From the Desk of Senator Brian W. Stewart (May 17): “We Need Leadership in Springfield”

The Illinois General Assembly has only two weeks left in the session. There are hundreds of bills to be voted on, a budget and corresponding tax hikes to pass. Rick Pearson of the Chicago Tribune wrote an article on May 16 expressing concern within the Governor’s own party about how slowly things have been moving, especially the budget.

Pearson wrote, “After the damage caused by the historic two-year budget impasse…, the optics of a government in full Democratic control unable to meet its primary governmental obligation would be politically damaging.”

We were promised action. We were promised results. We were promised bipartisanship, or at least, bipartisan discussions. Pearson reported there have been only two meetings between the Governor and Republican legislative leadership, both before April 11.

Mostly, we’ve received more promises and delays. Oh, and we did get a vote on House Bill 3129. This bill increases Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant amounts. It also keeps providing the full grant funds to recipients who choose not to comply with the education, training and employment requirements of the program.

It’s important to help people in need. It’s important for them to learn the skills necessary to move their lives and their families forward. I voted “no” on House Bill 3129 because it eliminates the requirement for people to learn these skills.

Pearson’s article and the situation in Springfield got me thinking about leadership. So, I turned to great American leaders from our past for guidance. What I found was less an emphasis on leadership skills, and more an emphasis on character.

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Well done is better than well said.” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Let common sense and common honesty have fair play, and they will soon set things to rights.” Abraham Lincoln wrote, “Leave nothing to tomorrow which can be done today.” All of these are more lessons on being better people than they are insights into leadership.

George Washington also emphasized being a better person in the face of hardship. He wrote, “We must never despair; our situation has been compromising before, and it changed for the better; so I trust it will again. If difficulties arise, we must put forth new exertion and proportion our efforts to the exigencies of the times.”

President Theodore Roosevelt, wrote, “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.” Think about that for a moment. Of course a leader leads! That’s literally the definition of a leader. The reader has to infer that President Roosevelt was drawing a distinction between a boss forcing us and a leader inspiring us.

Times have changed. Every year, newspapers, business magazines, and websites publish lists of the best leadership books. TED talks are repeatedly given on the subject. lists almost 32,000 books in its Leadership category. After browsing the first 200, only one did not have the word leadership in the title, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Leadership resources are all around us. As your Senator I have been blessed to learn about organizations in the 45th Senate District teaching leadership skills. Some of them are the Leadership Institute at Highland Community College, the Sauk Valley Community Leadership Program, and the Whiteside Area Career Center.

For those who don’t know, the Sauk Valley Community Leadership program brings together Chambers of Commerce from Dixon, Rock Falls, and Sterling with Sauk Valley Community College for a ten month program to teach participants important leadership skills. Their mission is “to positively affect the economic vitality and civic wellbeing of Sauk Valley communities through identifying emerging leaders, broadening their knowledge of our communities and motivating them to become business and community leaders.”

The Whiteside Area Career Center provides a high school level class called Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities (CEO). CEO teaches “entrepreneurship education” to prepare students to become entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial thinkers with a focus on creativity, leadership and encouragement. CEO students come from seventeen participating Whiteside Area Career Center (WACC) schools in five different counties, including Polo, Eastland, Forreston, Chadwick/Milledgeville, Ashton/Franklin Center, Dixon, and Amboy High Schools in the 45th Senate District.

I love what Reverend Phillips Brooks wrote about leadership. “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be the miracle.” Programs like the Sauk Valley Community Leadership Program, the WACC CEO course, and the Leadership Institute at Highland Community College help us learn how to change the cycle. They teach us how to lead. They show us how to be the miracle. Those seeking an elected position should consider these programs.

Last week, I encouraged readers to submit witness slips against gas tax legislation in Springfield, and referred to a link on my website on How to file a Witness Slip. To make it easier, I’ve had Senate staff put the gas tax Witness Slip link in the News section of my website.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, or you know about a leadership program I haven’t mentioned, please visit my website at and use the form to send me an e-mail.

Brian Stewart

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