STEELEVILLE -- With the November general election fast approaching, the race for the 58th District state Senate seat is heating up.
Former Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, a Democrat from Carbondale, spoke to the Randolph County Retired Teachers Association on Tuesday in a campaign stop at Hook, Line & Sinker in Steeleville.
Simon is battling Paul Schimpf, a Republican from Waterloo, for the seat of retiring Sen. Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville).
Simon highlighted three topics in a five-minute speech - fair funding for schools, supporting the rights of workers to organize and opportunity - before opening up for questions.
"We often talk about bringing in the next auto parts manufacturer or whatever it might be," Simon said. "I want to focus our economic development dollars on folks who are here, want to start up a small business, want to expand a small business, people who are rooted in the community.
"That has to be our priority in terms of economic development."
In regarding to workers organizing, Simon said that she and her husband, Perry Knop, are members of the Illinois Education Association (IEA).
"We know the importance of being able to organize," Simon said. "To improve working conditions, to job security. To just basic things like an office that you can work in out at the university."
Simon also briefly touched on the importance of affordable higher education.
"Our nation is built upon that if you can live up to your talents and abilities, you can be whoever it is that you can be," she said. "Whether your parents are rich or poor, that you have the opportunity to do that.
"It"s higher education that does that for us and we start saying that higher education is only available to those who are wealthy, we"re cutting a slice of the American dream out."
Simon also noted the ongoing state budget impasse in Springfield, which is poised to enter a new fiscal year on July 1.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, no state has gone a full year without a budget since the Great Depression.
"I started running for office about a year ago and the folks up in Springfield said "Don"t make an announcement too quickly because we think we"ll have the budget worked out,"" Simon said. "This was last summer."
Simon said the gridlock "keeps us from talking about other things that I think we ought to be talking about, like fair funding (for schools)."
In a response to a question from the media about the Dynegy situation at the Baldwin Power Plant and coal"s future in the state"s power market, Simon noted that there needs to be an investment in research on "how to best make use of this resource we have an abundance of."
"We can"t get there unless we invest at the university level," she said.
Simon also took questions from the crowd on term limits and what can be done to end the budget stalemate.
"I"m not a big fan of term limits," she said. "I like to have a choice. I like voting for someone into office or out of office."
Simon did say she is in favor of term limits for "positions of a great deal of authority."
"It won"t make me popular in Springfield," she said.
In regard to ending the stalemate, Simon emphasized that compromise must happen between the two sides and one of those areas is redistricting.
"Compromise is not a dirty word, it"s a way to get things done," she said.