MACOMB — If he gets enough write-in votes on the Democratic primary ballot, Monmouth-Roseville teacher Kurt Fowler could face Republican incumbent Sen. Jil Tracy in the November general election for 47th Senate District.
He only needs 1,000 write-in votes on election day, March 20.
Fowler has been teaching in the Monmouth-Roseville School District for seven years. He holds a master’s degree with teaching certificate from Western Illinois University. His career prior to going into education consisted of working for 21 years at the Maytag plant in Galesburg. Fowler worked first in assembly; then maintenance.
Fowler grew up on a farm in the area where Henderson, Hancock and McDonough counties meet. He stated some of his perspectives in a letter to the editor (published Friday) in the McDonough Voice.
“Growing up on a farm, I understand the family farmer and the struggles that farmers have,” Fowler wrote. “When Maytag closed and moved some production to Mexico, It was a critical time in my family’s life. We ended up on food stamps and Medicaid while I went back to school to get my Masters/teaching degree. I understand the struggles of those who have lost good paying jobs as businesses leave the state and country. There are so few of these types of jobs left in Illinois. I do not want to see another business leave our area.”
“As a teacher, and as a parent, I have seen both sides of the education system. Our school has a student population with nearly 75 percent on free and reduced lunches. Our school districts are owed money by the state; it appears that debt will not be paid. We have a huge discrepancy in public education funding. Hopefully the new education funding bill will solve some of our problems. Many of our area schools have trouble hiring and keeping educators because of low wages and benefits. We are facing a teacher shortage.”
Fowler’s letter can be found online here:
In an interview with the Voice, Fowler said it may be no small task to get 1,000 write-in votes on the Democratic ballot. Name recognition in itself is important, but for a write-in, voters have to “fill in the circle and remember my name to write it down,” he said. While the number 1,000 may be considerable for Democrat write-ins, Fowler noted when weighing the possibility of getting on an Independent ballot, he would need to get 3,000 signatures. Although he considers himself an Independent, Fowler said he’s running on the Democratic ballot because the party has not put up a challenger to Tracy, and he does believe in some of the Democratic Party values. Why the area’s county-based Democratic parties haven’t put up a Senate candidate previously may depend on a number of factors. Fowler said one of the possible reasons counties have not publicly expressed support for him, despite a prior write-in attempt, is that as a much younger man he was active with the Republican party.
Still holding onto some of those values, while adopting some additional Democratic thinking, is what has led to Fowler’s conclusion he is more of an Independent now.
“Illinois has to be conducive to the job market,” Fowler said. “But there needs to be something done on a national level about states underbidding each other to get jobs. ‘We’ll offer you no taxes if you come here for 15 years.’ What you’re dong is you’re trying to low-ball and attract someone to come in and get jobs for you. You’re getting jobs, but what’s it costing you to do that? Right now Amazon is going around the nation saying they’re going to bring 50,000 jobs to you. You’ve got these states scrambling all over themselves to get some sort of deal to get the jobs. Do 50,000 jobs really have to come to one city? Can’t you spread the love? We have internet capability and transportation capability. Can’t you spread the love across the nation?”
Fowler said many of the reforms needed should’ve been conducted 30-40 years ago before the onset of NAFTA. He said the downgrade and eventual shuttering of Maytag was a casualty of NAFTA. Companies should be “on the hook” for retraining employees displaced by sending jobs out of the country or overseas. What’s more, Fowler said companies should also be considered for providing up to two years of compensation while those employees receive their retraining or education.
“That company will be paying double wages for two years and make some of them think about moving,” he added.
“Deterrents for moving…but there also need to be reasons for staying. Illinois does have high taxes. We are not in good shape to attract individuals. There has to be a really good reason for someone to come here. We do have a lot of well-trained workers who would be willing to work if we could get someone to come here. But the problem is everybody in the nation has the same people looking for the same jobs. One of our greatest assets for us locally is the railroad…BNSF employs a lot of people. Transportation isn’t going anywhere. ADM runs a lot of elevators. Elevators aren’t going anywhere. You’re going to store your corn as close to the source as you can get it until you figure out where you’re going to ship it so you can get the most profit. There are some things that Illinois can do very well, and agriculture is one of them.”
Education funding and teacher salaries are another area of concern for Fowler.
Fowler acknowledged the differences in property tax allocations around the state when it comes to school funding by taxation. He noted taxes may be higher in more urban areas “by the square mile” than those to rural areas even though the percentage of taxation in rural areas may be higher in some cases.
“Someone with a $120,000 home here is paying more to the school district than someone with a $120,000 home there. There are more people paying that tax there. When you get to the rural areas — and most of Illinois is rural — we can’t do it alone. We have to have taxpayer help. Illinois state constitution says the state is the primary funder of education. That means we all pool our money together to help the students the best we can. There are something like 1,000 student and teacher positions open right now in the state of Illinois. This is becoming a nationwide shortage. They’ve added all this additional work and paperwork and documentation for what you do every day. Everyone needs to have some sort of documentation, and it takes away from teaching. It takes away from preparing for classes.”
Fowler said students and parents can tell who the good teachers are in their districts; often indicated by not just students performance and preference but also by classroom order and discipline.
“But there have to be incentives,” he said. “Talk to kids now. What classes are you going to where you’re having fun, but learning at the same time? If teachers are low-paid and dealing with these financial situations at home — what bills to pay — they have that stress. Hopefully a lot of the school stress will be alleviated by this new budget. But it’s difficult to work when people aren’t happy…”

Reach Jared DuBach by email at