Introducing the 93rd District Candidate John Curtis

Steven Barnum , Assistant News Editor

In a rematch from 2016, John Curtis is looking to take District 93 from Norine Hammond.

Curtis has always been invested in the area. While serving in the United States Peace Core, he met his wife Karen, who manages the Peace Core Fellows Program.The couple built a home on his grandfather’s farm in Macomb, where they live with their three kids.

In a diverse career path, Curtis can tout experience in farming, small business and teaching. He has been growing vegetables, herbs and berries to sell at farmers markets for the last 20 years. His business, Barefoot Gardens, lets customers harvest what they want each week. Away from his farm, he’s taught classes at Beardstown High School, Carl Sandburg College and most recently, Western Illinois University. Curtis was motivated to run again after he fell victim to Western’s recent layoffs. “For me, this is all very personal,” Curtis said. “Not only has the failure to pass a budget for two years and the loss of students in Macomb affected me with my teaching, but it’s also affected my business.”

Eliminating departments and cutting tenured faculty is a common theme at Western right now, which Curtis finds disturbing.

“I’ve seen that firsthand, so for me, there’s a real sense of urgency in fixing up our rural schools and helping them attract qualified professionals,” he said. “I’ll be fighting to make sure Western  gets the state support they’re supposed to.”

While tuition may be part of the declining enrollment problem at Western, Curtis doesn’t see it as the only factor.

“Other state schools are seeing enrollment numbers climb back up and Western’s continues to go down. Somebody needs to be held responsible for that,” he said. “I’ll be somebody that’s not afraid to ask tough questions because I’m going to want to understand what they’re doing.”

He helped start the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, which quickly became a driving force in sustainable agriculture. Curtis explains that the district has some of the finest soil in the world, which he thinks is underutilized.

“We can grow more than corn,” he said. “I think we need to be developing more local market agriculture. We should also be growing and eating more of our own food, which would make us healthier but it would also help boost our local economy.”

Curtis acknowledges that winning in the 93rd district is an uphill battle. It’s a tough task to unseat Hammond, who has held the position since 2010. Additionally, President Trump won by more than 20 points in the district, and the Democratic Party typically doesn’t put a lot of faith in area Democrats. Some have told him it’s “impossible” for a Democrat to win in this district, but Curtis senses that voters want change.

To prove skeptics wrong, Curtis has been knocking on as many doors as he can. He’s visited all eight of the district’s counties, along with every town with a population of 400 or more. In the last week of the campaign, he is hitting towns from the “Forgottonia,” a term coined to describe the underfunded and forgotten towns of westcentral Illinois.

While some may shy away from visiting those who don’t support them, Curtis embraces the idea. He even makes a point to introduce himself to those who are likely to vote for a Republican. “I’m introducing myself, telling them why I’m running, and I ask them to tell me about themselves and share their concerns,” Curtis said. “If I win, it’s going to be really important to understand their points of view. It’s not about my views as much as it’s about theirs. I take the word ‘representative’ very seriously. That’s one thing my opponent never does. She protects herself from having unpleasant interactions.”

Wayne Slaughter is an example of a traditional Republican voter who is looking for a change. Slaughter is a retired banker who has lived in Macomb for morethan 30 years.

“I think John is a very honest, hard-working man,” Slaughter said, “and I think he will fight to do what is best for our district.”

Slaughter recalls when Macomb was prospering in the 1980s and 1990s, but times have changed.

“We’ve lost so many businesses and jobs and people,” he said, “and we just don’t have enough revenue to get things going.”

For Slaughter and his wife, the three biggest issues are education, jobs and healthcare.They feel Curtis will address all three.

“He hit home on three of our priorities,” Slaughter said. “He’s someone I have total faith in and I know he’ll work very hard for us.”

Curtis, who believes he is the people’s candidate, thinks politicians stay in power too long and forget what their jobs are.

“When somebody gets into one of these positions, they tend to stay there for a long, long time,” he said. “They get into office and forget who they work for and they get real comfortable in Springfield or Washington. We need elected officials who have a real sense of urgency and solutions to start turning this situation around.”

Curtis doesn’t believe Hammond is getting the job done, mentioning that he and his wife are always saying goodbye to friends and neighbors who have lost faith in the area’s future. He also isn’t interested in divisive politics, stating that most of the problems the state is facing don’t have party labels. If Curtis wins, he will gladly be the voice of District 93. “It’s important to have somebody who will be able to represent rural Illinois and be in the room with all of those legislators from Chicagoland.”

If upstate politicians aren’t already aware of how dire the financial situation is in this district, Curtis says “they’re sure going to hear about it from me.”