Race for Senate District 59: Q&A with Forby, Fowler on higher education

Gary Forby and Dale Fowler.

Gary Forby and Dale Fowler.

By Marnie Leonard

As voter attention is focused on the dramatic presidential election playing out on the national stage, candidates in state legislative elections fight to stay in the spotlight.

More than $4 million has been invested in four local House and Senate races. With the state budget’s fate remaining uncertain for the upcoming year, the future of Illinois will be decided by the legislators who take office in January. 

The state economic climate has negatively impacted SIU in more ways than one. 


Due in part to budget cuts resulting from a lack of state funding, SIU lost 246 full and part-time faculty members from fall 2006 to fall 2015, according to university data. 

The data shows for the fall 2016 semester, enrollment hit its lowest point since 1964, which interim Chancellor Brad Colwell in September partially attributed to the state budget crisis. 

Academic and non-academic programs face cuts and university data displays graduate assistantships have been reduced by 265 positions from spring 2016 to fall 2016.

With SIU facing these adverse conditions, the Daily Egyptian asked legislative candidates in four local districts to answer questions regarding higher education policy in Illinois. 

Senate District 59 features a match-up between incumbent Gary Forby, D-Benton, and Republican Dale Fowler of Harrisburg. Forby, who has served in Springfield since 2001, is challenged by the mayor of Harrisburg, who also served under former Secretary of State Jim Edgar in the late 1980s.

These are the questions: 

  1. What changes, if any, need to be made within your political party with regard to higher education and why?
  2. After graduating high school, students leave Illinois at a higher rate than almost any other state in the country. From your perspective, what’s the biggest challenge for college students in Illinois and how do we correct this?
  3. Why are you a better choice than your opponent?

Sen. Gary Forby (Democratic Party)


1. The main change is that we just need to have a budget and higher education needs to be funded. The stopgap budget just didn’t do that. I would be interested in having a full budget to look through because there will have to be some hard cuts. We have to roll our sleeves up and make tough decisions and make sure our schools are the best in the country. We need to create jobs. I think [Central Management Services] has room for cuts, we can combine units to save money, there’s things we spend that aren’t necessary.

2. Nobody is going to go to school in a state that doesn’t have a budget, if they don’t know if in six months the college is going to have money or not. SIU right now they don’t have a budget in January. They don’t know if they’ll get money from the state or not. People are undecided on what to do and we have to change that. If you don’t have a college education you aren’t going to get a good job. We have to get our MAP grants done and take care of our kids.

3. My past experience helps. I worked with budgets, pensions, everything we work with the state of Illinois. I have the experience.

Dale Fowler (Republican Party)

1. We need proper, full funding. Our children have been left behind due to the lack of a balanced budget. We have to quit writing bad checks. Difficult decisions will have to be made, but we have to do it. We have to fully fund our schools and our social agencies and take care of our senior citizens, then we’ll have to look at cuts. We can’t live on $7.5 billion unbalanced budget.

2. It’s not just our college students leaving, it’s everyone leaving in record numbers. We have to stop the bleeding, and until we become more business competitive we can’t. We rank last in job growth in the nation so of course students are leaving. We need to reform workers’ compensation — that’s why companies are leaving. We aren’t creating the jobs we should be creating and our property taxes are too high. We have a reputation of not funding our schools, so students preparing to graduate from high school are looking at colleges outside of Illinois. Students outside Illinois who may have looked at attending school here are looking elsewhere. That’s why our enrollments are declining.

3. I’m going to let the people decide that. I bring passion and I’m not going to be beholding to the special interests or worried about being elected again so I can have a paycheck. I’m going to be making decisions based on the people of southern Illinois. I’m not for bailing out Chicago schools — I’m here for southern Illinois.

Staff writer Marnie Leonard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @marsuzleo.

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