The state's 109th District in the House of Representatives includes the southeastern portion of Effingham County and all of Clay and Jasper counties, as well as Richland, Lawrence, Wayne Wabash, Edwards and White counties.
Darren Bailey, a Republican, resides in Xenia and is a lifelong farmer. He received a degree in ag production from Lake Land College and has served on the North Clay school board for 17 years, spending 12 of those years as the school board president. Bailey is a member of the Farm Bureau, Louisville Rotary and various other organizations. He and his wife, Cindy, have four children and five grandchildren. Bailey attends Effingham Assembly of God Church.
Cynthia Given, a Democrat, is a resident of Olney and recently celebrated her 11th year as a small business owner. She also spends her time mentoring other small business owners and helping their businesses to grow. Given is a graduate of Carmi-White County High School, Wabash Valley College and Southeastern Illinois College. She has served on the board of directors for her high school alumni association for over 10 years and is involved in the Richland County CEO program, Richland County 100 Women Who Care and the Olney and Greater Richland County Chamber of Commerce. Given also serves as a precinct committeewoman and secretary of the Richland County Democratic party.
The candidates were asked at a recent forum about how to address constituents' concerns and balancing duties of the office with personal and professional obligations. Bailey and Given also discussed gaining input from those in the districts and the possibility of having an Effingham County office.
Bailey said one issue in the state that is often overlooked is pension reform. He said the pension reform is one item at the center of the decline of the state.
"That is truly another item at the heart of what is destroying our state, so if you're worried about your pension and you want to raise taxes, you should be worried about your pension because it's going to go nowhere," Bailey said. "If we elect ... (J.B.) Pritzker (governor), Illinois is going to tank, and we will find out what bottom looks like. Your pensions will be cut. I can assure you of that."
Bailey said the state's No. 1 problem is high taxes, especially property taxes. People are unable to move to the state because they can't afford to do so, he said.
Illinois tax hikes have led to people moving out of the state, and businesses do not want to open in the state, Bailey said. This has led to a decrease in economic opportunities in the state as well, he said.
"(Taxes) are driving people out. They're preventing people from moving in. Our workman's comp reform is preventing any business to be able to come and grow in our state. Taxes. That's our problem, period," Bailey said.
Bailey said another issue in the state is the overbearing power wielded by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago. He said the power imbalance in Illinois must change.
Bailey said through his connections in his community, church and other organizations and with the help of his sons, he will be able to maintain his personal and professional duties with those of the state representative office successfully.
He said his sons have already started to take over the family farm, allowing he and his wife to head out on the campaign trail knowing the farm is in good hands. Bailey said he is still involved in daily operations on the farm, but the election has been his focus.
"My wife and I, we're enjoying this. It's kind of like we're dating again. So, we get together, (and) go through the districts. We're meeting people. We're sincerely enjoying this," Bailey said of the campaign trail. "I have been working on that, and I believe as of today, a plan is in place."
To gain input from his constituents, Bailey said he will travel the district, as well as connect with people through social media. He said he has already held meetings in several towns he's visited, stopped by local businesses in the district and discussed issues constituents are concerned about.
"I believe the cures to Illinois' problems exists right here in southern Illinois. We have the morals. We have the values. We have the work ethic. Let's change Springfield. That's what I hope to carry there," Bailey said.
Bailey said he will likely hold his district office in Clay County because he and his wife already own a building suited for the office in Louisville. He said he will employee people to visit towns in the districts, and he will also visit every county and any organizations that wish to meet with him.
Given said while on the campaign trail, she has heard a different issue arise, and that's divisiveness. The split between parties is what Given said is hurting essential state-funded programs and, ultimately, Illinois citizens.
"The problem is that we have forgotten how to work together. I can remember when Republicans and Democrats would argue over how to fund programs instead of whether or not to fund programs, and it's hurting our district," Given said. "We have got to come together and quit bickering and talking about outside money, inside money and who's funding this and just listen to the people."
Given agreed with Bailey's remarks concerning Madigan's power over state government and finances. She said she is running a fiscally conservative campaign to show voters that she is not running for any other reason than to serve the people in the district.
Given said that, as a massage therapist, she materially participates in her business, so her presence in her work is financially important to her. She said though the legislative office is classified as a part-time job, she will not treat it as such.
As a longtime business owner, Given said she has already had to balance personal and professional commitments and would continue to do so should she be elected.
"I was challenged very early on. I work with my mom. My mom is my skin therapist, and she's had two knee replacements since I started running. I have been able to juggle that, and I've been able to meet with constituents and I feel that if it becomes necessary, I will just expand my business," Given said.
Given said that even before she began running for office, she has reached out to those across the political spectrum in the district and asked their opinions on her candidacy for the 109th House District. She said she also already has made connections with constituents through her work in two state Senate offices.
Given said that though she is running as a Democrat, her political beliefs don't always fit into one margin, and that aides her in connecting with district residents on both sides of the aisle.
"I am one of those people who some of their political values don't always fit into those neat boxes of 'R' or 'D', and I've kept that transparency. I've been open to people," Given said. "The word that I haven't heard here yet is 'listen,' and I think that is how you connect to your constituents."
Given said she plans to have her district office near the geographic center of the district. She said she plans to be available in any community she visits and will never turn down an opportunity to speak with constituents.
Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at email@example.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.