By Cheri Bustos
Nothing motivates me more in my campaign for Congress than to fairly and passionately represent citizens across northwest and central Illinois. The political tug-of-war over the sale of the Thomson prison is a shining example of how our leadership has failed to make "the people" they represent a priority.
I recently visited Thomson and met with village President Duke Hebeler. He's about as disenchanted with Washington as any man can get. Duke has been waiting for years for the federal government to buy the Thomson Correctional Center. Not only would the sale be an economic boon to the region, but his small town also continues to carry the burden of the vacant prison on its books.
Regardless of the conditions, Duke has always supported the sale of Thomson to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. But politicians, including Congressman Bobby Schilling, have prevented the deal from going through.
This could hardly be simpler: The federal prison system is overcrowded. The administration wants to buy Thomson to do something about it. The community is ready to sell it. The price has been negotiated. But still Thomson sits empty.
What's more, the prison could generate more than 1,100 jobs and an estimated $200 million in annual economic activity in communities across northwest Illinois. Opening Thomson would provide an economic jolt to an area that needs it.
In 2011, House Republicans, including Congressman Schilling, voted to strip funding for Thomson from the Defense Department budget. He stood with his friends in Washington instead of advocating for jobs for the people he represents back home.
To complicate matters, Rep. Schilling fueled another effort to block the sale led by Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia by asking for redundant assurances that Guantanamo Bay detainees wouldn't be transferred to Thomson. Something that has never been of concern to Duke Hebeler, and a move that can't happen as a matter of law. It was a phantom controversy.
As Election Day approaches, however, Rep. Schilling is changing his tune and attempting to undo the damage his previous actions have caused. But Rep. Wolf is standing his ground and now has a team of Republicans lining up behind him to ensure the sale never goes through.
If I were representing the 17th Congressional District, I wouldn't allow a Virginia congressman to stand in my way or in the way of good jobs for Illinois. Jobs that the people I was elected to represent want and can be made a reality through a no-brainer of a deal that's been poised to be made final for years.
I would fight with all I have for the people I represent and for those jobs -- not cover up my past failures and dodge taking on my party's leadership.
The people of the 17th District deserve nothing less out of their representative in Congress, and I'm determined to give them just that.
Cheri Bustos of East Moline is a Democratic candidate for Congress in the 17th District.