***Common Sense***

This last week in Springfield has me thinking about common sense more and more. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have run roughshod over what I believe are common sense solutions. It certainly seems that common sense isn’t so common, and I began to wonder how the term originated.

Common sense made its first appearance in the book De Anima (Of the Soul), written by famed Greek philosopher Aristotle in 350 B.C. He described common sense more as a sense of common things and also as the place where our consciousness comes from because, “it makes us aware of having sensations at all.”

Centuries later, the Romans shaded Aristotle’s idea of common sense in three ways. First, the Roman, “sensus communis,” represented widely accepted ideas that originate from our souls. Second, it referred to mankind’s natural intellectual capacity. Lastly, it was used to describe the public attitude or spirit.

Common sense continued to evolve over the centuries. It developed the definition it has today through the contribution of Thomas Reid. Reid was the founder of the “Scottish School of Common Sense”. Reid wrote, “If there are certain principles, as I think there are, which the constitution of our nature leads us to believe, and which we are under a necessity to take for granted in the common concerns of life, without being able to give a reason for them – these are what we call the principles of common sense; and what is manifestly contrary to them, is what we call absurd.”
Reid’s philosophy was a strong influence on many of our own Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. It also had a significant impact on the father of modern capitalism, Adam Smith.

I agree with W. Somerset Maugham who wrote, “With a little common sense, a little patience, and a little sense of humour you can live well on this planet.” I was disappointed to witness how much common sense was lacking in votes taken by the House Judiciary Subcommittees and the Judiciary Criminal Committee last week.

The Sex Offenses and Sex Offender Registration Subcommittee voted down House Bill 4318. After a rapist gets out of prison they can move right next door to their victim. You read that correctly. There are no living restrictions for a convicted rapist when it comes to their victim. HB4318 established a 1 mile radius living restriction between a rapist and the victim.

A registered sex offender cannot live within 500 feet of a school. Surely it is reasonable to protect rape victims from living next door to their rapist. The Subcommittee Democrats argued that rapists do not need any additional restrictions after being released from prison.

The Judiciary Criminal Committee voted down House Bill 4586. As I have written before, HB4586 extended the same protections to Illinois DCFS employees that DHS workers, corrections officers, police officers, fire fighters, and other first responders have under current law. We filed this bill in response to the horrific and brutal attack on DCFS investigator Pamela Knight in September of last year.

Pamela Knight’s family issued a statement in response to the vote. Her daughter, Jennifer Hollenback wrote, “Speaking for myself as a lifelong democrat, I understand that enhancing criminal penalties doesn’t always deter crime. I don’t believe that philosophy applies to this bill. We are not talking about mandatory minimums. We are talking about legislation that protects social workers working in some capacity for the state of Illinois… I am devastated by the vote cast by the democrats, in the Judicial Criminal Committee. We are supposed to be advocates for social issues. We are supposed to be a party for the people. How can we ask child welfare workers to keep children safe, if we can’t keep our child welfare workers safe?”

To Jennifer, her family, and to DCFS workers across the state of Illinois, I say, I will not give up the fight. We cannot let this injustice happen to other families.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said, “We have drained common sense out of our politics. The more we focus on tactics and games, the more good people check out and give up.” I agree. We need common sense. We need to put partisanship aside and get things done for Illinois. My sincere hope is that my colleagues across the aisle start by reconsidering their votes on HB4318 and HB4586.

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

***Guest Column***

President Eisenhower said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”  Future Farmers of America is teaching tens of thousands of students across our country, including hundreds right here in Northwest Illinois, leadership skills while providing insight into “career success through agricultural education.”

Our FFA students have done us proud this year at the state competition.  Congratulations to the Eastland FFA members who were selected as Illinois State FFA Proficiency Winners late last month.  Eastland student, Bradley Johnson, was a state winner in Beef Production Placement. Emily Denekas earned the distinction for Home and Community Development.  Payton Erbsen was a State winner in Forage Production, and Delana Erbsen was named the State Star Discovery Farmer.  Connor Erbsen was interviewed as a State Finalist for Star Farmer.

