivins has served as the Republican Spokesperson on the Criminal Law Committee.  He also served on the Government Reform, Human Services, Insurance, Local Government, and Veterans Affairs Committees.  Additionally, he served on the Joint Committee on Government Reform, a special committee “working to restore integrity in state government.”

Senator Bivins was chosen as the Republican Senate Whip in 2013.  The role of the Senate Whip is to count votes, ensure discipline, and secure attendance to Caucus meetings.  In 2014, he was elevated to the position of Assistant State Senate Republican Leader.

Senator Bivins retires next week after more than four decades of public service.  I’m sure Terri, his wife of 43 years, will be glad to have him home.  They’ll have plenty of time to visit their daughter Lindsey and her family in Georgia, while also enjoying time with their son Ryan’s family in Dixon.  Ryan is a sergeant in the Dixon Police Department, carrying on the family tradition of service in Public Safety.

Thank you, Senator Bivins for your dedication and hard work serving the 45th District.  You are an example for me, and for legislators throughout Illinois.  Thank you for your faith in me, to serve you and the people of the 45th District as their next State Senator.  And thank you, sir, for your service.

On Monday, December 3rd, Illinois will celebrate 200 years since it became the 21st state in our great nation.  You may not know that the first Europeans to explore Illinois were French.  Jacques Marquette was a missionary travelling with the fur trader Louis Jolliet along the Mississippi River, and travelled up the Illinois River back to Quebec, and spent the winter camped near Lake Michigan in what is now Chicago.

In fact, the first permanent settlement in Illinois was also French.  Missionaries from Quebec followed in Marquette’s footsteps and built the Mission of the Holy Family in Cahokia.  Today, the congregation of the Church of the Holy Family in Cahokia, Illinois is the oldest Catholic congregation in the United States.

Illinois’ first permanent resident was also French.  Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable’s father was a French immigrant to Quebec who later journeyed to Haiti where he started a family.  Du Sable came to North America in 1779, settling along Lake Michigan.  His settlement grew to be a major trading hub for fur and grain.  Today, we call it Chicago.

After the Revolutionary War Illinois and much of the upper Midwest was ceded to the newly formed United States of America.  The Northwest Ordinance, passed under the Articles of Confederation in 1787, and largely affirmed by the Congress of the United States in 1789, established the territory of Illinois.  In 1804, Illinois served as the launching point for the Louisiana Territory expedition of Lewis and Clark.

The Illinois Territory was represented in Congress by Delegate Nathaniel Pope.  Pope was an important player in ensuring Illinois admission as the 21st state in the Union.  He also whipped congressional votes for an amendment to Illinois’ northern boundary pushing it further north. The new boundary included Jo Daviess, Stephenson, Winnebago, Boone, McHenry, Lake, Carroll, Ogle, Lee, Whiteside DeKalb, Kane, Dupage, Will, and Cook counties, bringing Chicago into the new state of Illinois.

We have come a long way in 200 years.  We rejected slavery 40 years before the end of the Civil War.  We built canals and saw the birth of manufacturers like John Deere.  We sent Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama to the White House.  Illinois has been the birthplace of Sears and Walgreens, the Boy Scouts and the NAACP.

We have come a long way.  I’m sure you’ll agree, we have a long way to go.  And I look forward to doing my best to ensure our next 200 years are even better than the last.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at and use the form to send me an e-mail.

MORE THAN 9 million vehicles expected to travel

Drivers reminded to slow down in work zones and Give Then Distance when traveling

DOWNERS GROVE, IL – Anticipating increased traffic over the Thanksgiving holiday, the Illinois Tollway reminds drivers to stay focused on the road, slow down in construction work zones and “Give Them Distance” when vehicles are on the side of the road with lights flashing.

“With more than 9 million vehicles turning to the Tollway system over the extended Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we’re asking our customers to do their part to stay safe when driving,” said Illinois Tollway Executive Director Liz Gorman. “Construction is ongoing on parts of the Tollway as we continue our work to deliver roadway improvements to improve travel and mobility.”

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Wednesday, November 21, through Monday, November 26, the heaviest travel is expected on Wednesday, when nearly 1.9 million vehicles are projected to use the 294-mile Tollway system. On an average day, more than 1.6 million vehicles use the Illinois Tollway.

