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Illinois Country Living

John Shimkus
State Senator Frank Watson


Get Involved – It’s Your Personal Responsibility
Issues facing our state and nation require involved citizens.

As I write this, we are celebrating July 4th, Independence Day. In the news we’ve seen citizens of Iran die in the streets as they fight for their voting rights. And our troops are withdrawing from Iraq hopefully leaving their citizens with a strong and free democracy.

Here at home, our state is struggling with a budget crisis and our country is debating energy and climate change and health care. There has never been a more important time than now for rural citizens to be involved in the political process.

As a former state senator and representative, I have to thank my parents for teaching me the responsibility of being an active citizen. My dad was a Republican precinct committeeman in Bond County, and my mom was always really active in campaigns. I grew up in a family that talked a lot about politics and the responsibility of being involved. I also credit my involvement in our local community service organization, the Jaycees, with my early interest in politics.

Politics for some has a bad connotation. But the ethical abuse of some is not an excuse for any of us to not get involved. Our state has seen six years of ethical misbehavior that has frustrated the majority of well-intentioned politicians on both sides of the aisle and embarrassed the citizens of our great state.

I believe Governor Quinn is an honest man, and Illinois citizens deserve honesty in their government. I urge you to ask your representatives to vote against gimmicks, one-time revenue sources, raiding pension funds or raiding other funds. We have to work together.

As members of rural electric cooperatives you understand what it means to work together. That is the essence of cooperation. Because co-ops are also democratically controlled local organizations I hope you understand the importance of being involved in your co-op.

During my time in the General Assembly I worked with the late Earl Struck, the former President/CEO of the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives and served along side your current President/CEO Duane Noland. As we debated electric utility deregulation almost 10 years ago, Earl’s main concern was that the legislation passed be in favor of local control of cooperatives from the member-owners.

Earl was right. And if there is something right in the electricity business it is the electric cooperatives and that is because of local control of members who have the right to vote. When the government in Washington, D.C. or Springfield makes decisions, the results don’t always fit the local situation. Foolish legislation can sometimes create unintended consequences for local communities, when they don’t fit the unique needs of local citizens.

My parents also taught me the importance of personal responsibility. I know most rural citizens feel the same way. But I worry our country is moving away from personal responsibility. I worry that rural areas of our country and state are losing population and representation. Too many in the current leadership positions do not seem to be concerned enough with the debt we are piling on future generations. As citizens, we can’t do that with our personal finances and I don’t think we can do it in government.

In this magazine you’ve seen articles on the climate change and energy debate. You’ve been
asked to e-mail your legislators through the co-op’s Our Energy, Our Future Web site
( In late June, the U.S. House of Representatives, by a very narrow vote, passed legislation that will dramatically impact the cost of energy. It will be especially hard on the economy of the Midwest states. Now, the debate moves to the Senate.

It is my opinion that this legislation is too important to rush, yet it seems that is what they are trying to do. They are penalizing consumers that receive energy from coal generation. In the Midwest our jobs and economy are dependent on affordable coal generation. We are starting to do a good job of finding new technology for clean coal, projects like FutureGen in Mattoon and the coal gasification project in Taylorville are examples. We’ve got to have time for those technologies to develop so our economy isn’t thrashed and beaten down. We need to slow down and get this right.

Health care is the other big debate I’d urge you to be involved in. My family has operated a local drugstore in Greenville for over 100 years. As a pharmacist, when I got involved in politics I wore a pin that said, “Get into politics or get out of pharmacy.” I’ve had my own health issues and had to resign my Senate seat in February. I hope you will take your citizenship and personal responsibility seriously. I hope our leaders will remember our nation’s foundation was built on personal responsibility and fiscal responsibility.

I urge you to remember the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan and those brave young men and women of our armed forces who have helped fight for their freedom and to protect our country. Say a prayer for peace and one of thanks for those that have fought for your rights in a free and democratic society. Celebrate it by getting involved in your local community and in the national and state debates that will impact all of us.

State Senator Frank Watson represented the 51st district from 1983 to 2009 and served as a State Representative from 1979 to 1982. He had to resign for health reasons after rising to the position of Senate Republican Leader.

© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives

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