Agriculture is a major component in our economy.  Farmers are definitely ready for warmer weather to arrive.  Spring has had a difficult time getting to us.  Last Monday the Chicago Cubs Opening Day game was postponed because of snow!

Baseball has also been on my mind.  It is a sport that is uniquely American.  While it has been embraced in parts of Latin America and Japan, the sport has dominated our national psyche for more than half of our nation’s history.

It was the great Babe Ruth who said, “Baseball was, is and always will be the greatest game in the world.”  Part of baseball’s heritage is the Opening Day.  The Opening Day for each baseball team has been a significant event for major league cities for over 100 years.  Cincinnati, home of the first professional baseball team, celebrates the Reds Opening Day game as a city-wide holiday.

Like Easter, Opening Day signifies rebirth and a fresh start.  It symbolizes hope.  There is even a book written by long time sports columnist Thomas Boswell titled “Why Time Begins on Opening Day.”

Hall of Famer and legendary Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller explained why he thought baseball influenced Americans.  He said, “Every day is a new opportunity.  You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again.  That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”

The General Assembly started the bulk of this session Monday April 9th.  We have a new opportunity.  We have an opportunity to put the vitriol and the ideological entrenchments of the past few years behind us.  We have an opportunity to pursue common sense solutions to our state’s problems.

We could start with a commitment to only spend as much as we have.  Chicago Democrats keep raising our taxes and fees and the budget is not balanced.  We do not need the same tired lines about paying our fair share and raising more taxes.

Families in Illinois work hard to put food on the table and save for a rainy day.  They also pay more taxes than families in any other state in our country.  They do not need more taxes.  They do not deserve more taxes.  What they do need is a common sense government, and my goal is to work with my colleagues, Republican and Democrat, to achieve it.

One common sense solution is reforming our welfare system.  Welfare reform, including requiring photo identification, received the highest positive response rate from the legislative survey I sent out late last year.  That is one of the reasons I filed House Bill 4549.
HB 4549 requires Illinois LINK cards to include the name and photo of the primary card holder. We require photo ID’s to apply for jobs, to obtain medical care, and to travel on planes or drive cars.  It is perfectly reasonable to require LINK cards to include a photo ID.

Illinois’ neighboring state, Missouri, added photos to their SNAP benefit cards in 2011 as part of a comprehensive welfare reform overhaul that included drug testing requirements.  The Commonwealth of Massachusetts approved a similar measure in July of 2013.  Democrat House Speaker Robert DeLeo said, “What this is about is to stamp out fraud and abuse.” Massachusetts began issuing the cards in November of 2013.

The state of Maine followed Massachusetts in 2014 after soliciting advice from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on how to implement the program without risking the loss of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding. 

It is time for us to do the responsible, reasonable thing and pass welfare reform so that the people who need a hand up aren’t forced to suffer or wait because of people who are abusing the system.  It is a common sense solution to a problem that needs solving and I sincerely hope it is called for a vote.

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

The Easter Holiday is upon us. Families throughout Northern Illinois are taking children on Easter egg hunts as adults are wrapping up their Lenten commitments. Beautiful dresses and handsome suits will fill church aisles this Sunday, as countless hams roast slowly in the oven for family dinners. Easter is a time of hope, rebirth, and redemption.

Easter has typically been the milder holiday, sandwiched as it is between New Year’s and Independence Day, both raucous affairs in their own right. However, like Christmas, Easter did have a movie named after it, Easter Parade. An exchange between the hero, Don, and the heroine, Hannah, is particularly appropriate. When talking about Don’s inviting her to perform with him, Hannah says, “No, I mean it. You're the most wonderful dancer I've ever seen. You could get anyone to dance with you. You could get the very best.” Don replies, “I don't want the very best. I want you.” When you think about it, Don’s words capture just what Easter is all about.

Easter itself celebrates the most important event in the Christian religion. I started searching for other notable historical events that also happened on Easter Sunday and speak to the hope and opportunity it offers. I found the story of American contralto Marian Anderson.

