By Kim Watson
For the Star-Gazette
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, the second-ranked Democrat in the United States Senate, stopped in Beardstown for a visit at Yesterday’s Café on March 22. Durbin greeted a group of residents and addressed some pressing issues of the community, the state and nation.
Durbin listened to local issues including funding for schools, the marina project and a decreased tax base. It was commented that Beardstown has a unique situation that many school districts do not have. Beardstown has 78 percent of the children in the district in free or reduced lunch programs. It was said during the discussion that the cultural diversity is unlike most other school districts downstate, with these differences making it more difficult to provide the services that are needed.
Senator Durbin listened to several people discuss how the educational cuts are affecting this district as a whole. The middle school sports can no longer be funded as well as the sponsors for the various clubs and organizations. Durbin explained that he is hearing the concerns and one opportunity to provide money back to the school systems would be a proposal presented by Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. This proposal is to tax millionaires extra as a way to raise money for education.
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Mayor Steve Patterson spoke about the Beardstown Marina Project and explained that it has been years since residents could put their boats in from the Beardstown marina. This vital resource is sitting unused, he said, noting the city is willing to put its best foot forward to get it back. Local senators and representatives have been working with the city, Patterson said, but more is needed. The situation impacts the local community and surrounding areas, he added, and needs the help of the state to regain access to the Illinois River.
Senator Durbin also addressed questions regarding Russia and the Ukraine situation. He said he believes that the United States can take a stand by using sanctions. He said that sanctions hurt the ability for Russia to compete economically on a global scale. He explained that he and seven others had recently traveled to the Ukraine. Durbin said he believes the United States has a responsibility but does not believe U.S. troops should be sent at this time.
Durbin talked about his family and the respect he had for his father who worked on the railroad. He said he believes those who work hard should be able to live the American Dream and stressed the creation of jobs in Illinois.
He spoke about the potential offered through the opening of a FutureGen Alliance project. He explained that the $1.6 billion project would retrofit the old coal power plant in Meredosia to a new FutureGen plant that would carry carbon dioxide in pipelines for burial in Morgan County. Senator Durbin also explained that Illinois fought and won the project from Texas. He added that they are now preparing to fight Exelon to save 2,000 jobs for the state.
When asked about the issue of immigrants, Durbin said that those who have been here should have the chance to come forward and become citizens. For those who have children born here the children should be granted citizenship. He said he supports the Dream Act which allows those who were brought to the United States by their parents as young children the opportunity to earn legal citizenship.
Durbin is running for re-election and said he wants downstate Illinois to know that he is in it for the people of Illinois and wants to speak for all citizens of Illinois on issues that hit home. He said he understands that many citizens are struggling to get by and wants to create new jobs and keep people working. When residents have jobs they are spending money and that means they are paying taxes which puts money back into the state, he said.