As construction continues, prior to Thanksgiving the Tollway expects to reopen two lanes in both directions on the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) between Illinois Route 56 in Sugar Grove and Peace Road in DeKalb. Ongoing lane reductions will be in place on the I-88 corridor from Peace Road to Illinois Route 251 in Rochelle.

In addition, the Tollway anticipates restoring Central Tri-State Tollway (I-294) mainline traffic to its original configuration between Balmoral Avenue in Rosemont and Wolf Road in Franklin Park, as well as reopening the ramps connecting Irving Park Road to northbound I-294, in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday.

What’s Travel Like?
To prepare for trips short or long, drivers can check out Traveler Quick Links on the Tollway’s website to sign up for and access Tollway Trip Tweets with roadway incident information and weather conditions at Tollway Trip 90, Tollway Trip 88, Tollway Trip 355, Tollway Trip 94/294 and Tollway Trip 390.

To accommodate Thanksgiving holiday travel on the Illinois Tollway, construction activity will be restricted to better serve Tollway customers. Temporary construction and maintenance lane closures will be suspended from noon on Wednesday, November 21, through 9 a.m. on Monday, November 26. Work may continue behind barriers with long-term lane closures remaining in place to keep construction projects on schedule. Ongoing construction includes:

Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294/I-80)
·        On the Edens Spur, between Pfingsten Road and the Edens Expressway, traffic is reduced to one lane in each direction.
·        On I-294, traffic is shifted in both directions at the Cermak Road Toll Plaza.
  • At 159th Street Interchange the ramps carrying traffic from westbound 159th Street to southbound I-294 and from northbound I-294 to westbound 159th Street are closed with posted detours.

Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88)
·        Between I-290 and York Road, traffic is shifted in both directions. Westbound drivers must travel in the right lane on I-88 to access the cash side of the York Road Toll Plaza as well as the 22nd Street exit ramp.
·        On the ramp connecting eastbound I-88 to northbound I-355 one lane is closed.
·        Between Peace Road and Illinois Route 251, traffic is reduced to one lane in each direction in segments.

Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355)
·        Between Boughton Road and Butterfield Road, traffic is shifted in both directions.

While traveling this holiday weekend, whenever drivers see any vehicle on the side of the road with emergency or hazard lights flashing, they are required by law to slow down and change lanes. The Illinois Tollway, along with other transportation agencies and safety groups, is asking drivers to remember to Give Them Distance to help reduce the number of traffic deaths occurring every year in the state.

Illinois State Police Urges Safe Driving  
Illinois State Police Troopers patrolling the Illinois Tollway will help keep roadways safe by increasing patrols to enforce violations for driving under the influence, as well as enforcing violations for speeding and distracted driving. Illinois State Police is also stepping up patrols and seatbelt enforcement zones as part of the statewide “Click It or Ticket” campaign, which began on November 16 and runs through November 26.

About the Illinois Tollway
The Illinois Tollway is a user-fee system that receives no state or federal funds for maintenance and operations. The agency maintains and operates 294 miles of roadways in 12 counties in Northern Illinois, including the Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88), the Veterans Memorial Tollway (I-355), the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90), the Tri-State Tollway (I-94/I-294/I-80) and the Illinois Route 390 Tollway.

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398 years ago, in November 1620, 102 weary colonists made a pilgrimage to the New World. Their mission was to secure religious liberty for themselves and their children. They established England's second colony in North America, at a place called Plymouth. In November 1621 these "Pilgrims" celebrated their first harvest with local natives, a commemoration that conceived what we now call - Thanksgiving.

From Plymouth and England's first colony, Jamestown, sprang the United States of America. The last Thursday of November was selected as the date of the first national day of thanks for the newly created United States of America by our first President, George Washington. He wrote, “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness…”

Celebration of Thanksgiving was held on different days, usually in November, through the next several decades depending on the dictates of each state in the Union. In September, 1863, Sarah Josepha Hale wrote President Abraham Lincoln encouraging him to declare a standard date for a national Thanksgiving holiday.

Fun fact, Hale was a magazine editor and author of the nursery rhyme, "Mary had a Little Lamb," who had been lobbying Presidents to declare a national Thanksgiving holiday since 1846.