Anderson was born on February 27th, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was the oldest of three girls. She joined the choir at Union Baptist Church when she was only six years old, earning the nickname “Baby Contralto.” Two years later, her father bought her a piano. She so impressed her family and church choir, they raised $500 to pay for professional voice training.

Anderson’s training paid off. She won a contest conducted by the New York Philharmonic Society and sang at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City. She performed at Carnegie Hall in 1928, and later won the Julius Rosenwald scholarship which provided her the opportunity to perform in a musical tour through Europe.

By the 1930’s, Anderson and her amazing voice was famous throughout the Western world. She performed at the White House for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the first African American to receive the honor. Legendary musician and conductor Arturo Toscanini told Anderson, “A voice like yours is heard only once in a hundred years.” In 1955 she became the first African American member of the New York Metropolitan Opera.

She sang our National Anthem for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Inauguration in 1957, and at John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration in 1961. In 1957 she was named Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She became an official delegate and goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations in 1958. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 the same year she sang at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. These are only some of her achievements, and perhaps her greatest moment was the concert she gave on Easter Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939.

Anderson’s manager, Sol Hurok, was organizing a performance in Washington D.C. The chosen venue was Constitution Hall, the largest concert hall in our nation’s capital to this day. The hall was built in 1929 by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to house the organization’s annual convention.

The DAR told Anderson and her manager that there were no dates available for her to perform in their facility. Reality was that the DAR had a policy that the hall only be available for white performers. In many ways, our country was still recovering from the horrors of the Civil War. At that time segregation was prevalent, and the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was scarcely ten years old.

News of the rejection leaked and the public uproar including Mrs. Roosevelt resulted in the first concert to be performed at the Lincoln Memorial. Approximately 75,000 flooded the mall and millions more listened to the performance on the radio. Anderson closed her concert saying, “I am overwhelmed. I can’t tell you what you have done for me today. I thank you from the bottom of my heart again and again.”

Let’s fulfill the spirit of this Easter season. Let’s choose to offer hope and opportunity to those around us. Let’s remember how far we have come, and keep working for a better future. Happy Easter!

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “If elected I will be thankful; if not, it will be all the same.” Illinois finished a spirited and intense primary election this past week. The joys and stings are still fresh. Last Tuesday was not the first such primary.

How many of us remember the Republican primary of 1994? It was then that former Governor Jim Edgar was challenged in the rimary by the late Jack Roesser. Jack ran against Governor Edgar because he believed the Governor was going to raise our taxes and use more taxpayer dollars to fund abortion.

How about the Republican Senate primary in 1998? Governor Edgar endorsed Loleta Didrickson who was challenged by Illinois State Senator Peter Fitzgerald in the race to see who would run against Senator Carol Moseley Braun that November. Against all odds, the challenger Fitzgerald won.

The Democrats have had some big primaries too. In 2002, Congressman Rod Blagojevich ran against former Attorney General Roland Burris and former CEO of Chicago Public Schools Paul Vallas. Vallas lost to Blagojevich by 2.03% of the vote. The rest, as we know, is history.

2002 was a big primary year locally when Jim Sacia won his first election for State Representative in the 89th District against four opponents. Yes, Illinois has a history of intense primaries.

It was FDR who talked about how government should not be “twirling its thumbs.” Instead, he said that government should roll up its sleeves. He promised Americans that government “will keep our sleeves rolled up.”

The same holds true today. We had a primary election. We will have a general election in November so your mailboxes should be relatively empty till the fall. And we still have a state that needs help. The January Comptroller report tells us that Illinois has paid almost a billion dollars in late-payment interest penalties alone! So yes, we have a lot of work to do when legislators return to Springfield on April 9th, and I will roll up my sleeves.

We should not be passing more laws to appease a political base or to distract the public from harassment charges in the Speaker’s campaign office. We should pass laws that make sense and help Illinois move forward. Anything less is not worthy of the people’s trust.

An example of a common sense law is House Bill 4548. This bill provides us an opportunity to save tax dollars in rural Illinois. Right now, juveniles who are detained after having been charged with a crime are required to physically appear in court for the initial detention hearing. This is less of a problem in cities like Rockford, Peoria, or Chicago, where juveniles are detained a short driving distance from their respective court house.

