* Former Rep. Jim Watson (R-Jacksonville) penned a recent op-ed for the Daily Herald about what happened when he decided to reenlist in the Marines back in 2007 and deployed to Iraq…
What I did not expect, however, was the criticism I received from some in my own political party.
I was told that I needed to resign my House seat because Speaker Madigan would certainly target my district during my absence.
Naturally, I met with Speaker Madigan and, upon hearing my situation, he could not have been more helpful. We discussed the nature of my unit and our duty in Iraq’s Anbar province. He listened and noted that this had not happened with a legislator since World War II. In the end, he assured me that my seat would not be targeted and, further, that his office was there to help me and my district however possible.
And help he did. The speaker’s staff provided input as our unit advised the Anbar Provincial Council on a host of constitutional and legislative issues.
Equally important, Speaker Madigan created an environment which allowed two Democrat legislators to service my district. Dan Beiser, a Democrat from Alton, toured Grafton during a flood and assured my constituents that their needs would be met even though I was in Iraq. To this day, I still have a picture in my office where our two districts meet near Grafton and Alton, along the Mississippi River. The photo was a gift from Rep. Beiser honoring my service and our friendship. For me, it serves as a reminder of his statesmanship. […]
People often ask about lessons learned from my time in Iraq and in the Illinois General Assembly. Without hesitation, I point to the bipartisan help I received from my colleagues and specifically, House Speaker Madigan. My experience is a paradigm of what politics can be.
I share this story because millions of dollars were spent during the last campaign cycle vilifying a man in a manner hitherto unheard of. I worked with and against that man on various legislative issues. I found him to be tough but fair. Our disagreements were never personal. Rather, they were restricted to the merits of the issue. And in my time of need, a time of war, that man, Speaker Michael J. Madigan, extended a hand because it was the right thing to do.
The elections are over, and our state faces a mountain of issues. We need a true statesman who can work together to make difficult decisions. I hope this story serves as an example of what can be done.