Canton High School students in Mrs. Mayhew's communications class got a first-hand look at how government works Monday as State Representative Mike Unes (R-East Peoria) visited their class and answered questions.
Canton High School students in Mrs. Mayhew’s communications class got a first-hand look at how government works Monday as State Representative Mike Unes (R-East Peoria) visited their class and answered questions.
Unes told the students he loved this type of class when he was their age, classes that bring in the real world to what they are studying.
He added he was happy to speak to high school students considering the dire situation of higher education in the state and how young people were leaving to go to college in other places.
But when Unes asked how many of the students planned on going in to higher education and planned to attend a college in Illinois, he was pleased to note all of them planned to go on and only two students were leaving the state.
“I’m thrilled,” Unes commented. “This is a great place to live, work and raise a family. This gives me hope.”
When asked why he had decided to run for public office, Unes remarked he never thought he would be doing that but added life often provides unforeseen opportunities which, if taken, could change a person’s life. He urged the students to be open to those opportunities, get out of their comfort zones and to not let anyone convince them they couldn’t do something.
And while he never sought to be a politician, Unes said it was a very challenging and rewarding career, particularly when he was able to right a wrong for a constituent.
Balancing his family life with his political career was easier for Unes than many of his colleagues as he lived closer to Springfield and was able to come home in the evening, which he considered a luxury.
When asked what he would change in Illinois if he were able, Unes pointed out government was a system of give and take, with no such thing as a perfect bill.
“You’re not going to get everything you want,” he noted. “You have to work with colleagues from all walks of life and from all over the state.”
Unes shared the story of a Chicago Democratic representative who came in at the same time he did. While they were on opposite ends of many political questions, Unes said getting to know him opened his eyes to the diversity of the state’s populations and how problems were seen in different areas, especially when his Chicago counterpart told him he had never seen a combine.
Unes said his experience in the state house has taught him the importance of respectfully disagreeing without being disagreeable and throwing each other under the bus. The main thing was to work to find common ground.
When asked about term limits, Unes said he was more in favor of correctly drawn voting districts and a limit on the time people could serve in leadership positions.
He noted many districts in the state had been gerrymandered by whichever party was in power and this caused many representatives to become complacent. He added those who were in the legislature were able to elect the ones who filled the leadership positions in the state house and senate, not the voters.
Unes also told the students it was important for Illinois to regain its competitive edge and not squander its advantages as a truly central and diverse state.
Tackling the question of legalized marijuana in Illinois, Unes said more research needed to be done on the subject. He noted states which had legalized cannabis to increase state revenue, among other things, found that because marijuana was not legal on the federal level many financial institutions were not sure about handling the finances of businesses working in the cannabis business, bringing about the possibility of fraud or other financial problems.
He also noted he had several prominent people had come to him who told him they were recovering addicts and that marijuana was how they started.
Unes said the biggest challenge to the issue was that, like many controversial issues, many were using legalization of marijuana to put people in a “political box” and use it to throw someone under the bus, knowing that no matter how a person answered a question such as this it would make someone upset.
“There is no possible way to please everyone all of the time,” Unes remarked. “If I tried to do that, I would find myself on all sides of any issue. What I try to do is what is best for my district and my state.”
Another such issue which had been politicized was gun control.
Unes described himself as a staunch defender of the Second Amendment but added any decent person should be shocked by the recent incidents in Florida and Las Vegas. He added automatic weapons had been illegal in the country for some time and that modifications such as bump stocks which made weapons automatic should be illegal.
At the same time, Unes noted the recent measure voted on in Illinois which mentioned bump stocks had other elements which, he said, would make many law abiding citizens criminals as it banned other modifications. Unes remarked many media had called the legislation the “bump stock” bill while ignoring the other aspects of it. He also noted many of the shootings reported in Chicago were done by people who had been released from the Chicago court system and not disciplined correctly.
“I don’t want law abiding citizens giving up their rights because Chicago doesn’t put criminals in jail,” he said.
Speaking of teachers, Unes said teaching was one of the most thankless of all jobs, with low pay and growing difficulties. He would advise them not to give up in these challenging times, adding the bill recently passed by the Illinois legislature would help provide more funding.
He added he was very much in favor of local control for schools, allowing local school boards to act as they thought best.