In cities like Galena, Mount Carroll, and Freeport, close proximity is not an option. Juveniles are detained in Galesburg’s Mary Davis Home Juvenile Center, or in the Kane County Juvenile Detention Center. Sheriff’s deputies are required to drive two and a half hours to Galesburg or Kane County to transport juveniles to the courthouse for an initial detention hearing that usually lasts less than ten minutes. Not only is this a safety issue for both the deputy and the juvenile it is expensive for taxpayers. It also removes a county deputy from the “beat.” It is difficult for a deputy to effectively fight crime while also driving at least five hours round trip.

After hearing of this issue from our local Sheriffs, I saw a problem that needed solving. So, I filed HB4548. It “establishes a three year pilot program that whenever an appearance of a minor is required in court” who is held at a juvenile detention center, “the court may allow the appearance of the minor to be made by means of a two-way audio-visual communication.” This is already being done for adults that are detained. We have the technology to ensure a fair hearing and save tax dollars at the same time and I think we should get it done this spring.

Now that the primary election is over, we can get on with the important issues facing our state like creating jobs and expanding opportunity in our rural communities. I am looking forward to rejoining my colleagues, as we roll up our sleeves and get to work. In the meantime, congratulations to the primary winners and thank you to everyone who went to the polls for the primary election. You make all the difference.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.
***Guest Column***
Congratulations to the Winnebago Boys basketball team and Coach Murphy on finishing second in the Class 2A IHSA State Championship.  It was an exciting season and we are all proud of your achievement. We look forward to next season for all of our area teams.

This past week also saw the National School Walkout protest.  Some students in schools across the country walked out of their classrooms for 17 minutes to protest gun violence in honor of the 17 students who were tragically murdered at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month.  Other students and schools chose to address the issue in other ways.

Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” However you think gun violence should be stopped, or how people should protest, we can all agree that there is too much gun violence in our schools.  Public safety, in schools and out, is of maximum importance.

The capacity to express our opinions about what we believe without the fear of government retribution is truly American.  I would challenge our students to be confident in expressing your opinions. Also, be tenacious in studying the issues. Do not become complacent in your ideas.

Keep learning, keep stretching your intellect, and do not settle for the easy conclusion for any reason.  Walter Cronkite was right. He said, “In seeking truth, you have to get both sides of the story.”

As we navigate difficult and sensitive issues, let’s never forget, the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us.  We can and will find answers to the problems we face. How could we not? After all, we are Americans.

That is why elections are so important.  And just a reminder, the primary election day is Tuesday, March 20th.  Early voting is underway. Many communities are deciding more than who will be on the ballot in the fall.  There are important referenda to vote on in the primary. Contact your County Clerk for details on voting or a sample ballot if you have any questions.

It is also important what our elected officials do in office.  One of the bills I sponsored, HB3095, was directed to improving public safety.  Until last year, one of the requirements Illinois had to become an Illinois State Trooper was that candidates have at least a four year college degree before being eligible to apply.

I was honorably discharged from the US Army after having served as a Military Police Officer and as a Military Police Investigator.  That experience would not have mattered if I were to have applied to be a State Trooper as I did not have a four year degree.

Thankfully, the General Assembly passed HB3095 which became Public Act 100-0011.  Now veterans, who have served honorably, can apply to become State Troopers without a four year degree.  They are still required to pass and complete the same testing and training as those with a college degree.  I believe that those who put their lives on the line for our freedom by serving in the military should not have unnecessary obstacles if they want to continue the fight to keep us safe as civilians.

Legislators return to the General Assembly on April 9th.  We have budgets and taxes to debate and both will dominate the headlines.  I have filed 41 House Bills to be considered for the Spring Session and will provide some details on some of them in upcoming columns.

Abraham Lincoln said, “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.” I look forward to the work we have to do in Springfield next month. In the meantime, have a happy and safe Saint Patrick’s Day.

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

Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.
John F. Kennedy

Many of us know the story of Briar Rose, or as Walt Disney popularized it, Sleeping Beauty. For those who don’t, I will provide a brief synopsis. A King and Queen celebrate the birth of their only child. A curse is placed on the child by a malevolent being who was not invited to the celebration. The child is taken away from the danger to protect her. I won’t spoil the ending, but you get the drift.

