In Illinois’ 58th district, it’s lieutenant governor versus lieutenant colonel in a race for the Metro East’s only open state senate seat.
Republican David Luechtefeld of Okawville is retiring after 22 years in office. He has endorsed Paul Schimpf of Waterloo, a former Marine and political newcomer. Schimpf is running against a familiar name in Illinois politics, former Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, a Democrat from Carbondale.
For Simon, public service runs in the family. Her father, the late Paul Simon, ended his long political career as a U.S. senator while her mother, Jeanne Simon, had served in the Illinois House.
Since graduating from law school in 1987, Simon has worked for Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance and as an assistant state’s attorney in Jackson County, where she spent two years prosecuting domestic batterers.
She ran her own private practice for three years and has offered pro bono representation of children in adoption cases; including the first same-sex couple adoption in Jackson County.
Simon is a professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Law. She played an integral role in the school’s Domestic Violence Clinic, serving as its first staff attorney in 1998.
She entered politics as a member of the Carbondale City Council in 2003. Six years later, she was part of the Illinois Reform Commission, which helped pass Illinois’ first campaign contribution limits.
From 2010-14, she was Illinois' lieutenant governor. Pat Quinn was governor then. Instead of running for re-election with him, she ran for comptroller and lost to the Republican incumbent.
Simon counts her experience within the political system as an asset. She says her motivations for running include what she calls the flawed way schools are funded in Illinois, which is based heavily on real estate taxes.
“In southern Illinois, there are so many areas that don’t have a good tax base and the state’s funding formula does not address the needs of students in those districts; and southern Illinois schools, in general, are getting left out of funding,” Simon said.
To Simon, the role of a state senator is to help protect what she calls the more vulnerable citizens — those without political clout, such as the elderly and the disabled.
“These are both groups of folks that if we respect them and provide the services that they need to live independently in the community and, for many folks, to be productive citizens, we come out ahead as a state,” said Simon.
Simon argues that when services are cut, people turn to institutional care, which ends up costing more. She says protecting these services is the right thing to do: “Whether you come at it from a compassionate perspective or an accountant’s perspective.”
Schimpf has never held political office. But he did run for Illinois attorney general in 2014, but like Simon, he lost that year.
Schimpf says he comes from a union family — both of his parents were Illinois school teachers.
Schimpf spent his adult life in the military. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1993 and joined the Marine Corps. He later returned to his home state as part of the Marine Corps Law Education Program. He attended the Southern Illinois University School of Law.
He graduated in 2000 and served as judge advocate or military attorney in the Marine Corps. In 2004, he attended the military’s advanced attorney training in Virginia where he earned his masters of law degree.
During a deployment to Iraq, he assisted Iraqi prosecutors in the trail of Saddam Hussein.
Schimpf says his proudest accomplishment in the military was working to create evidentiary privilege for advocates for sexual assault victims. He wrote an article on the subject for the Military Law Review, and the Department of Defense established the privilege in 2012.
Schimpf's political experience includes serving as the military legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minnesota. He then worked for the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy as a strategist for energy and environment.
“At one point, I worked for a Republican member of Congress while I was doing a congressional fellowship,” Schimpf said. “And I went from that job to working for a member of the Obama administration in the Pentagon. So I really do have a record of working for both sides and working together.”
Schimpf retired from the Marines as a lieutenant colonel in 2013 and moved his family back to southern Illinois.
He says one the biggest thing he brings to the table is his ability to act as an independent leader, irrespective of political agendas. “I just think at this point in our state’s history and our country’s history, our political class has demonstrated that they are not capable of solving the problems that they’ve created,” Schimpf said. “We need leaders who are coming from outside.”
In what seems to be increasingly rare in today’s political climate, one of the few things the candidates could agree on was their regard for each other.
“She is an honorable person and a dedicated public servant,” Schimpf said. "So, it’s kind of refreshing in our race you have two people who, while they have strong political disagreements, they have a high amount of personal respect for each other.”
“He’s a good man. I think he’s in it for good reasons but we have very different points of view,” Simon said.
Schimpf pointed out that the race comes down to where voters want their state senator to be on the political spectrum.
Simon says, for everyone in state government, passing a budget should be imperative. “By not having a budget, we are, for example, asking students to commit to Illinois public universities for a four-year course of study when the state can’t commit to more than six months of funding,” said Simon. “That just doesn’t add up.”
For Simon, part of the budget gridlock comes down to issues with redistricting. She supports what she calls a more fair system. She is a member of the board of directors for the Independent Map Amendment, which would create a nonpartisan redistricting commission to draw the map of Illinois’ districts.
For Schimpf, jump-starting the economy is crucial to balancing the budget. He says politicians have been digging a hole for Illinois’ budget for decades.
“It’s important to recognize that the hole is deep, we’re not going to be able to get out of it by taxing, we’re not going to be able to get out of it by cutting,” he said. “The only way we are going to be able to get out of it is by getting our economy going.”
Schimpf said Illinois needs to become more competitive compared to other nearby states. He supports term limits, worker’s compensation reform to lower costs and tort reform to discourage frivolous lawsuits which he says will help Illinois attract out of state businesses.
He uses a medical analogy when describing the budget crisis and its effects.
“If you talk about what is the disease that is killing Illinois, I think that disease is the fact that the job creators no longer want to stay in Illinois, they no longer want to come to Illinois,” he said. “And until we address that disease, we’re not going to be able to solve any of the symptoms.”
Simon disagrees. She said the focus needs to be on those already living and working in the state by improving education and promoting entrepreneurship.
“I want to make sure that folks who live here, who have a great idea but don’t have the rest of the package, can turn to local, small-business development centers and develop that idea of something they’ve been working on in the backyard or the cupcake business that they’ve been dreaming of opening up,” Simon said. “Those are the people I want to make sure the state of Illinois invests in, rather than folks from outside of the state.
Simon has been endorsed by the United Mine Workers of America, while Schimpf is endorsed by the Illinois Coal Association.
Simon says Illinois needs to move toward more sustainable energy such as wind. But she doesn’t believe the coal industry should be abandoned. Instead she recommends research, particularly at the university level, on limiting the polluting effects of coal.
“If we can find a way to make our coal burn with less negative side effects then we’re going to increase the value of coal, we’re going to increase the ability of our own energy generation to be locally fueled,” Simon said. “We would be the winners all the way around.”
Schimpf said that while he supports an “all of the above” energy policy, which includes renewable resources, the economic vitality of southern Illinois is inextricably linked with the coal industry.
“I think that the biggest thing that our southern Illinois coal industry needs is somebody that is going to be an advocate for it because, frankly, our coal industry does have a target on its back,” he said.
Schimpf is completely against the Obama administration’s EPA regulations and cap and trade programs.