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.
I know I’ve quoted him in the past, and I think it’s appropriate to quote him again. I agree with George Washington who wrote, “In a free republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude.” For a government to be successful we need legislators who are thoughtful, are willing to stick to their guns when it makes sense, and work to accomplish the will of the people.

That is why I conducted the End of Session Survey this past August. If I have said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Leadership is better when it is better informed. I will continue to conduct surveys and work with staff to improve the quality of the surveys in the future. I want to know what you think. I want to know what is important to you. And I want to continue a dialogue so I can make better decisions for us.

Almost 1,000 of you returned the survey in the mail or through my website. Thank you. The survey asked which were the most serious challenges facing Illinois - education funding, gun violence, transportation and infrastructure, environmental protection, health care costs, or high taxes. More than half of your responses said high taxes was our most serious challenge.

I can certainly understand why so many of you are concerned about high taxes. Illinois families pay more taxes than families in any other state in the country. There are people who think you should pay more taxes without reforming government in any way whatsoever. I think those people are wrong. We need to reform Springfield’s spending, and put a stop to government corruption before asking working families to pay more taxes.

The next six questions of the survey addressed various issues. A few responses stood out. For example, ninety-two percent of you think that we should take the legislative map-drawing process out of the hands of politicians! Given the autocratic rule we have seen by the Chicago machine, controlling our state for the past three decades, it’s easy to understand why so many of us agree that one way to fight this corruption is to end gerrymandering.

Progressive taxes were next on the list. Over eighty-three percent of you said you opposed a progressive income tax if it would raise taxes on the middle class. There are folks who are trying to convince you that changing our tax system would benefit working families and only tax the “rich”. However, they want you to blindly support the change without telling you exactly what the tax rates will be and who they will affect. For those who don’t remember, the only progressive tax bill that has been filed is House Bill 3522, which starts raising income taxes on families earning $7,500 a year, and increases them again for families earning more than $15,000 a year. The legislator who filed that bill included a letter to the remaining 117 members of the House of Representatives explaining how the only way to pay our current debts and pension obligations was through that tax bill, and included a calculator for us to check his math.

Seventy-eight percent of you are opposed to the proposal by the Chicago Fed to increase your property taxes for the next 30 years to pay down pension debt. This is easy to understand. I took a phone call from a gentleman just the other day telling me about how high his property taxes are compared to similar properties in Minnesota.

Also, many of your comments on the question expressed distrust that the state would spend the money to pay down the pension debt. After all, wasn’t that what the old 2011 tax increase was for?

One question, Question 7, we refined from last year’s survey. Last year, we asked about government consolidation and a significant majority of you were in favor of it. This year, you were asked if you favored consolidating Townships or Township Road Districts without first providing data proving that the consolidation would save you money. Seventy-three percent of you said “No.” This makes sense. The survey indicates that taxes are your highest concern. It makes sense that you would want to know if consolidation would save tax dollars.

I relate to the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” Now there are always people who will disagree with the decisions I’ve made. They will most likely disagree with any decisions I will make. They disagree with the beliefs you and I have. There’s no pleasing these people, even after presenting the facts.

However, we can remember that what unites us is far greater than anything that divides us. With that in mind, I would like to take a moment and note the passing of a long-time friend, Kenneth “Pat” Patrick Martin, who I always called, “K. Patrick”. I knew him for many years both personally and professionally, since I served as a Freeport Alderman with his wife, Mickey Martin. I had the privilege of honoring their daughter, Kelly, who was one of Time Magazine’s People of the Year in 2017 for her bravery in speaking out against sexual harassment.

K. Patrick was active in our community, committed to making Freeport a better place for all of us. He was also a founding member and dedicated to the Highland Chapter of Pheasants Forever and to the Illinois State Council of Pheasants Forever for the past 35 years. He was a great man and will be missed.
Some of you remember Paul Harvey. For those who don’t know, he was a radio broadcaster on ABC’s radio networks from 1952 until 2008. He was most famously known for his segment called, The Rest of the Story.

Everyone has opinions. In today’s world, full of posts and tweets and grams, forming an opinion is easy. With the inception of the internet, we have more information at our fingertips than any generation ever had before. More often than not, what we need is perspective. More information isn’t always better. We need to get the right information to help us make the right decisions. We need the rest of the story.