President Lincoln immediately responded to Hale’s request. On October 3rd, 1863, he issued a proclamation declaring a national day of thanksgiving, writing “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Because the last Thursday of November 1863 was the fourth Thursday, Thanksgiving has been celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November ever since except for two years. In 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the third week of November because he hoped the extra week would help boost retail sales and improve the economy. In 1941 Congress successfully returned the Thanksgiving holiday to the fourth Thursday in November.

When we turn on the news, browse the internet, or interact on social media, it’s easy to forget how much we have to be thankful for. I agree with the legendary Roman writer, philosopher, and orator, Senator Marcus Tullius Cicero, who wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

We have much for which to be thankful. We live in a country where freedom is celebrated, cherished, and protected. We live in a country where we get to choose our leaders, not at the point of a gun, but at our polling place. We live in a country where we have the right to speak our minds, to worship as we choose, to work and raise our families based on our beliefs. We live in a country where the things that unite us are greater than those that divide us. We live in a country where we have the opportunity to rise above the lowest common denominator and get things done.

It was 51 weeks ago that I was sitting in my office. It was Black Friday. I wasn’t shopping. I was looking at names on nominating petitions. By the end of the day, we had counted over 1,500 names on petitions nominating me as a candidate for Illinois State Senate in the 45th District. Ten days ago, the mission was accomplished.

I am thankful for the faith you have shown in me by choosing me to be your next State Senator. I look forward to the challenges ahead, and I promise one thing - I will do my best.

I believe our Founding Fathers, with all their faults, believed the country they were building would be one that could make the world a better place. I believe each generation of Americans has taken it upon themselves to fulfill the Founders’ dream. It was President John F. Kennedy who said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”

It’s up to us to be the miracle. And of course we will. After all, we’re Americans.

Happy Thanksgiving!
 “This nation will remain free only so long as it is the home of the brave.” ~ Elmer Davis

Elmer Davis was a renowned journalist and the first Director of the United States Office of War Information. He left a lucrative career at CBS and as Director, advocated for Japanese Americans to serve in the military and fought government censorship. I think the brave men and women who serve, and have served, in our Armed Forces prove the truth of his words.

It was President George Washington who said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” As a teenager, working at McDonald’s and living in public housing, I realized how important it is to serve our country and made the decision to enlist when I was 17 years old. 8 days after my 18th birthday I reported for basic training, eventually serving as a Military Police Officer and Military Police Investigator stationed in the Washington D.C. area.

Every other year over the Columbus Day weekend, I join members of the 437th and 521st Military Police Companies for a reunion. Our paths have diverged since our days in the Army and it is good to catch up and reminisce.

This year the reunion was at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Nestled at the southern end of St. Robert in the Missouri Ozarks, Fort Leonard Wood is home to the Military Police School and the Military Police Museum, which is why we chose it as the site for this reunion. I can say on the 451 mile drive there that I’m glad Illinois doesn’t charge a vehicle mileage tax.

It was an honor and a privilege to spend time with a few dozen fellow veterans and to see current brave service men and women carrying out their duties all to keep freedom – free.

We honor our veterans every year on November 11th, Veterans Day. Like so many of our holidays and institutions, Veterans Day originated in the aftermath of The Great War, World War I. One year after the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation commemorating Armistice Day, saying, “To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations.”

Almost seven years later on June 4th, 1926, the United States Congress passed a resolution urging President Calvin Coolidge to issue annual proclamations to observe Armistice Day on November 11th. On May 13, 1938, Congress passed a law making Armistice Day a national holiday, celebrating World War I veterans and “dedicated to the cause of world peace.”

Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran from Birmingham, Alabama believed our country should honor all of America’s veterans. In 1945, he presented the idea with a group of likeminded veterans to General Dwight D. Eisenhower who agreed that our country should have a National Veterans Day. Weeks conducted the first celebration of Armistice Day to commemorate the service of all veterans in his home state of Alabama in 1947.

On May 26, 1954, Congress passed a bill declaring that Armistice Day would celebrate the service of all veterans. It was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who later signed an amendment changing the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

Some of you may remember celebrating Veterans Day on different dates. It was not until 1978 that Veterans Day was officially declared to be November 11th.