Fairy tales are full of heroes and villains, good versus evil. We teach children from an early age that there is right and wrong, good people and bad people. Children learn when they are young that good people are often protectors.

Department of Children and Family Services investigators are protectors. The mission of DCFS begins with three words, “to protect children.” The job is often difficult, thankless, and dangerous. Some did not fully understand how dangerous until last fall.

DCFS investigator Pamela Knight was assaulted on September 29th, 2017 in Milledgeville, IL. Mrs. Knight was taking a 2 year old child into protective custody at the time of the assault.  Tragically she passed away from her injuries on February 8th, 2018.

Twenty-five year old Andrew Sucher was charged with the assault. Since her death he has also been charged with 5 counts of murder in the 1st degree.

I filed House Bill 4147 on November 6th of last year. The bill makes battering a DCFS investigator who is doing their job a Class 1 felony, and includes enhanced penalties. Right now, police officers, fire fighters, and other peace officers are protected by such legislation. DCFS investigators should enjoy the same protection. Representatives Tony McCombie, Tom Demmer, John Cabello, and Stephanie Kifowit are Chief Co-Sponsors. Thirty-two of our colleagues are Co-Sponsors.

After Mrs. Knight’s death, State Senator Tim Bivins filed Senate Bill 2272, on February 14th, 2018. The purpose is the same as HB4147, to protect DCFS investigators while they do their jobs. State Senator Melinda Bush serves as the Chief Co-Sponsor.

It was Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Mrs. Knight is not the only DCFS investigator who has been assaulted. On November 17th, 2017 the Chicago Tribune reported that at least 12 DCFS workers have been “attacked or seriously threatened” since 2013.

DCFS Director Beverly “BJ” Walker supports HB4147 and was quoted saying, “We welcome everybody’s involvement to figure out what more we could do to protect the workers when they’re out in these dangerous situations.” Senior Deputy Director Neil Skene said, “Our staff are first responders. The severe attack was a stark reminder of the dangers of going into these unpredictable and often hostile situations.”

AFSCME Council 31 is the union that represents DCFS workers. The Tribune reported that they discussed “new measures that might keep child protection workers safe,” with Director Walker. These measures include training improvements, and greater freedom to request police escorts. DCFS workers are not allowed to carry Mace or any other weapon to protect themselves while they do their jobs.

It is easy to understand why some DCFS workers may have been resistant to police escorts, especially prior to the assault on Mrs. Knight, which was particularly brutal. The presence of law enforcement can make families less cooperative. That is not hard to believe.

Additional training is good. Frequent law enforcement escorts are good. I believe that additional protections under the law are also good. HB4147 and SB2272 provide some of those additional protections.

I agree with President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.” We cannot be neutral. DCFS investigators are first responders whose mission it is to protect children. The work they do is difficult, and sensitive, and as we know, dangerous. They have been under assault. It is our duty to defend them.

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

It was President Theodore Roosevelt who said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Congratulations to the Stockton Girls Basketball team and Coach Timpe for finishing second in the IHSA Class 1A State Championship game this last week. Your hard work and determination are an inspiration to many throughout Northwest Illinois. The team finished their season 32-3.

Last week was also National Future Farmers of America Week. Chapters throughout Northern Illinois were active celebrating the mission of the FFA and the impact it has on its members. The FFA is “committed to the individual student, providing a path to achievement in premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agriculture education.

It is inspiring to see so many of our youth strive and succeed. They are our future, and that is why it is so important to reverse two trends, first of focusing our tax dollars and economic incentives on Chicago, and second, of rural population being siphoned to Cook and the collar counties.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The first farmer was the first man. All historic nobility rests on the possession and use of land.” I agree. Agriculture is an important key to success for Northwest Illinois.

It was good to see the Governor’s budget include level funding for agricultural programs in the Illinois Department of Agriculture and pass through spending for local government agricultural programs. The capital plan includes new funding for the Illinois State Fair to reconstruct the Coliseum. Originally constructed in 1901, the Coliseum is a three story, closed ampitheater show ring for horses and has been closed since 2016 because of structural issues.

