July 13, 2019

On Southern Illinois tour, Duckworth hears from flooded communities; talks levee needs

Source: The Southern


CARBONDALE — With thousands of acres still beneath flood waters, Senator Tammy Duckworth met with officials from Alexander, Union, Randolph and Jackson counties to discuss their recovery, Saturday, as part of a multi-day tour of Southern Illinois.

Duckworth and fellow Senator Dick Durbin have been “actively working to change how the federal government values property, to get compensation for rural areas, fix levees and get the dollars back into landowners’ pockets,” she told the Southern.

Last month, she and Durbin introduced legislation to make the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster declaration process fairer for small, rural communities, she indicated in a news release.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost continues to advocate for policy changes that would give rural communities a better shot at securing support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fix and maintain levees like the Len Small, in Alexander County, which has a ¾-mile-wide hole.

Duckworth also toured the demolition sites of the Elmwood and McBride public housing complexes in Cairo on Saturday, and met with Mayor Thomas Simpson to discuss opportunities for economic growth in the struggling city.

To stem population loss in deep Southern Illinois, the government must make transformative investments like it made in the post-Great Depression era, she said.

“If you look at what the Tennessee Valley Authority did post-Great Depression, investing in the electrification of rural America, we should be bringing broadband to all rural communities so that we can be competitive in attracting major business into the region,” she said. “I think there’s a role for government to play.”

Friday evening, Duckworth took questions from about 350 constituents in a ballroom at the SIU Carbondale Student Center, in an open town-hall format that she called “fundamental” to American democracy.

Before a friendly crowd that included top local Democrats, Duckworth described a Senate hamstrung by the political maneuvering of President Trump and Senate Republicans.

“The Senate has become the legislative graveyard. There has been good, bipartisan legislation the House has passed...for example, universal background check legislation, something supported by 95% of Americans and most NRA members,” that dies on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Duckworth said. “McConnell, he is solely focused on judicial nominations to change the course of jurisprudence in this country while he has a chance.”

Meanwhile, she said, President Donald Trump has appointed a record number of “acting” leaders of federal agencies and cabinet departments, circumventing the senate's constitutional responsibility to vet and approve those candidates.

“I don’t have the ability to do my job as your senator, to say, 'no that person can’t have that job, because he’s not qualified or he has ethical issues...or he cut a sweetheart deal for a sex predator who happened to be his friend,'” she said, referencing the recent resignation of United States Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, who was Senate confirmed.

“We’ve got lawsuits going but … 2020,” she said, to applause.

Duckworth called on the constituents of Republican senators and representatives to pressure them to take action on stalled bills like universal background checks, and to protect the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t think at this point that many on the Republican side are listening to the Democrats. I think we can reach through to my colleagues who are their constituents,” she said.

She also offered her solution to veterans’ healthcare in rural Southern Illinois, where physicians are few and specialists are nearly nonexistent.

Working with leadership on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Duckworth is drafting legislation to push the Department of Veterans Affairs to marry its Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC’s) to rural hospitals.

“Rural hospitals are vital to their communities. Often, they’re the largest employer in a two or three county area, and the only healthcare resource for that community. Let’s locate CBOC’s next door to the hospital so that when that veteran needs an x-ray, he doesn’t have to travel to Marion,” she said. “If you want your diabetes taken care of outside of VA, then let's pay for that treatment so you can get it near where you live.”

To the crowd's disappointment, Duckworth declined to name her preferred democratic presidential candidate, Friday night, but said it’s important to her that a midwesterner be on the ticket.

“I don’t think Democrats take over the White House or the Senate with an east coaster and a west coaster. No one to talk to my farmers about how they weren’t able to plant until June or July of this year. No one to talk to my steelworkers about how, hey, thanks to the tariff wars they’re actually back at work,” she said. “We need somebody who can talk to the middle of the country.”

By:  Gabriel Neely-Streit