“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, legion.org, “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!
It was Atwood Townsend who said, “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading.” I most definitely agree, and it is one of the reasons I chose to once again conduct my annual Summer Reading Program for our students in the 89th District.

This year we had fantastic participation, with over 132 students completing the program, representing 30 cities and villages from 5 counties in the District. Almost 100 students and their parents joined us at the Lincoln-Douglas Debate Square in Freeport on August 18th to receive their certificate for having completed the program, and afterwards enjoyed an ice cream party at Union Dairy. The ice cream party is a fun incentive to keep these students reading and excelling.

I would like to sincerely thank each student who participated as well as the families who supported them. Parent and family involvement is essential to helping our kids become better readers. The National Education Association (NEA) reports that:

"The substantial relationship between parent involvement for the school and reading comprehension levels of fourth-grade classrooms is obvious, according to the US Department of Education. Where parent involvement is low, the classroom mean average (reading score) is 46 points below the national average. Where involvement is high, classrooms score 28 points above the national average – a gap of 74 points. Even after controlling for other attributes of communities, schools, principals, classes, and students, that might confound this relationship, the gap is 44 points."

Parents make a difference when we read to our kids. And that difference helps set the course for their future success.

Programs like these encourage our students to read more. As the NEA has reported, we know that “having kids read a lot is one of the crucial components of becoming a good reader. Young readers need to become practiced at recognizing letters and sounds. The only way to get good at it is to practice.”

As I said to the kids and their parents in the Debate Square, students who read over the summer are better prepared for returning to school in the fall. We have known for a long time that reading well also helps prepare students for success as adults.

I heard a number recently that Stephenson County has 1100 jobs available right now and I’m sure it is a much larger number across the 89th District. Communities, government, and businesses all play a role in helping prepare people to fill those jobs. We can help ourselves too, and reading well is definitely important.

In January of 1989, Jump Start – The Federal Role in Adult Literacy and the final report of the project on Adult Literacy sponsored by the Southport Institute for Policy, was published. It said, “There is no way in which the United States can remain competitive in a global economy, maintain its standard of living, and shoulder the burden of the retirement of the baby boomer generation unless we mount a forceful national effort to help adults upgrade their basic skills in the very near future.” In 2015, Forbes magazine reported that 36 million Americans “lack the most basic skills in literacy, numeracy and problem-solving deemed minimally necessary for meaningful employment in a high-tech global economy.”

As we can see, being able to read well by adulthood is a national priority and a key component for our children’s success. That success will impact their families, their friends, their community and their country. In this age of game consoles, tablets and smart phones, I’m convinced that wanting to read is a desire that should be encouraged.

Yes, reading well is definitely important. And as our kids continue to grow, they will add other important skills, like critical thinking, to their arsenal. Critical thinking is important because it helps us apply objectivity when we’re reading.

Objectivity is difficult sometimes when reading on issues we care about. For example, people who think the Electoral College was definitely tied to slavery will say that facts contradicting their opinion are irrelevant. The truth is the reason we have an Electoral College is because our Founding Fathers were concerned about preventing tyranny and building a federal government. The purpose of our federal government was to create a more perfect union by providing a balance of powers, and according to the Washington Post article I cited last week, “secure the blessings of liberty.” I think Illinois could learn something from our Founding Fathers.

In the end, I believe we need more people reading and thinking critically about the challenges we face and the measures we need to overcome them. I am committed to serving you to the best of my ability, while pursuing common sense solutions to move all of Illinois forward.

State Representative Brian Stewart hosted a recognition ceremony for the 132 students who participated in his 2018 Summer Reading Club Program at Lincoln-Douglas Debate Square in Freeport on Saturday, August 18.

“I sincerely thank each student who participated as well as the families who supported them,” said Rep. Brian Stewart.  “Students who read over the summer are better prepared for returning to school in the Fall.  The ice cream party afterwards is a fun incentive to keep these students reading and excelling.”