At the local level, municipalities, townships, and county governments can help spur agricultural growth. The Illinois Farm Bureau recommends emphasizing sales taxes and other forms of revenue instead of property taxes. I agree that our property taxes are too high, and that we should explore alternatives while providing property tax relief for families.

In 1900 38 % of jobs in the United States were in agriculture. By 1981 that number had dropped to less than 4% of workers and is now less than 2%. Prioritizing growth for rural Illinois should include continued funding for agricultural education.

The agricultural jobs of today are different and more varied than in 1981. We should grow community college vocational agricultural programs. We should also provide vocational agriculture education for K-12 students in rural school districts and show our FFA students we are serious about expanding agricultural job opportunities in rural Illinois.

It was the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas who said, “Infrastructure is much more important than architecture.” Investment in infrastructure is essential for both rural Illinois and our agricultural economy to succeed. Currently, the average grade for Illinois infrastructure is C-. We need a capital plan that will turn our C- into an A.

I am encouraged by the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council and its pilot program to provide online Advanced Placement classes to 10 rural schools in Illinois. I was encouraged when they chose Orangeville High School as one of the sites for the pilot. Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti has worked hard on this program, and we certainly hope to see it expand across the rest of rural Illinois in a few short years.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Agriculture is our wisest pursuit because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals and happiness.” Turning around rural Illinois has to include an emphasis on agriculture. The two go hand in hand.

Naysayers will argue that there is no money, or the money will somehow involve hurting another group. There are always reasons to say no. We can achieve our goals by expanding the Illinois economy, especially our rural economy because that expands our tax base without increasing our tax burden.

As always you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.
***Wrestling and Politics***

Congratulations to Dakota’s Maverick McPeek (220 pound class) and Lena-Winslow/Stockton’s Ian Kuehl (285 pound class) for their victories at the IHSA State Wrestling Tournament this last week in Class 1A. I would also like to congratulate Le-Win/Stockton’s Rahveon Valentine (2nd place 170 pounds) and Hunter Luke (4th place 145 pounds), and West Carroll’s Ethan Doty (5th place 120 pounds) for their Class 1A medals; and congratulations to Freeport High School’s Major Dedmond (6th place 170 pounds) for his Class 2A medal.

In team wrestling, the Lena-Winslow/Stockton Pantherhawks advanced to the Sectional match against Aurora Christian on Tuesday. The defending champion Pantherhawks kept it close but it wasn’t enough to overcome Aurora Christian. Congratulations to Coach Milder and the Pantherhawks on their season. We look forward to seeing great things next year from all of our area wrestling teams.

Wrestling is quite possibly mankind’s oldest sport. Early depictions of wrestling appear on millennia-old cave drawings in France, ancient Babylon, and Egypt. It is referenced in religious texts like the Old Testament and the Hindu Vedas. Wrestling became an ancient Olympic sport in Greece, was popular in Rome, and flourished in Western Europe before coming to North America.

Many consider wrestling to be one of the most difficult sports there is. Collegiate and Olympic wrestling legend, Dan Gable, says, “More enduringly than any other sport, wrestling teaches self-control and pride.” Screen actor and former wrestler, Channing Tatum says, “In wrestling, there is no retreat. No way to slow things down. In wrestling, you advance and advance and being tired is just a lie to make the other guy think he can relax. It’s so hard – harder than anything I’ve ever done.”

A wrestling match consists of two people of nearly, if not exactly, equal weight using a series of defined holds and maneuvers to subdue the other. While contemporary wrestling incorporates a series of points to calculate each wrestler’s “score” the ultimate victory is when one wrestler forces the other wrestler onto their back with both shoulders touching the mat at the same time.
Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius says, “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” The same can be said of politics in the Land of Lincoln.
The Governor introduced his budget last week. The budget is balanced, and requires, among other things, a shift in pension costs from the state to local school districts in equal increments over a four year period.