It was famous author and management consultant Peter Drucker who said, “Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level.” He is absolutely right. This especially holds true for our public officials. We pay taxes for public officials, elected and unelected, to make decisions that will impact our lives. Our expectation is that they will make good decisions.

I remember making the decision to start my first business. I remember each choice I had to make, and how much I was asking, of my family, my future employees, and myself. While my businesses have grown, I continue to approach every decision with the same care and precision.

That is how I make decisions as your State Representative as well. I am responsible for approximately 108,000 people in the 89th District. When I make a decision to vote for or against legislation, it’s with you in mind.

An example is Senate Bill 607, which was legislation filed by State Senator Tim Bivins. It was approved by both houses and signed into law last year. 

A common misconception is that SB607 legalized switchblades, making life more dangerous for families in Illinois. I do not agree with that characterization.

A small business, RAT Worx USA, in Mount Morris, IL, manufactures high quality automatic knives – the average retail price for one of their knives is $300. Allowing the sale of the automatic knives that they manufacture right here in the 89th District would help their business. As you know, I believe the best way for Illinois to overcome our financial challenges is through economic growth, and that was an important consideration in supporting SB607.

Another important consideration was the benefit an automatic knife or “spring assisted device” has for society. As a retired Stephenson County Sheriff’s Deputy, I turned to law enforcement and the first responder community for guidance. I learned that these devices are very popular with first responders (police, fire, EMT’s and even the Military”). Imagine if you were in a car accident and your car was on fire. Using an automatic knife, an EMT could cut your seatbelt and begin removing you from the vehicle in less time than it would take to open a standard pocket knife with two hands. Automatic knives save time, and for first responders, saving time means saving lives.

The most important consideration was how much a bill legalizing automatic knives would hurt Illinois families. Ultimately, the process narrowed the bill to only allow the sale of automatic knives to Illinois residents who have been issued a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) Card by the Illinois State Police. Illinois has strict eligibility rules to obtain a FOID Card. Felony convictions, mental health issues, or a history of domestic violence are among the many disqualifying factors.

It is my belief that the FOID Card requirement to purchase an automatic knife helps protect Illinois families. After that, I also considered the endorsement from first responders and the benefits to a local manufacturer, I then supported the legislation. I would also note that these automatic knives were already being sold for years in your big box and sporting goods stores even though they were technically illegal.

Another example of the process I use in making decisions in Springfield is Senate Bill 2298, the Industrial Hemp Act. When many people hear the word hemp, they think marijuana. Before I supported SB2298, I wanted to make sure what I was endorsing, and whether the benefits outweighed potential risks.

What I learned is that special interests fought to make hemp illegal in 1937 because of a government report suggesting hemp could replace wood pulp to produce paper, and other products. Hemp was also later included in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

It turns out that the plants farmers grow to produce industrial hemp are different from the plants that are grown to produce the marijuana drug. Industrial hemp plants don’t produce enough of the psychoactive chemical THC for drug users to get “high” and produce more cannabidiol (CBD) which also prevents a user from getting “high.”

Former State Representative I. Ron Lawfer made a compelling argument for the benefit cultivating industrial hemp would have for Illinois farmers. Industrial hemp is a crop that can be used to manufacture paper, textiles, paints, insulation, biofuels, animal feed, and biodegradable plastics. I think we can all agree that this crop would help Illinois farmers and rural communities throughout our state.

I hope these examples provide insight into the process I use to make decisions as your State Representative. I will continue to use the same level of discretion and scrutiny in the decisions I make for the 89th District during the veto session this November.

Bandwidth speeds more than double since 2015; Rauner committed to reaching FCC goal of one megabit per second per student

Gov. Bruce Rauner today announced that 96 percent of K-12 school districts in Illinois can access the internet at speeds of 100 kbps per student, a substantial improvement from 71 percent just three years ago. Median bandwidths also have markedly improved, increasing 2.5 times since 2015.

High-speed connectivity ensures that students have access to more digital resources, which in turn expands learning opportunities. By making high-speed internet accessible, educators and students gain the benefits of greater interactivity, collaboration, engagement and personal instruction.

