As I have shared in the past, every now and then I have the privilege (and, yes, personal indulgence) to write about people near and dear to my heart. Such is the case with Gregg Johnson and his candidacy for the Illinois State Senate's 36th District. And in the spirit of full disclosure, he is my favorite boy cousin on my mother's side.
Gregg's dad Gary was my mother's little brother who lived next door to my grandparents for a lot of our growing up. Our families were together for every holiday and special events, usually gobbling our Grandma's Swedish Hash and pushing the envelope relative to noise and mayhem.
We were a typical Midwestern clan, with parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who indelibly influenced us in profoundly positive ways, most especially by their examples of hard word, respect for others, kindness as the first response, grit, fight rather than flight, and insistence on using our heads. Somewhere in there we also developed a reverence for our country – a deeply patriotic connection with self-determination, civics, and a passion for problem solving to make things better.
That's why it came as no surprise when Gregg announced his candidacy to run for the Illinois State Senate's 36th District (covering 70 percent of Rock Island County and Whiteside County). One of his best qualities is that what you see is what you get. He is every bit the smart, loving guy he has always been, fiercely loyal, and protective of his family and friends – and now his constituency.
It is apparent that, after 32 years in management with the East Moline Corrections Center (EMCC), Gregg has mastered a specific set of skills uniquely suited to leadership in the political arena, such as his ability to negotiate solutions by stepping into the other party's shoes and finding common ground to work from. Or navigating different agendas that are sometimes inherently adversarial in a corrections environment while maintaining safety and stability without sacrificing human dignity and respect. And Gregg has an uncanny knack for prioritizing that gets results.
“I honestly believe we all basically want the same things,” Gregg has said. “We just differ on how to get there. Focusing on our common goals allows us to see the field more clearly and find solutions that get results that satisfy all interests.”
Those of us who know Gregg see leadership qualities in him that include being open to reasonable compromise, having wisdom enough to know what hills to die on, and checking ego at the door for the sake of real solutions that work.
He has sensible ideas for government reform, such as term limits for congressional leadership, redistricting reform, and innovative economic development policies that include retraining of an already talented workforce.
Gregg's work experience and volunteer service has provided him with a rock solid grasp of how government bureaucracy works from the jump, making his learning curve significantly less. He understands public-sector budgets and the bureaucratic pecking order that must be followed. And arguably most important of all, Gregg comes to the party well-versed in the serious financial problems that plague Illinois, specifically the $1.2 billion in unfunded liabilities; $8.1 billion backlog of unpaid bills; $142 billion in long-term debt; and $130 billion in unfunded public pension obligations. (www.tinyurl.com/IL-budget-2019 ; www.tinyurl.com/bills-outstanding)
Gregg acknowledges that increased taxation that has characterized decades of leadership by the Illinois legislature's career politicians can't solve its massive budget problems. “Spending,” he explains, “has to more adequately be addressed, and creative economic development solutions need to be explored, as well. We also have to deal with duplicity of services, and contract revision to find savings.”
To this end, Gregg brings another valuable attribute to the table: an entrepreneurial spirit, strongly advocating economic revitalization by exploring new industries that compliment Illinois resources. Most politicians talk about such things, but rarely have substantive ideas. And bureaucrats rarely have such know-how.
Gregg is breaking that mold with out-of-the box thinking that has legs if developed properly, such as public private collaborations with entrepreneurs who know their crafts best. He wants to crush the age-old adversarial relationship between government and business, and fuel a collective effort that results in Illinois thriving as a whole.
Attracting sound private investment not only for high-paying jobs, but also that contributes fairly, substantially, and consistently to our Illinois' tax base, can reduce the financial strain on Illinois quickly, simultaneously putting the brakes on increasing debt while providing stable, long-term economic benefits for both private and public sectors.
No one knows better than Gregg that most of the old ways don't work anymore, that new energy is required. As he says, “I am fighting to keep our community and our way of life alive with innovative economic proposals to create good-paying jobs in growing industries like advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, and medical care.
“The economic opportunities that our community needs aren’t just about money; they’re about a way of life. And that middle-class way of life – hard work, family, and a responsibility to look out for each other – is worth fighting for.
“There’s tremendous potential in Western Illinois. We have one of the best-trained, most experienced manufacturing workforces in the world. But to realize that potential, Illinois needs to invest in its people and put everyday families first.” http://greggfor36.com/why-im-running/
Gregg promises to bring together coalitions of public and private expertise to build on the economic strengths of Illinois, which, when including a highly trained manufacturing workforce, are considerable. Rock Island County alone boasts a Port of Authority at the Quad City Municipal Airport, a primary cross-country transportation artery with US Interstate 80, river transportation via the great Mississippi, and perhaps most valuable of all, the finest grade soil in the world. And that's just the west side – our side – of the state. Add to that established vocational and higher education facilities for training and retraining and we are favorably positioned to execute new synergetic ideas for future economic growth.