There are proposals for tools covering the cost of the pension shift, and even providing more savings to school districts and taxpayers in the process. As reported in The Journal Standard, “The tools include increased education funding, the power to dissolve or consolidate units of local government and more flexibility in contracting, bidding and sharing services.”

As we can expect, sides are drawing up, and people are preparing for the whistle to signal  month’s long budget struggle. I believe we can do better than that.

It is easy to say no. It is easy to believe that our challenges are too high to climb, and all we can expect is a cycle of tax and spending increases to fuel the status quo. Instead of explaining why we think an idea won’t work, shouldn’t we ask whether the idea is a good one?

As I’ve written about before, hundreds of constituents have returned and continue to return the legislative survey I mailed out last December. We want education reform, increased funding, and consolidation to improve the effectiveness of our public education system.
Many survey respondents also included comments supporting pension reform. Shouldn’t we as Illinoisans determine whether we think locally funded pensions are a better idea than having them funded through Springfield?

I want to know what you think. Let me know if you would rather we find a way to manage our own local public pensions instead of relying on Springfield. Let me know if you would rather local school districts have the tools to reform our schools instead of waiting for Springfield.

Please let me know your thoughts or ideas on how to reform our government by visiting my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.  Sometimes, transformation needs to start with us.

I was honored this week to meet Jong-Kook Lee, the Consul General of the Republic of Korea who addressed a Session of the House of Representatives. Illinois exports to Korea totaled over $1.23 billion in 2016, an 84.1% increase since 2009. Illinois ranks 5th among the 50 US States exports to South Korea.

Pierce Brown wrote, “Home isn't where you're from, it's where you find light when all grows dark.” For 115,000 Illinoisans in the past year, the light is no longer in the Land of Lincoln. 115,000 Illinois residents left our state according to the US Census Bureau between July 2016 and July 2017. Furthermore, Illinois has lost over 642,000 residents since 2010.

This is especially true of Illinois rural counties.  The Illinois News Network reports that rural Illinois has been losing more population in recent years, while suburban Chicago has grown. Crain’s Chicago Business indicates that Chicagoland has done more than increase population, it has created jobs, saying, “Federal data shows that just 20 counties nationwide accounted for half of new businesses created in the US between 2010 and 2014… Cook was the only county in the Midwest to land on that top 20 list.”

Even considering the growth in Chicago’s economy, the Illinois economy continues to struggle. Our first budget in two years is currently running a 1.7 billion dollar deficit, even after passing permanent corporate and individual income tax increases.  Internal Revenue Service data tells us that Illinois has lost $3.4 billion in “adjusted gross income” (AGI) to neighboring states between 2010 and 2015.

The legacy of the status quo is declining rural population, lagging employment, punitive tax increases, and wasteful state spending.  Contrary to what others have written, I am not against increasing state revenues.  I am against increasing your tax burden.  The average family of four pays more in taxes in Illinois than in any other state in the country.  We are taxed enough already.  So let’s put the myth that higher taxes will save our state’s economy to rest.  
Here is what I do stand for.  I believe we should pursue the right course to expand our tax base.  That is how we increase revenue.  To do that, we need to make Illinois a destination state, for families and businesses.

Before the recent tax hike, it was small businesses driving job growth in Illinois.  Businesses with fewer than 50 employees created 75 percent of the net new jobs in 2016, and from 2011 to 2016, businesses with fewer than 500 jobs created 79 percent of net new jobs, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  We need to cut the red tape and drain the swamp of regulations that suffocate small businesses.  It is time to make it just a little bit easier for entrepreneurs to move our economy forward and create jobs.

The laundry list of incentives for businesses to start or expand in Chicagoland is long, and let’s face it, probably a little soiled.  If we are going to grow ALL of Illinois, we need better incentives to expand the rural tax base and grow our economy.  We need to expand Enterprise Zones in rural communities.  We need to increase incentives for regional planning and economic development in rural communities.

A good start would be passing the Lincoln-Douglas Historical Tax credit (HB3096) which I filed last year.  This legislation would extend the River’s Edge Tax credit to all seven of the Lincoln-Douglas debate sites in order to help spur development in those communities.

