As a teenager, a number of my siblings and I, walked door-to-door with my Dad as he helped campaign for a friend of his who was running for county office. That experience, a warm greeting and a solid handshake at each door, left a lasting impression on me. As I watched my Dad visit with folks on their front porches, I came to understand how important it is to create a bond with an individual, and that things are always going to be better if we can talk to one another and see each other face to face.
Many years later, when I became a state senator and involved with my duties in Springfield, I truly came to look forward to this one-on-one interaction at the capitol, especially on several very special days. Those days involved meeting students and young people from across Illinois who came to the capitol to experience a day of state government, both from current and historical perspectives. And no student group has caught my attention more than those coming with the Illinois Electric and Telephone Cooperatives on Youth Day hosted by the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives.
“Co-op Youth Day” brings nearly 300 students from electric and telephone cooperatives across Illinois to Springfield to visit with their elected representatives, and to view democracy in action. They are, to use an old-fashioned expression, the cream of the crop.
It is usually around the first of March every year when my Springfield office phone starts ringing with calls from cooperatives from my district, and around the state, telling us to reserve a date for their April visit. Trying to keep a specific schedule is not a strong suit of the Illinois General Assembly, as anyone who has visited during a spring session knows, but “Co-op Youth Day” is not an event I would miss for anything.
My first year instructions were to set aside as much time as possible so that I could participate. I soon realized just how enjoyable that time would be. Their enthusiasm, sincere curiosity and refreshing smiles lit up the capitol as they asked pertinent questions about state government, job duties and, often times, how legislation affects them. This is all done in a respectful, considerate and professional manner, which always makes me feel so proud. These discussions are always upbeat, relevant to current issues and always over much too quickly for me.
After an all too brief visit, the nearly 300 students are escorted from the Senate or House chambers to their buses and my day returns to dealing with what is, rather than what could be. But these visits always rejuvenate and revive me. I feel ready to take on the serious challenges we face because I know I am doing it for these very students who came to share their day with me at the capitol. So, with a renewed sense of my duties and obligations, and a smile on my face, I’m ready to do my best for the state of Illinois.
As I finish out my fourth and final term as a state senator, “Co-op Youth Day” and seeing those young and enthusiastic faces will definitely be one of the events that I will greatly miss. The decision to not continue my public service with the state of Illinois was not an easy one, but I believe the right one for me and my family. And my experience with the AIEC Youth Day students and their chaperones is proof to me that the future is definitely in good hands.
Senator Sullivan has been an important leader for rural Illinois, serving the 47th district since 2002. After recently announcing his retirement he said, “It is an honor to have earned the trust and support of so many people in Western Illinois and across the state. I will continue to work hard to represent and be a voice for my constituents in Springfield as I transition to the private sector.”