A few years later, Raymond Weeks, the man who thought we should celebrate the service of all our country’s veterans, was honored by President Ronald Reagan with a Presidential Citizenship Medal in 1982, and was described by Reagan staffer, Elizabeth Dole, as the “Father of Veteran’s Day”

To all the brave men and women who have served in our Armed Forces, thank you for your service. To all the brave men and women who are currently serving in our Armed Forces, thank you for your service. To their families, who carry on each day, thank you for your sacrifice. You are all part of what makes America great. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.
Many of you have heard the old story about Benjamin Franklin. Dr. James McHenry, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention from Maryland serves as the quotes’ source. McHenry wrote, “A lady asked Dr. Franklin, ‘Well, Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?’ ‘A republic,’ replied the Doctor, ‘if you can keep it.’” The mid-term elections are underway, and Election Day is November 6th.

We are blessed to live in a country where we get to choose our leaders. “We the people” have an opportunity to “keep” our republic. We have been entrusted with a sacred duty. We are the guardians of liberty. And it’s up to us to defend it.

We certainly may not have survived as a nation without the leadership of George Washington as our country’s first President. The first national government under the Articles of Confederation was widely perceived as an abject failure, and for a new government to survive, it was widely accepted that General Washington would have to return to public life.

I was sworn in as your State Representative in the 89th District on October 3rd, 2013. My first public comments were to thank my family, my friends, and Representative Jim Sacia who supported me. Then I spoke about our state’s pension crisis, saying, “The state’s pension debt is growing by the millions each day. Those dollars could be used to fund education, senior services, and other important areas in the State budget. We must tackle this problem and protect retirees before the system is in total disarray.”

The legislature passed Senate Bill 1 to reform pensions that December, and as you recall I voted. “No”. I was convinced then, as I am today, that pension reform in Illinois must start with an amendment to the Illinois Constitution. It turns out that the Illinois State Supreme Court agreed with me when it declared SB1 unconstitutional in 2015. The reason is because Article VIII Section 5 of the Illinois Constitution says, “Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.”

The pension crisis has only grown worse, to the tune of $130 billion. We already know the Chicago machine’s plan. They’ve done the math on what it will take to pay our current bill backlog and pension debts. It means another income tax increase, starting with people earning $7500 a year.

You are already paying more taxes to state and local governments than families in any other state in the country. Our income taxes were hiked just last year. And our property taxes are punitive. Many of us know people who have moved, or are thinking about moving, because their property taxes are too high.

It was Roy Disney who said, “It’s not hard to make decisions once we know what our values are.” My values are simple. We simply cannot raise taxes on working families and retirees before making commitments to reform state spending and solve our pension crisis.

Let me explain. Right now, pension costs amount to 25 percent of the state budget, more than any other state and almost double the national average! In 1995, the pension deficit was $20 billion. As I mention above, today’s unfunded pension liability is $130 billion and growing. Take education related pension costs as an example. The Illinois Policy Institute tells us that by “2025, the state will spend more of its education budget on teacher pensions than it will in the classroom.”

I understand these numbers are astonishing. Identifying there is a pension crisis in no way diminishes the respect all of us have for our state and local government employees. No one is saying they do not deserve a pension. We are saying that the system as it stands today cannot stand much longer.

Three factors have contributed to the crisis. The state has been shorting pension payments for decades. Crain’s Chicago Business reported that “underpayments between 1985 and 2012 totaled $41.2 billion.” Both Republican and Democrat governors contributed to the problem, the common denominator – the Chicago machine.

The second factor is the built in increases. Starting in 1989, cost of living increases were set at 3% and enhanced even more in the late 1990’s. According to the Illinois State Supreme Court, once these were passed into law, they became protected by the state constitution and cannot be revoked without a constitutional amendment.

The last factor is the contribution burden. According to the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois workers contribute less to their retirements than the national average, putting more of the burden on non-government employees.

There is hope. Other states and municipalities have managed to solve their pension crises. We can too. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago reported in its Chicago Fed Letter, No. 398 about a pension conference it sponsored with the Civic Federation earlier this year. Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed spoke about how his administration addressed Atlanta’s underfunded pensions. Instead of kicking the can down the road, Reed chose to address the problem head on because the pension costs were “threatening to crowd out public services”.

The President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, Bryan Jeffries, shared how his organization worked with Arizona state legislators to solve their pension crisis. “His group focused on educating firefighters across the state about pension issues and eventually helped develop and pass both pension reform legislation and an amendment to the Arizona Constitution that permitted the benefit reforms to be implemented.”

Solutions are possible. They will require all sides to work together until we get it done. I look forward to the challenge.