Another excellent step to improving our competitiveness and increasing our tax base seems simple.  We need to make sure any business interested in incentives to expand or start-up is not required to obtain a competing incentive package from a neighboring state – my bill (HB3105). It is counterproductive to offer an incentive and then require the business to apply for an incentive package from a neighboring state.

I believe in Illinois.  I believe in our work force.  I believe in our students.  I believe in our families.  I believe in our small business community.  I believe we have what it takes to climb from the bottom of state rankings to the top.

We do not need more new taxes to do it.  We do not need more regulations to do it.  We need to expand our tax base and grow our economy.  We need better incentives for rural communities like the ones I have outlined.  It was “Bunker” Roy who said, “Strengthen the rural areas and you will find less people migrating to urban areas.”

We also need to reform our education system.  We need to cut the red tape that bleeds our businesses dry.  And we need to focus on incentivizing small businesses because they are the people who create most of the jobs anyway.  That is the recipe for success.  That is how we start attracting families and businesses to grow in Illinois.  I look forward to the 2018 General Assembly session which begins next week.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas for making Illinois better, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.
Thank you! Last month, I sent out my legislative update and included a survey covering important issues we all face in Illinois. Hundreds of you returned the survey either by mail or online and they are still coming in! Many of you sent personal comments, letters, and cards as well. I am reviewing them all, and am both humbled and grateful to read your thoughts.

I also understand there were some challenges with the online survey. I am working with our House web development staff to work on improvements for the future. It was George Washington who said, “In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude.” The government is us; we are the government, you and I. For a government to be successful we need to elect good people, who know when to stick to their guns and how to accomplish the will of the people.

That is why surveys like the one many of you completed are so important. Our state leaders need to avoid the Springfield echo chamber and gain perspective by reaching out and listening to voters. Leadership is better when it is informed. I want to know the issues important to you so I can better represent your needs in Springfield.

Public service does not come without criticism. It is part of the job description. To some, the survey could have been more specific or allowed greater detail. It is important to note this survey was an opportunity to obtain a general idea of the issues that are important to you, and to open future discussions about them.

One of the most significant issues in both parts of the survey was taxes. It was a Republican Supreme Court Justice from Massachusetts, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” What I often wonder is whether the taxes we currently pay are buying us a more civilized society?

I am absolutely certain that we pay enough in taxes. Not only is the state and local tax burden worse for the average family in Illinois than in California or Massachusetts, it is worse than every other state in the country. Over 70% of survey respondents agree their state income taxes are too high and that the recent tax hike should be repealed.

Even more people believe taxes should be reformed to reduce the property tax burden. Property tax reform was the number one survey issue, registering 87% support. We need to reform our tax system to encourage property ownership. We need tax reform to protect senior citizens and prevent them from being taxed out of their homes.

Many responses also articulated the understanding that the state needs revenue to pay for essential services, to reduce our debt, and to balance the budget. I agree. The problem with Springfield is that Speaker Madigan’s control accomplishes none of those things, even after raising our taxes.

Welfare reform ranked second in terms of support. 84% of survey responses supported reforming our welfare system. Those that were opposed were overwhelmingly opposed to drug testing for welfare recipients, either on constitutional or financial grounds (arguing that the costs outweighed the savings). What we can agree on is that there are far too many people relying on welfare and we need a growing economy to create jobs that will help people lift themselves and their children from government dependence to independence.

That is why creating new jobs and retaining the ones we have and adding resources like targeted TIF districts and enterprise zones are so important. Tax credits like the Rivers Edge tax credits and my proposed Lincoln Douglas debate site tax credits will help attract new businesses that will create jobs throughout Northern Illinois.

It is a New Year, and we will have ample opportunity to discuss the issues in greater depth. I am looking forward to the work ahead moving Illinois in the right direction. Thank you again for taking the time to complete the survey. If you have not yet completed it, please visit my website http://www.repbrianstewart.com/. You can reach the survey by clicking the 3rd icon down on the right-hand side titled, “2017 Session Wrap-Up Survey.”

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at stewart@ilhousegop.org. You can also contact me by visiting my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.