By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
FULTON, Ill. —
A local Illinois state representative is looking for more economic development in the area, and one of the major tools to drive that growth — the Thomson, Ill., prison — may be operational this year.
Illinois Rep. Mike Smiddy was sworn in this week as the new representative for Whiteside, Carroll, Rock Island and Henry counties. One of his top agenda items is opening the Thomson prison, which he said could be operational in six months.
Working with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and his Director Bill Houlihan, Smiddy has been checking in to make sure things are moving quickly.
“They are planning to start hiring this summer and get operational in the next six months,” Smiddy said. “This will create thousands of jobs for the area.”
The U.S. government announced in October the purchase of the decade-old prison, which has not been utilized to its full capacity. Studies have shown most of the workers would live in the Gateway area, including Clinton and surrounding towns.
Smiddy’s agenda also includes to help resolve the number one problem in the state at this time, the pension crisis. The big concern will be addressed as Illinois goes into legislative session later this month and into February. Smiddy says that he believes that the best solution will be viable to all groups.
Democrat Smiddy lives in Hillsdale, Ill., with his wife Deb and two sons Ian and Logan, where he works as a Corrections Supervisor. Politics was something he was always interested in throughout his time working in law enforcement. Smiddy said he felt like it was perfect timing to step up for the position as a voice for the middle class in a time of fiscal crisis.
“We need to do a better job of fixing problems rather than just talking, to get us back to where we need to be,” Smiddy said.
As a strong advocate for Second Amendment rights, Smiddy believes that banning all weapons is not the answer to recent gun-related problems.
“What happened was a tragedy, but banning all guns is not the right way to deal with it,” Smiddy said. “Coming from a corrections background, I am a pro sponsor of conceal and carry.”
In addition to the Thomson Prison, Smiddy wants to make economic development a priority and bring businesses to the area.
“We need to do a better job of convincing businesses to come here and working with municipalities to expand opportunities,” Smiddy said.
Smiddy is currently working with Renaissance Rock Island to obtain $29.2 million to improve housing in the region. Morrison, Fulton and Sterling recently partnered with Renaissance to form the Northwestern Illinois Housing Coalition. Other goals include working with Mayors of Sterling and Rock Falls to improve the riverfront and working with local schools to solve funding issues.