“Our aim is to give every K-12 student in Illinois access to internet speeds on par with the FCC’s goal of one megabit per second per student,” said Rauner. “When this kind of technology is fully integrated in our classrooms, students will advance more rapidly and with much higher odds of success in the 21st century labor market.”

Illinois’ digital advances were reported by the EducationSuperHighway which tracks progress toward K-12 connectivity across the United States. The national nonprofit advocates for upgrading internet access in every public school classroom in America. Rauner is one of four governors committed to reaching the FCC broadband speed goal.

While Illinois has advanced its school digital resources, work remains. EducationSuperHighway says that 407,093 students in 32 school districts across the state still need adequate bandwidth for digital learning. There also are 136 school campuses that lack scalable fiber-optic broadband connections.

The Illinois Classroom Connectivity Initiative<Click Here>, launched by the Rauner administration in 2016, is an effort to ensure that all districts receive the support and funding to close this school broadband gap. The FY19 education budget includes a $17 million Broadband Expansion fund to help cover costs of fiber upgrades for school districts. There is also provision for free technical assistance.

“We commend Gov. Rauner for working toward closing the digital divide in Illinois classrooms,” said Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway. “I am pleased that leaders in Illinois have demonstrated their continued commitment to connecting students to vital digital learning opportunities through high-speed internet access.”
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), established in 1961, is an international non-profit whose mission is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. The OECD’s most recent study estimates that only 43% of citizens around the world trust their government.

The Pew Research Center’s most recent study indicates less than 30% of Americans trust our government. According to a poll conducted by Gallup in the same year says that only 25% of Illinois residents trust their state government, and that we have the “nation’s lowest confidence in (our) state economy.”

It’s easy to understand why Illinois families are skeptical of our state government. Take for example, Senate Bill 2892. This bill created a statewide threshold for paying teachers, including mandatory raises. Sounds good right? School superintendents in the 89th District called my office in an uproar because the bill did not include state funds or a method to pay the salary increases and corresponding benefit costs.

The only way to cover these additional costs would be for the local school districts to raise your property taxes. The Chicago machine was hoping Illinois families would blame school board members for the tax hikes.

I support fairly compensating our teachers. I think most of us do. I voted against SB2892 because increasing property taxes would hurt hard working families and senior citizens in our district. Some people may not care if you have to pay more property taxes. I do.

Another example why people in Illinois deserve to be skeptical of their government is Medicaid. Illinois accepted the Medicaid expansion in July 2013 and it went into effect in 2014. According to, the increase in number of people covered by Medicaid between the start of the expansion and June 2016 was 461,505, bringing the total number of persons covered by Illinois Medicaid to 3,088,448. estimated an additional 782,000 patients would become newly eligible for coverage after June 2016.

The costs for the Medicaid expansion are significantly higher than the projections. In 2013, former Governor Quinn told us that the expansion would cost $4.6 billion during the first three years. It turns out, he was off target. The expansion cost Illinois families $9.2 billion.

It would make sense, given the enormous unanticipated costs to cover the additional patients that we should try to audit patient eligibility and make sure our tax dollars are being used to cover patients who actually qualify and are eligible for Medicaid. After all, the US Department of Health and Human Services estimated that nearly 10% of Medicaid spending was improper and state law requires the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) to conduct annual eligibility checks.

The same year Illinois approved the Medicaid expansion, the legislature voted to allow HFS to contract with independent experts to audit the eligibility for all Medicaid participants. Of the first 195,000 Medicaid patients reviewed by the vendor, 64% had eligibility errors. 101,000 patients did not qualify, and an additional 23,000 were eligible for some benefits but weren’t enrolled in the right program. This was before the Medicaid expansion even started!

The audit was stopped after union bosses went to arbitration. They said the state shouldn’t contract an outside auditor to do union jobs. The bosses wanted public union employees to conduct the audit. So the Quinn administration halted the audit.

In the 1980’s I had the honor and privilege of being elected the union president of the Stephenson County public employees, UAW Local 2261. I would never have suggested that only our union employees were qualified to audit ourselves, and would have encouraged our members to welcome any independent investigation of our job performance.

The Chicago machine did nothing to try and reduce the burden on taxpayers and make sure that Medicaid benefits are going to people who truly need the help. This is the kind of thing we need to overcome if we are going to get Illinois back on track doing the right things for hard working families.

