By CARL GREEN
Alton, IL – The importance of the Labor Movement and the Democratic Party to each other was a main theme Saturday, Oct. 9, when the groups got together at the Madison County Democrats’ annual JFK Dinner event.
Instead of the traditional indoor celebration, the crowd spread out at spacious Liberty Bank Amphitheater in Riverfront Park overlooking the Mississippi River to avoid issues with COVID-19.
A full roster of state and regional elected officials spoke at the event organized by Randy Harris, the county Democratic chairman and director of the Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust (LECET) of the Laborers’ International Union (LiUNA!).
Harris pointed to the $1.3 trillion infrastructure legislation now working its way through Washington against Republican opposition to show how Democrats and unions are crucial to each other.
“That is life-changing work for every person who gets up and goes to work every day,” he said. “That is $1.3 trillion to rebuild our roads, our bridges, our dams, our water infrastructure, everything we rely on every day of the week – and paid with prevailing wages.
“We’ve finally got a president who is not afraid to say the word ‘union’ and who’s going to ensure that union members from union households go to work on those jobs.”
STRATTON: LIFTING WORKING FAMILIES
The keynote speaker, Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, also spoke of the partnership between Democrats and Labor.
“Thank you for all you do for working families,” she said, addressing the union members in the audience. “We have been working every day to live up to the goals and ideals of the Democratic Party that have been embodied by every one of you. I am so proud of the work that we have done to lift working families.
“I’m proud of what we have been able to accomplish together, and I want you to know we are just getting started,” she added. “We’ve been able to accomplish these things because of the fighting spirit of all of you.”
HOFFMAN: A GREAT SESSION
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, (D-Swansea), said the past legislative session, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other Democrats firmly in control, was the best one for working families that he has experienced in his long career.
“We created jobs and economic development, not only in the Metro-East, but throughout the whole state,” he said. “Good paying jobs, jobs that pay a decent wage so you can raise your children and send them to good schools.”
Part of it was, at long last, pushing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, he said.
“People said, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t do that,’ but let me tell you something – try to raise your children on the old minimum wage,” Hoffman said. “We need to make sure we enhance the ability of people to send their children to school, to afford child health care and dental, and to make sure that when you need glasses, you can actually go to a doctor.
“Those are things we worked on. Those are things J.B. Pritzker cares about. It’s a big difference from when the Rauner administration went two years without a budget and tried to starve everybody out.”
MAKING SMART DECISIONS
One of the most respected political leaders in Illinois is Bill Houlihan, longtime Illinois state director for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin. Houlihan noted how Democratic leadership and financial discipline brought about the first two state bond rating upgrades in more than 20 years, following 22 straight downgrades.
“The talking point is, there’s more money for education because we’re not paying bond marketers in New York,” he said. “There’s more money for health care and more money for social services, because the people up here (on the big stage) did their jobs and made sure we did the things that we needed to do.”
State Rep. Katie Stuart, who has helped turn much of the area around Edwardsville into Democratic territory, reminded the audience that it’s Democrats who make life better for families in Illinois.
“If you think it’s important that everybody have access to higher education, so they can go after great careers and great futures, you’ve got to keep Democrats in office. We fight for those things,” she said. “If you want access to trade schools and career technical education in the high schools and middle schools, we’ve got to keep Democrats in office. We are the ones who understand the value of hard work and good pay for that hard work.”
PARTY OF EVERYONE
Stuart had a message for those who would rather divide Americans than unite them.
“Just look around you,” she said. “This event shows you what the Democratic Party is. Look at the women who are up here on the stage. You don’t see this at Republican events. In the House, when I look at the other side of the aisle, it’s hard to pick out a woman over there, and it certainly is impossible to pick out a person of color because that does not exist on that side of the aisle.
“We are the party of inclusivity,” she said. “We are the party of everyone. We need to get out there, tell people our message, fight the misinformation that, unfortunately, Republicans do so well, and let’s just get ready to work and keep Democrats in office.”
THANK A DEMOCRAT
Harris closed the speech-making with a stirring recitation of what it means to be a Democrat. He began by noting that he, his parents and his grandparents all have been union members.
“Democratic politics just come honest to me,” he said. “They just do. I believe in what we do out here, and I know many of you do. Somewhere along the line, though, we seem to have become embarrassed about being Democrats, especially locally. We put our heads down. So let me tell you a little bit about what being a Democrat is.
“If you or somebody you know has healthcare with a pre-existing condition, thank a Democrat. Not one Republican voted for that.
“If you or somebody you know, a family member or friend, is getting $300 in the child tax credit, thank a Democrat.
“If you got a free vaccine or a free test for the COVID-19, thank a Democrat.
“If you want your roads and bridges and highways rebuilt, and to get paid at a local rate that can support a family, thank a Democrat.
“If you believe in fairness and justice, thank a Democrat.
“If you believe in women’s rights and health care, and that everybody has a right to health care, especially women, thank a Democrat.
“Not one Republican voted for anything I just talked about. Not one. So be proud to be a Democrat!”