Scott Reeder: Politicians wise up running a business

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A farmer harvests his cornfield field near Farmingdale, Ill. State Sen. John Sullivan, a former farmer, once blocked legislation that would have taxed farmers for the seed and feed and other inputs they purchase.

Follow at @scottreeder

Recently I got to watch two state senators working.

No, not drafting bills, pontificating on policy or glad-handing constituents.

They were working at their other jobs — doing something other than politics.

One, Kyle McCarter, was supervising on a factory floor and the other, John Sullivan, was working behind a microphone as an auctioneer.

Service in the Illinois General Assembly is supposed to be part-time.

But many lawmakers choose not to treat it as such and don’t hold outside employment.

That’s unfortunate.

OPINION Follow at @scottreeder

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Finding yourself in a regular workplace keeps you grounded. It also provides a daily real-world perspective

McCarter is a Republican.

Sullivan is a Democrat.

But both know the challenges faced by businesses.

Why?

Because they actually operate them.

I ran into Sullivan last month at my Uncle Al Hamilton’s auction sale in Rushville. I was impressed by how professionally Sullivan’s auction business operated.

“One dollar bid, now two, now two, will ya’ give me two? Two dollar bid, now three, now three, will ya’ give me three?”

His cadence was hypnotizing.

I probably spent too much on a bucket that my grandma used to own and that ended up in Al’s house

But, by gosh, I was under Sullivan’s spell.

Back in the bad ol’ days when Rod Blagojevich was governor, Sullivan almost singlehandedly blocked legislation that would have taxed farmers for the seed and feed and other inputs they purchase.

I imagine his years working with farmers at auctions and doing some farming himself gave him a greater sensitivity to the issue.

Good for him.

Sullivan is retiring from the legislature and I’ll miss hearing him speak on the floor of the Senate – albeit at a slower cadence than at the auctioneer’s microphone.

McCarter operates a Lebanon, Ill., factory that makes exercise pads, biohazard containment devices, breathing apparatuses and a host of other things.

As we strolled through the factory floor, McCarter chatted with various workers. His rapport with them seemed more personal than the usual boss-employee dialogue.

He explained that many of the people he employs are folks who need help, such as domestic abuse victims and folks just out of drug rehabilitation.

It was a softer side of the lawmaker than I usually see on the Senate floor, where he has a reputation as a hard-nosed fiscal conservative.

He said one reason he keeps the business going is just to help people.

Operating a business has given him insight into how to set spending priorities and care for others.

It’s refreshing to see both men use real-world business experiences to address the state’s problems in Springfield.

Scott Reeder is a columnist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute.

Email: sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

Follow Scott Reeder on Twitter at:@scottreeder

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