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.