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