The participating students were from 30 cities and villages in the 89th District and each read at least eight books over their summer breaks to qualify as a participant.  After the certificate presentation all were rewarded with Union Dairy ice cream to help the students celebrate their success.

Rep. Stewart has hosted a Summer Reading Club each summer to help encourage students to read over their summer break.  The theme for the 2018 Summer Reading Club was “Camp Out with a Good Book”.

Legislation sponsored by State Representative Brian Stewart was signed into law on Monday, August 13 to require out-of-state vehicles operating on Illinois roadways carry liability insurance.  House Bill 4472 was signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner on August 13, creating Public Act 100-828.

“Illinois courts have ruled that Illinois law does not require a defendant to provide proof of insurance if the vehicle is properly registered in another state,” said Rep. Stewart.  “This bill remedies that situation and requires the same of out-of-state drivers as is required by drivers of vehicles registered in Illinois.”

The Illinois State Police as well as the Illinois Sheriff’s Association supported HB 4472 to improve the safety of Illinois’ roadways and provide uniform enforcement of our laws.   Under the new law, no person shall operate a motor vehicle registered in another state upon Illinois highways without a liability insurance policy.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the pros and cons of the Electoral College. Here are a few more points to ponder. The only Founding Father to sign all four documents integral to the creation of our country was Roger Sherman. Sherman helped draft our Constitution and was an important figure in the debate on the Electoral College. He was also a former Congressman and United States Senator representing his home state of Connecticut. In 1787, he wrote, “The only real security that you can have for all your important rights must be in the nature of your government. If you suffer any man to govern you who is not strongly interested in supporting your privileges, you will certainly lose them.” 

I agree with my predecessor, former Representative and retired Special Agent of the FBI, Jim Sacia, about his opinion of the Electoral College. I also agree with Allen Guelzo and James Hulme, who wrote a column about the Electoral College in the Washington Post on November 15, 2016. In it they wrote, “There is hardly anything in the Constitution harder to explain, or easier to misunderstand, than the Electoral College.”

Guelzo and Hulme make some interesting points about the Electoral College. Did you know that our Constitution spends more time describing the Electoral College than it does any other specific issue?

They also point out two common mistakes that critics make in their analysis of the Electoral College. The first is that the founders were leery of direct democracy. Guelzo and Hulme refer to the constitutional debates in which there was significant vacillation between delegates on directly electing the President or having the President elected by Congress.

They point out the latter’s supporters were “not trying to undermine the popular will, but to keep it from being distorted by a president who mistook popular election as a mandate for dictatorship.”

That is why our Founding Fathers built our Constitution the way they did. They had only recently gained independence from a king and his empire. Federalism serves as a safeguard for individual states, and local control for local issues. The Electoral College is a key component of American federalism. Guelzo and Hulme suggest that abolishing the Electoral College would begin the process of “dismantling federalism,” including the Senate and even states themselves.

The second mistake that critics of the Electoral College make is arguing that it had anything to do with slavery. At no point in the record of the Constitutional Convention or from James Madison’s notes was slavery mentioned in the discussion about the Electoral College. Furthermore, the Electoral College was not mentioned at any point in the Convention’s debates over slavery.

Instead, Guelzo and Hulme assert that the Electoral College contributed to the end of slavery. They wrote, “Abraham Lincoln earned only 39 percent of the popular vote in the election of 1860, but won a crushing victory in the Electoral College. This, in large measure, was why Southern slaveholders stampeded to secession in 1860-61. They could do the numbers as well as anyone, and realized that the Electoral College would only produce more anti-slavery Northern Presidents.”

If we want an example of what our country would be under a direct democracy, we don’t have to look far. Illinois is a direct democracy. By the end of this term, one party will have controlled the Illinois House for 94% of the time since 1983. Over the same period, one party will have controlled the Illinois Senate for 72% of the time.