I agree with Elvis Presley. “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away.” I believe we need to restore confidence in Illinois. We deserve a state government that you can trust. It has been my mission as your State Representative to support, sponsor, and vote for common sense solutions that provide for balanced budgets, to resist tax increases without a commitment to responsible spending, and to secure jobs for working families. I believe doing so will help you have more faith in our state government.
I’m sure some of you may find it hard to think about the upcoming veto session with the election season upon us. For me, it is invigorating to serve as your State Representative, and I look forward to addressing hard problems with common sense solutions in November. I believe it will be important for us to come together and work to pave a smooth road for families in Illinois.

We have an opportunity to expand beyond the same tired approach that has been dictated in Springfield for almost four decades. As we have discussed in previous columns, Illinois has lagged behind the nation throughout the economic recovery. For such a large and diverse state, the Chicago machine’s strategy has not made our state an economic powerhouse.

When I say Chicago machine, I’m not being critical of the city, or its hard working families. To paraphrase President Kennedy, we share common links with families in Chicago. We all share this state. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future.

So when I reference the Chicago machine, I am talking about a network of politicians and special interests whose mission is not to help families get ahead. Their mission is to advance their own power and privilege.

I agree with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said, “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” We need to alter our direction, and make decisions that help working families. We can do this by pursuing policies that will result in balanced budgets, resist tax increases especially on the middle class, and by securing jobs for Illinois families.

I voted an enthusiastic “No” on the last budget. Why? I voted no because years ago, when I was a poor small businessman starting my first business at my kitchen table, I learned to focus on the numbers. When it came time to vote on this year’s budget, the numbers didn’t add up to me. It turns out the budget wasn’t balanced to the tune of at least $1.2 billion.

Deficit spending and unpaid bills hurt us. They increase our interest rates, push more debt on our kids and grandkids, and stretch tax dollars more thinly than ever before. We need to make smarter spending decisions with the goal of helping families move forward. Treading water is not enough.

The Chicago machine’s answer is the same as it’s always been. Raise taxes. Some of you remember the first time they played this game. It was during the dead of night in the winter of 2011 when a “temporary” tax hike was passed. At the time, Illinois’ bill backlog was $8.5 billion and our pension liability was $83 billion. We were promised the new taxes would pay off our debts.

Two years after that increase what happened? Our bill backlog was up $500 million. Our interest payments increased from $53 million to $186 million. Our credit rating was downgraded 5 times. And our pension debt increased by $17 billion.

That’s the Chicago machine’s legacy. These are the people who are spending your money. Last year’s 32% tax increase has not balanced our budgets. It hasn’t paid off our bills. It hasn’t improved our credit rating and it has certainly not addressed the pension deficit.

Of course, their answer is to raise taxes. But this time there is a new spin. This time, they’re telling us that the taxes will be on the ones who need to pay their “fair share.”

Ironically, the bill they filed in Springfield during the spring session goes a whole lot farther than their “spin.” Let me explain. The poverty level is roughly $24,000. Median household income in Illinois is roughly $77,000, in Freeport it’s about $35,500. The progressive tax bill – House Bill 3522 – raises taxes for people earning between $7,500 and $15,000 by 18%. It increases taxes for people earning between $15,000 and $225,000 by 27%. When they said “fair share,” I didn’t realize it included poor and middle class families.

I am also adamantly against a vehicle mileage tax. A mileage tax would hurt Northern Illinois families, farms, and small businesses.

Taxes are important. They’re the price we pay for a civilized society. What concerns me is the lack of responsibility in committing hard earned tax dollars to balance our budget and pay off our bills. Given the Chicago machine’s legacy, it feels like we’d only be throwing good money after bad.

In previous columns, we have also established that tax hikes are not the best way to increase revenue, balance our budget, pay off our debt, or secure jobs for working families. Resisting tax increases while finding ways to grow our economy is better at achieving all of those goals rather than forcing families to pay more taxes.

I think President Theodore Roosevelt was right when he said, “The best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” The primary purpose of growing our economy is to secure jobs. That is why we need common sense solutions to help expand small businesses, agriculture, and agribusiness in Illinois.

