Illinois state representative candidates talk higher education, MAP funding
The State Universities Annuitants Association hosted a debate between the state representative candidates for the 115th district at the SIU School of Law on Thursday evening.
The hour-and-a-half long forum of about 150 spectators was between incumbent Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro and her challenger, Marsha Griffin, a democratic candidate from Jonesboro. Both candidates were given a chance to respond to questions formulated by SUAA and audience members.
Bryant, who has been in office since January 2015, worked for the Illinois Department of Corrections for 20 years before becoming politically active.
Griffin is a 4th grade teacher at Jonesboro Elementary and founder of My Brother’s Keeper, a support group for Illinois Department of Corrections officers and their families.
Bryant and Griffin agreed there needs to be more funding for higher education, especially at SIU.
Griffin said it will take SIU and John A. Logan Community College years to recover from loss of employees and funding.
“We owe our children a better legacy and I can’t stand on the sideline and wait for others to get Illinois back on track,” Griffin said. “The stopgap budget that ends in the middle of the school year is using a band-aid for something that needs a tourniquet.”
Griffin said Bryant did not vote for the Monetary Award Program grants, an issue that directly affects many Illinois students.
Bryant said she was called into a meeting in April to discuss the money being distributed to higher education in Illinois. She said none of the $600 million being allocated to the state was going to SIU, so she chose not to vote on the MAP grant bill.
“The MAP grant funding would have gone to other public universities prior to going to SIU,” Bryant said. “There’s a difference between a ‘no’ and a ‘hell no,’ and in this case, I was the second because I would not vote on a bill that doesn’t give any money to SIU.”
Griffin said the lack of Illinois school funding will be detrimental to future generations.
“Being an educator, I see first hand the lack of education funding in southern Illinois,” Griffin said. “We need to make sure our students in southern Illinois have every tool they need to equip them for a 21st century workplace.”
On the issue of cutting social services programs, Bryant and Griffin have personal experiences.
Griffin said she met with a quadriplegic SIU student named Casey and found Casey’s caretaker was working without pay because there was no program funding.
“These people aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet,” Griffin said. “They are very real and the consequences are very dire.”
Bryant said she understands this challenge every day as she continues to help her husband, Rick, who has suffered from epilepsy for the past 35 years.
“We don’t just know the social service needs of people by walking into their homes,” Bryant said.
Bryant, who participated in signing Molly’s Law — named after a well-known 2012 Carbondale case of the death of 21-year-old Molly Young and extends the statute of limitations for wrongful death cases — said if she gets re-elected, she will continue to listen to the voice of the southern Illinois people.
Griffin said although she cannot promise to fix every issue, she can promise to do her job to the best of her ability and properly represent her district.
“When I go to Springfield, I am going to strive to be the strongest, independent voice I can possibly be and remember who elected me,” Griffin said.