By Jayette Bolinski | Illinois Statehouse News
WALTONVILLE – Farm families are “our families, our neighbors” and are owed “an eternal debt of gratitude,” Gov. Pat Quinn said Monday in a brown, drought-stricken field in rural Jefferson County.
Meanwhile, workers and families affected by upcoming state facility closures lined the entrance to a farm where reporters and others gathered before driving several miles to a remote field for a news conference.
Quinn did not stop to speak with the protesters, which included both prison and developmental center employees, as well as families who have relatives who use the facilities slated for closure, according to Ed Caumiant, regional director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.
A police officer turned away the protesters when they showed up at the entrance to a dirt lane that led to the site of the news conference.
“I think it’s, frankly, kind of cowardly to play hide and go seek with your event just to avoid people who have something to say,” Caumiant said.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said rumors the location for the news conference was changed to dodge the protesters were incorrect.
“The farm today was selected because the owner volunteered it to allow us to inspect the damage and make the relief announcement,” she said.
Quinn was in southern Illinois to announce a series of assistance programs that will be made available to farmers who have corn crops damaged by the extreme heat and lack of rain.
Unions and lawmakers representing workers affected by the closures have asked Quinn to reconsider. The General Assembly included enough money in its budget to fully fund their operation and save jobs, they argue.
Quinn, a Democrat, said the closures will go forward, noting that some of the facilities are only half full.
“We are not building prisons or any center for the sole purpose of employment. We have to understand the common good comes first,” Quinn said.
“In our state, the Legislature funded those particular institutions, but they underfunded our Department of Children and Family Services, and we cannot have that. We cannot have abused children in dire straits.
“I have to make decisions, many times very difficult, but I make those decisions on behalf of the common good, and I stick to them.”
Monday was Quinn’s first appearance outside of the Chicago area in about a month. That also is roughly the last time it rained in Waltonville field where the news conference took place. The area received sixth-tenths of an inch on June 11, Quinn noted Monday.
Jayette Bolinski can be reached at email@example.com.