I look forward to working hard for Northern Illinois during the veto session pursuing common sense solutions to balance our budget, resist tax increases, and help secure jobs for Illinois families. It is work worth doing, and it is a privilege to do it.
The IEC released its 2018 Environmental Scorecard and Representative Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) has been honored for his perfect voting record. “Representative Brian Stewart demonstrated a commitment to environmental issues in Springfield this session,” said IEC Executive Director Jen Walling.

“It is an honor to support common sense legislation that is good for our environment,” said Rep. Stewart. “I am especially honored to see the passage of the Industrial Hemp Act, which was the mission of former Illinois State Representative Ron Lawfer.”

“Representative Brian Stewart voted 100% of the time with the environmental community on nine pieces of key legislation,” added Walling. “The IEC is honored by Representative Stewart’s dedication to Illinois’ environment and we look forward to working together in the future.”

The Illinois Environmental Council (IEC) is a non-partisan 43 year-old organization that promotes sound environmental laws and policies, provides a forum for environmentalists and facilitates a statewide activist network. IEC performs legislative advocacy and serves as the environmental community’s eyes, ears and voice in Springfield.

More information on the 2018 Environmental Scorecard can be found at
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” Robert Frost 

I grew up in Northern Illinois. I attended Freeport High School. And after my service in the United States Army, I came back to Freeport, because it’s home, and began my law enforcement career.

I care about our families. I care about our teachers. And I care about our students. Our students are the future. Many of them don’t quite realize it, but the decisions they make matter. Making good choices isn’t just better for the world around us. It’s better for each of us too. That is why I worked to have Erika Harold return to share her story with students in Freeport and Lena.

It was a little over twenty years ago when, Erika Harold – then a college freshman, first came to visit Freeport and Lena. She came to tell our students about her experience being bullied in high school. She came to give them guidance, and to offer hope. Last Wednesday she returned to share the same message with the next generation of our students and to tell the students what she has done with her life to overcome challenges and to encourage them to do the same. After her high school experiences, Erika Harold went on to become Miss Illinois and was crowned Miss America 2003. She used the scholarship money from the pageant to attend Harvard Law School and graduated debt free. What she didn’t talk about was her candidacy to be the next Illinois Attorney General.

I want to thank Freeport High School Principal Beth Summers, Middle School Principal Renee Coleman, and their staff for helping arrange each of the assemblies with the high school and middle school girls in the Jeannette Lloyd Theatre. I would also like to thank Lena-Winslow District Superintendent Tom Chiles, Principal Mark Kuehl, District Counselor Leslie Price and their staff for organizing the assemblies first with the elementary students, and then with the middle school and high school students in the high school gym. 

I had never heard Erika share her story. At least, I hadn’t heard all of it. She grew up in Champaign-Urbana. Her mother is African American, and her father is Greek-German. She was one of the few minority students in her high school, and because of that, she was bullied.

She was called names, including racial epithets. She was subject to the “uncool game” where students would observe her during the class period and write down everything she did. Towards the end of the period, the teacher would allow students to come up to the front of the classroom and read all of the things the “uncool” Erika did.

She did not tell her parents. They only discovered what was happening to her when they found a note she was writing to a friend. When confronted, the administration and the teachers would not act to stop the bullying.

Then it escalated. Things were thrown at her home and through the windows. They lost power to a part of their house when some cables were cut outside. Eventually, her parents chose to enroll her in another school.

Erika challenged educators. She said, “When you see people in power standing by and allowing something negative to happen, it sends a message that what’s happening is ok.”

She left our students with three things. First, don’t accept what the crowd says about you. It’s easy to shrink when people put a spotlight on us in a negative way. It’s easy to retreat when others try to hurt us. She said, “You will always regret not stepping up to embrace the fullness of who you were created to be.”

Second, defend each other. She recalled another student whose family was not as well off as his classmates’ parents were. He was bullied for being poor. To this day, she regrets not standing up for him. She didn’t bully him, but she wishes she had said something. “It’s not only important to stand up for yourself. Stand up for each other,” she said.

Lastly, she encouraged our students to find a cause to fight for and to make a difference in the world. She took her experience and used it to help other students understand they were not alone. She used it to challenge bullies. And she used it to change policies in schools across the country when it comes to making sure that classrooms are a safe environment for our children.