By comparison and over the same span, the United States Congress has changed leadership 4 times, and one party will have held control for 56% of the time. The real contrast is the United States Senate. Party leadership has changed in the US Senate 7 times over the same period, and the leadership distribution is even.

In Illinois, each House member’s district was drawn to contain 108,734 people. Many House districts to the east of us are geographically smaller than the city of Freeport. The 89th District is over 100 miles wide from corner to corner. 56% of Illinois House and Senate districts east of us are located in an area smaller than the 89th District.

Maybe it’s time for us to consider a little constitutional federalism right here in Illinois and bring some balance back to Springfield.

Our district’s geography is one of the reasons we conduct Mobile Office Hours. It’s harder for constituents to pop in to the district office in the 89th than it is in most of the other districts. We are almost finished with Mobile Office Hours this quarter, and have been to sixteen (16) cities and villages throughout the 89th District. Our last stop will be in Lena on August 23rd from 10am to 2pm.

Provide your feedback to Rep. Stewart on important state issues today:


State Representative Brian Stewart thanked Governor Bruce Rauner for signing food safety legislation Stewart sponsored on Tuesday, August 14 at Agriculture Day at the Illinois State Fair.

“Food safety is of critical importance to Illinois families,” said Rep. Stewart after Tuesday’s bill signing.  “Ensuring Illinois conforms with federal guidelines and is implementing best practices with everyone on the same page is important for not just Illinois’ agricultural community, but also for consumers.”

Stewart’s legislation, Senate Bill 2752, amends the Meat and Poultry Inspection Act to ensure Illinois’ statutes conform with federal food safety inspection statutes regarding what is considered “adulterated” meat or food.  The Illinois Department of Agriculture was a proponent of Stewart’s legislation and urged its passage during the Spring legislative session.

“Whenever we need to bring Illinois’ statutes in line with federal guidelines on food safety, we should leap at the opportunity to protect business from unequal application of the laws as well as protect consumers, who are increasingly in tune with what’s in the food their families consume.”

Senate Bill 2752 was signed on Tuesday at the Orr Building on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

“The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth… The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.”

With these words, General George Washington of the Continental Army commissioned the Badge of Military Merit on August 7th 1782. The medal was awarded to three noncommissioned officers of the Continental Army, each receiving the award directly from General Washington himself.

In 1932, the United States War Department (precursor to the current Department of Defense), authorized a new medal, the Purple Heart Medal, to be issued to soldiers who had received either the Meritorious Service Citation Certificate, Wound Chevron or the Army Wound Ribbon on or after April 5th, 1917 – the day prior to the United States entering the First World War. After the creation of the Legion of Merit, the Purple Heart has only been awarded to those who have received wounds in military service.

The medal had been designed at the direction of Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur, by Army heraldic specialist Elizabeth Will. Her design has withstood the test of time, and serves as a testament to General Washington’s orders concerning the Badge of Military Merit. The War Department designated the Purple Heart Medal as the official military decoration to succeed the Badge of Military Merit, making it the oldest award given to members of the United States Military.

This past week, we celebrated the Purple Heart’s 236th birthday. Over 5,000 Illinois veterans have been awarded the Purple Heart. These and others like them are the people General George S. Patton was talking about when he said, “The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared.”

Thank you to the brave men and women who were wounded in their military service. You served the cause of freedom, and we are grateful for your example and sacrifice.

For those who don’t know, Saturday August 11th is Freeport Cruise Night. In the late 70’s, the Freeport Street Machines, a local car club, sought permission from the city to have a “cruise” through downtown to demonstrate the hard work their members put into their cars. This year marks Cruise Night’s 40th anniversary, and it is expected to be a huge event, with thousands of show vehicles and nearly 11,000 people. If you haven’t been to Cruise Night, this year is the year!