Gregg further emphasized, “My additional personal priorities are restoring programs for autism and mental health care – we shamefully closed multiple mental-health-care facilities throughout Illinois over the last decade but did nothing to replace this much-needed care after those closures.”
His resolve to care for seniors was cemented after Gregg sat on the citizen volunteer advisory board of the Hope Creek Nursing home. He was concerned that seniors there weren't getting the quality of care they deserve. The facility had been plagued with poor management and oversight, which led to some patients receiving a lower quality of care, including exposure to harm from others. As a board member, Gregg spent years working to mend this system. He led the charge to oust Hope Creek's management because it failed its residents. That experience contributed mightily to Gregg's commitment to reform public systems to provide better care for our seniors.
Education propels Gregg, too, specifically the inequities of resource allocation in districts across the state. “To give you some idea, there are schools in my district who still don't have access to the Internet. How are these kids supposed to compete where such critical deficiencies exist? This has to be resolved now,” he emphatically states.
For my part, being in media for 25 years and counting, I've known dozens of politicians, most of whom are all hat and no cattle. They go along to get along, have a derelict grasp of the issues for which they are stewards, and forget who the customer (that would be the voter, taxpayer, resident) is almost immediately.
Gregg could not be more different. He internalizes the difference between “served by the public and serving the public.” The budget deficiencies, the inequities in resources across the state, and the gridlock that prevents common-sense solutions all contribute to limited opportunities for Illinoisans, and that is heartbreaking to Gregg, especially as he raises his own daughter here. He believes he can help and wants to try.
And the thing is that Gregg is genuinely happy in life. He is devoted to his wife and children, adores his little sister Tracy, and has a great sense of humor. I know because he laughs at most of my jokes. While some might say that just proves he's family, I say it also proves he's funny. And without humor in life, let alone in politics … . Well, then, you serve at your own risk.
“The thing I am most comfortable with is knocking on doors,” says Gregg, “meeting and talking to people. I am inspired by people in my district. They are really good people, and spending time in neighborhoods, talking to individuals from every walk of life, constantly refreshes my faith in humanity and my strong belief that together we can solve many of Illinois' problems.”
Then there is the issue of accountability. It's our tax dollars, after all. More importantly it's our children's and grandchildren's future. “We need a more transparent government that is accountable to the voters of our state. That’s why Gregg supports an end to gerrymandering – voters should choose their elected officials, not the other way around. Gregg also supports term limits for legislative leadership positions in Springfield. As he says, “It shouldn’t be possible for a few individuals to effectively control an entire state.” http://greggfor36.com/issues/
Many of us bang on about term limits for our legislators. But the truth is, with the power of the vote, the people can impose term limits at the ballot box. Gregg refines this issue by proposing we apply term limits to the leadership positions within the legislatures. When you think about it, this is a far more meaningful and realistic solution. Decades of gridlock and stagnation prevail in states due to entrenched house speakers and majority leaders, who have near absolute control over the business of federal and state legislatures. It is a brilliant distinction to solve a toxic problem, and typical of Gregg's forthright common sense approach to governance.
Gregg also openly touches the third-rail topic of gerrymandering, recognizing its unfairness in redistricting. It has evolved into a thoroughly unreasonable tactic to protect incumbents stranglehold on voting districts. These days, gerrymandered districts look like toddlers' scribbling. Most voters are completely unaware of this political manipulation and would otherwise be outraged at its abuse. I cannot say this strongly enough: The fact that Gregg addresses this while campaigning demonstrates rare political courage and independence.
It's hard to convey the essence of someone's sincerity and goodness, especially relative to politics. Gregg's waters have always run a little deeper, making him much more empathetic in his desire to serve. Because Gregg cares about people first, and is principled by nature, he will remain authentic, accessible, and accountable to his constituency, not because of rhetorical campaign promises (regardless of how well-meaning), but because he is incapable of doing otherwise.
When Gregg called me to express his sorrow over my dad's passing last year, he conveyed all the thoughtful words of comfort. Then, with gentle compassion, he advised me to take care of my sisters and brother; that grief manifests in many ways that can be misunderstood and difficult. He cautioned me to hang on tight to family. I knew exactly what he meant, and treasured his words then and now. Like I said, his waters run a little deeper, so I find enormous assurance knowing that Gregg will represent us with this innate wisdom and integrity that defines him in everything he tackles. I wholeheartedly encourage Illinois voters, on November 6, to give Gregg Johnson the opportunity to serve. See for yourselves what a positive difference he will make.