This was the story our students heard. At some point, between when students entered the auditorium, and when Erika finished sharing her story, our students became engaged. High school students asked deep and penetrating questions about what she went through, and the entire room was supportive and attentive. They applauded each other for asking questions. Our middle school students supported their friends who chose to share their own gifts and sing or dance on stage.

It’s hard to be a kid today. We know it’s hard. But for the hour almost 1,400 students spent with Erika Harold on Wednesday, we watched something extraordinary. Our students became united in a common cause to support each other. In that hour they became a community. It was awesome. It was inspiring. And my hope and prayer is that the community they discovered together on September 12th keeps on keeping on.

Farmers, crop haulers won’t have to wait to more successfully compete with neighboring states

Gov. Bruce Rauner today declared a harvest emergency to help level the playing field between Illinois farmers and crop haulers and those in neighboring states.

The action bridges the gap between the 2018 harvest season and a new law the governor signed Aug. 25 that takes effect next year. Going forward, that measure will allow for an annual harvest-season easing of gross vehicle and gross axle weight limits for agricultural commodities haulers with a free permit.

“We have heard from Illinois’ trucking industry and from farmers who are operating on thin profit margins in today’s agricultural climate,” Rauner said before making his announcement at the Ladage Farm in Auburn. “Today’s harvest emergency declaration recognizes that the weight-restriction structure in place in Illinois put our farmers and truckers at a disadvantage.

“They cannot and should not be forced to wait until the 2019 harvest season to reap the economic benefits of eased weight limits,” he said. “Now they won’t have to as they take their crops to market, processing or storage.”

The emergency declaration is in effect from Monday, Sept. 10, to Dec. 31, 2018, and enables crop haulers to seek free Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) permits to exceed legal maximum gross vehicle and gross axle weight limits or the vehicle’s registered gross weight, whichever is less, by no more than 10 percent on state and federal highways under IDOT’s jurisdiction, except interstates. (Federal requirements prohibit inclusion of interstates.)

“We appreciate Gov. Rauner declaring an emergency situation for the 2018 harvest season, especially in light of the declining incomes and market turmoil which farmers are currently facing,” said Richard Guebert Jr., president, Illinois Farm Bureau. “This declaration opens the door for increased efficiencies for farmers and truck drivers hauling agricultural commodities and will help offset any uncontrollable effects of weather and commodity markets, allowing farmers the freedom to move what is projected to be a record-breaking crop.”

Permits will once again be issued at no charge, but applicants must obtain a route authorization number every two weeks. The harvest emergency permit and other information on the permitting process can be obtained through IDOT’s automated permitting web application here.

Rauner said the declaration will speed the movement of crops to market, adding that the importance of an economically healthy agriculture community in Illinois cannot be overstated. Illinois is home to 71,000 farms on 26.6 million acres. Marketing of Illinois’ agricultural commodities generates more than $19 billion annually, and the state’s food and fiber industries employ nearly 1 million people. The state ranks third nationally in the export of agricultural commodities, with $8.2 billion worth of goods shipped to other countries, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
It started like any other day.  Across America, we woke up to get ready for work.  We had a cup of coffee.  We fixed breakfast.  We kissed our loved ones goodbye.

And then we turned on the news.  When we heard an airplane hit the North Tower, many of us couldn’t believe it.  It had to be an accident.  We wondered how it could possibly happen, and as newscasters asked the same questions racing through our minds, we saw the second plane.

We watched in horror as it crashed into the South Tower.  And then we knew.  This was no accident.  And our lives would never be the same again.

2,996 people lost their lives on September 11, 2001.  6,000 more were injured.  We lost 343 firefighters, 72 law enforcement officers, and 55 military personnel.  The attack was the single deadliest terrorist attack in world history.  500 more people were killed on 9/11 than in the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Throughout our history, people have sold America short.  The British sold us short in the 1770’s until Yorktown.  The Confederacy sold us short until Appomattox.  The Spanish sold us short until Manila.  The Axis Powers sold us short until D-Day.  The Soviets sold us short until the Berlin Wall fell.

At every turn, Americans rise to the occasion.  President Ronald Reagan once said that, “One of the worst mistakes anybody can make is to bet against Americans.”