It’s hard to believe summer is almost over. Now is the time many of the bills passed during the Legislative General Session are signed by the Governor. I was pleased when Governor Rauner signed House Bill 4476, a bill I sponsored to remove the requirement that a person cited under the Illinois Vehicle Code sign a ticket for a petty offense. The bill also ensures that out of state traffic violators are subject to the same legal process as Illinois residents if they fail to appear for their assigned court date.

The Illinois State Police (ISP) and local departments spends thousands of dollars annually for the paper required for an alleged violator’s signature. To put this in perspective, the ISP issued 151,379 citations in 2016 alone. HB4476 is a common sense solution that will produce cost-savings for state and local governments while increasing officer safety.

Legislators are preparing for the Veto Session. Far too often, government emphasizes politics instead of people, power instead of principle. It is important for public officials at every level of government to remember - not all of us have the luxury of a multi-billion dollar family inheritance. Most of us have to work for a living and make our own way.

I believe that we need common sense solutions that reward our Midwestern values of hard work, dedication, creativity and entrepreneurship. We have talked about many area businesses and ventures that exhibit those very values in the past few weeks. I believe there are countless more people in Northern Illinois with the same values, starting businesses, or with ideas about a new business. And many of them could use a little help.

My ongoing commitment is to pursue common sense solutions to help create good jobs, increase opportunity, and strengthen people in Northern Illinois and through the rest of the state. I do not think small businesses should have to struggle while Springfield is focused on incentivizing a large city to the east of us. I think we can do better. I think we should do better because working families deserve it.

State Representative Brian Stewart announced today that Governor Bruce Rauner has signed a bill Rep. Stewart sponsored, House Bill 4476, which will remove the requirement that a person cited under the Illinois Vehicle Code must sign a ticket for a petty offense.  The bill further provides that when an out-of-state resident fails to appear for a court date, the procedure is the same as for an Illinois resident.

“The Illinois State Police spends thousands of dollars annually for the paper that is required for an alleged violator’s signature.  In 2016, the Illinois State Police issued 151,379 paper citations,” Rep. Stewart explained.  “Not only will this produce a cost-savings for the State and Local governments but will increase officer safety by not requiring they get a signature for petty offenses.”

Currently the Illinois Vehicle Code requires a person to sign a traffic citation when required by Supreme Court Rule.  House Bill 4476 amends this requirement out of the Vehicle Code.  The Illinois State Police and the State Police Command Officers Association were proponents of the legislation, which passed the House 109-2.  Governor Rauner signed the legislation into law on August 3, 2018.

In 1790, United States Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton founded the Revenue Marine which was renamed the Revenue Cutter Service in the 1860’s. In 1848 collaboration between private citizens and the US government created the United States Life Saving Service to save the lives of the victims of shipwrecks. In 1915, the two agencies were combined to form the United States Coast Guard. 

We honor the Coast Guard on August 4th, National Coast Guard Day. Take a moment this Saturday to think about the men and women in our Coast Guard and their brave service.

Northern Illinois County Fairs are in full swing. This weekend, folks can enjoy Fairs in Ogle County (Oregon, Illinois) and Jo Daviess County (Warren, Illinois). Next week is the Carroll County Fair in Milledgeville, Illinois.

If you have never been to a County Fair, they are definitely worth the price of admission. It is more than the pork chop sandwiches and elephant ears, though both are definitely delicious. At a County Fair we have the chance to learn about our friends and neighbors, to see the livestock they’ve raised, the vegetables they’ve grown, to watch them in tractor pulls and other events. I agree with the old saying, “There’s something that feels so all-American about a County Fair.”

Over the past few weeks we have been discussing local economic engines and celebrating their unique achievements. Today, I will share the last two success stories we visited with Erika Harold.

Motivational author, Jamie Notter, wrote, “Innovation is change that unlocks new value.” In the mid-1990’s, Pearl City Elevator, a full service agricultural cooperative, and the Adkins Energy Cooperative understood the need to add value to corn for local producers. They decided to team up, forming Adkins Energy LLC, and began processing corn by 2002.