Saline County GOP sees economic opportunities with new administration
The Saline County Republican Party sees opportunities to make progress on legislative term limits, workers’ compensation reform and regional economic growth as the party builds on its 2016 successes in the new year.
“The November election was a boost for our Republican Party,” County GOP Chairman Robert Holmes told the Southeast Illinois News. “Hopefully, that will continue.”
The election results were not particularly surprising to Holmes.
“Our new state Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) was sort of a surprise, but not that big of one because he really worked hard at getting elected,” he said.
Fowler defeated a veteran Democrat, Gary Forby, in the 59th District.
In a region where coal mining is a big part of the economy, Republican Donald Trump won 73 percent of ballots cast in Saline County, while Democrat Hillary Clinton received only 23 percent of the county's vote.
Trump’s election and the appointments of his Cabinet team should be positive developments for the county in 2017, Holmes said.
“He’s a business person, and he’s going to have smart people around him,” he said of Trump, noting that the president has crossed party lines to seek out the right people to fill Cabinet spots.
Saline County has been Illinois’ top coal producer, but the industry’s decline over the past five years has cost the county more than 1,000 high-paying jobs. Environmental Protection Agency decisions have led some mines to shut down, Holmes said, but he expressed optimism that many coal miners would return to work once the Trump administration puts forth new economic and environmental policies.
“The big thing I want to push for is workman’s comp,” he said. “It’s completely out of hand.”
Business groups and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner have charged that the workers’ compensation system in Illinois has been a major burden on businesses, with workers’ comp insurance rates among the highest in the nation.
As a result, companies have been leaving not only the county but the entire state, according to Holmes. He thinks reforming the system could encourage more industries to relocate within the region and generate more jobs locally.
Holmes also expressed some optimism that, as new state lawmakers are seated, some progress on a long-term state budget agreement might occur.
“Hopefully, we will see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
He agrees with Rauner that term limits for state lawmakers are a good idea, provided that they offer enough leeway to allow lawmakers to get up to speed and learn the ropes of their jobs prior to leaving office.
In the county’s 13 townships, Holmes said the county GOP is looking toward the spring elections and will endorse GOP candidates who emerge victorious in caucuses. The caucus system will determine who will be the party’s nominees for positions such as trustees, road commissioner, clerk, tax assessor and supervisor.
Above all, the party encourages people who are honest to run, he said -- those who will live up to their word and campaign promises.
The county GOP is not expected to get involved in nonpartisan races like school board, according to Holmes.
The party is planning a Lincoln Day Dinner event this spring as a way to raise funds to support its candidates on the 2017 ballot.