One of those occasions was in 1943.  The United States was in its second year fighting World War II.  Many of our nation’s nurses had gone overseas to serve in the military, leaving our civilian hospitals critically understaffed.  We needed nurses, and fast.

As a result of the crisis, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a law creating the United States Cadet Nurse Corps on July 1st, 1943.  The program, administered by the United States Public Health Service, truncated 36 months of training into 30 months.  It did not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.  Students were eligible for a government subsidy to pay for tuition, textbooks, uniforms, and to cover a “cost of living” stipend.  In exchange, the students pledged to serve wherever needed in essential civilian or federal government services until the end of World War II.

The program ran from 1943 until 1948.  Over 179,000 nurses were enrolled in the program with a seventy percent graduation rate.  Eighty-seven percent of the nursing programs in the country participated in the program.  One such school was right here in Freeport at the old St. Francis Hospital.  St. Francis was the first hospital in Freeport, opening its doors on February 12th, 1890. It developed a nursing school that trained hundreds of nurses by 1923, and in 1943, began training nurses through the US Cadet Nurse Corps training program.

Dorothy Elaine Ellis (nee Ditzler) was one of the cadets trained at St. Francis.  She grew up on a farm in Winslow, Illinois and began her training on September 1st,1944 when she was 17 years old.

Her son, Bob Ditzler, says that Dorothy served because she is “a patriot who answered the call of duty.  She has always had a caring, giving personality with compassion for mankind and sympathy for others, especially service members.”

Bob provided me with information about his mother’s service, hoping that she could be recognized for her service by the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.  As it turns out, the US Cadet Nurse Corps is the only uniformed corps, commissioned during World War II, whose members have not been recognized as veterans.

In a message shortly before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln wrote, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise – with the occasion.”  Americans have a history of rising with the occasion.  We saw it on 9/11 and in the days and months that followed.  We saw it during World War II, including the creation and development of the US Cadet Nurse Corps.

I would like Springfield to pass a resolution thanking nurses like Dorothy Ellis-Ditzler who were trained at St. Francis and throughout Illinois for their service to their country.  I would also like the resolution to call on Congress to pass HR1168, called the US Cadet Nurse Corps Equity Act. It would declare that US Cadet Nurse Corps members - who served between 1943 and 1948 -would be issued an honorable discharge from the Department of Defense and be qualified as veterans.

On Tuesday it will have been 17 years since the fateful morning of September 11th.  Much has happened over the years.  Many of us have loved.  Others have lost.  Children have been brought into the world as friends and family have passed on.

We've come so far and accomplished so much.  But there is one thing that should not, that must not, that will not change.  We will never forget.  Not ever.

And… we will always rise.

Representative Brian Stewart is helping spread the word about a new website launched this week linking employment and higher education data so users can compare the relative earnings value of college degrees.

The planning tool ( was unveiled by Governor Bruce Rauner at his quarterly Children’s Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

“ is groundbreaking for our state,” Governor Rauner said while introducing the tool to cabinet members at the meeting at Springfield High School. “Education has been my top investment priority for many years. In order to grow our economy, we need to give our young people the best education system possible, so they will choose to live, learn and work here in Illinois.”

The data is broken down by schools and area of study, so that students may compare the earnings potential of degree programs from different public and private institutions in the state. is the product of collaboration between the Governor’s Office, Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).

“Any tool that allows students in Illinois to make better educated decisions about the earning potential of degree programs they’re considering, is well worth the effort for students to explore,” said Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Freeport)

All 48 community colleges and 60+ four-year universities in Illinois participated in the project.

“As a state, we are moving away from just gathering data for compliance purposes to using data to transform decision-making at the local, regional and state level,” said Karen Hunter Anderson, executive director of the Illinois Community College Board. “The Illinois College2Career tool gives high school students and parents, as well as nontraditional students, more transparent and easily accessible information about their post-secondary choices and careers.”

Representative Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) will be honored by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce for his pro-jobs voting record over the past two years in the Illinois General Assembly.

“Many of us understand that we cannot tax our way out of this mess in Illinois, but with better policies towards business, we can grow our way out of the mess we’re in,” said Rep. Stewart. “I am proud to be one of those legislators fighting against job-killing policies and fighting in favor of smarter growth and development.”

The Illinois Chamber honored 34 members of the Illinois House, including Stewart, and 13 members of the Illinois Senate with its biennial “Champion of Free Enterprise” award given in recognition of legislators’ support for voting to further economic opportunities for Illinoisans.

“The Chamber’s Legislative Ratings lets Illinois families, small businesses, and taxpayers know if legislators voted in favor of private sector job creation and a stronger economy,” said Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

The Illinois Chamber’s Legislative Ratings tracks votes important to the state’s business community and grades legislators based on their support of pro-business issues during the two-year legislative session. Rep. Stewart has an average score of 90% over his past two terms. To be eligible for a “Champion of Free Enterprise” award, a lawmaker must have received an average of 85 percent or better voting record over the previous two General Assemblies with the Illinois Chamber.

To learn more about the ratings and bills included, please visit the Illinois Chamber’s website at

“Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.” – Senator John McCain

I agree with these words. And I think many of the 2 million members of the American Legion in over 13,000 posts across the United States and in Mexico, France, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, agree too.

Many of you may have seen an American Legion booth at your local County Fair this summer. You may have even donated a couple bucks and received a small artificial red flower in return. That flower is a poppy. Poppies proliferated in Europe after the First World War because, as some scientists believe, of the lime from the remains of rubble that leached into soils in France and Belgium.

The poppy was perceived as a symbol of blood, and was popularized by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD in the poem, “In Flanders Fields.” The American Legion named the poppy as its official flower in 1920, and began to distribute them for donations in 1924.

On September 16th, 1919, the United States Congress chartered the American Legion. Its purpose is to uphold and defend our Constitution, promote peace and good will among people at home and abroad, preserve the memories and incidents “hostilities fought to uphold democracy”, to “cement the ties and comradeship born of service,” and “consecrate the efforts of its members to mutual helpfulness and service to their country.”

Last Tuesday, the American Legion held its 100th National Convention. The American Legion has also been instrumental in influencing our history since its creation. One of its first acts was to fight for the creation of the US Veterans Bureau (today called the Veterans Administration) on August 9th, 1921.

Next, the American Legion drafted its first “Flag Code,” in 1923. The code provided instructions on how to handle the American flag. This code was passed into law by Congress in 1942. The American Legion also remains a leader in the efforts to pass a constitutional amendment banning flag desecration.

The American Legion has also strongly influenced our favorite pastime. In 1925, it created the American Legion Baseball program. According to the Legion’s website,, “more than 50 percent of Major League Baseball players are graduates of the program. About 82,000 youths play on Legion-sponsored teams each year.”

The American Legion has taught young people about how government works and funded scholarships. It fought for the passage of the GI Bill and supported health organizations. It has worked to improve child welfare, and created a fund for national emergencies. It has been dedicated to a full account of any missing Prisoners of War (POW) and was the largest donor to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. It wrote the only national program to protect children on Halloween, and fought to publish the effects of Agent Orange. It supports families of military men and women who are deployed, and teaches firearm safety to young people.

The American Legion makes us proud. I want to congratulate the organization on its 100th National Convention. The work you do is important. Thank you.

It should come as no surprise that such a fine organization counted the late Senator John McCain as a member. The Senator passed away last weekend, succumbing to brain cancer. Senator McCain was a veteran, a decorated Naval aviator who served in the Vietnam War. He was shot down during Operation Thunder and captured by the Viet Cong in 1967. He was a prisoner of war, and he was tortured before his eventual release in 1973. His years in the “Hanoi Hilton” left him permanently disabled.

Captain McCain retired from the Navy and was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1981. When former presidential candidate and Senate legend Barry Goldwater announced his retirement, Congressman McCain ran and won his seat in the United States Senate. He eventually went on to run for President in 2000 and again in 2008.

I had the distinct honor of meeting and spending some time with Senator McCain a few years ago. I salute a true American hero, a fellow veteran. True, we did not always agree. Who does? In the end, I did agree with his final words to our country.

“We believe always in the promise and greatness of America because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit, we never surrender, we never hide from history. We make history.”

Godspeed, Captain McCain. Thank you for your service.

For all the sacrifices that Veterans have made and will make for our country we are able to celebrate Labor Day this weekend. To all the workers of America and especially all of those in Northwest Illinois thank you for your hard work that has contributed to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our state and country!