Democratic committeewoman from Harrisburg taking southern Illinois’ concerns to party leaders

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HARRISBURG — Vivian Robinson says she is bringing the region’s most important needs to the attention of state officials in her new position as a Democratic state committeewoman.

The office is an elected one, though many people may not know much about the office. For one, it is elected during the state primary election. And the title of the office may not easily roll off the tongue.

“Technically, the title is ‘State Central Democrat Committeewoman for the 15th Congressional District,'” Robinson said. “A lot of people have no idea what it means.”

What it means is, Robinson was elected by Democrats of the 33 southernmost counties in the state to represent the best interests of the region to Democratic leaders.

At the first Democratic State Central Committee meeting on Monday, when Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan was re-elected as the Democrats’ state party leader, Robinson said she discussed southern Illinois’ most pressing concerns with the Chicago power broker.

“When I met Mike Madigan, I talked to him about educational needs here. I asked him if he was aware that here in Saline County, textbooks our kids use are 16 years old,” Robinson said.

“If found that if you have factual information to give to the leaders of our state, it means more. I asked if there were some one-on-one grants available to help small communities regarding educational needs.”

Robinson, who lives in Harrisburg, said she’s dedicated her life to improving overall conditions in southern Illinois, particularly those for children. She retired two years ago as a social worker for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services after 36 years, working in the southern Illinois region. She and her husband Dennis have four biological children and have adopted eight children from different Asian countries, after working with orphanages in those countries to improve conditions there.

She said while many people suggested she run for Democratic committeewoman, she had to think hard about it.

“There are 33 counties, it’s a large geographical area, and when I do something, I do it 100 percent; maybe more like 150 percent,” Robinson said. “When I decided to do it, it was a mad rush to get petitions, which were due in November. I had a lot of good people help me.”

After gathering up the necessary signatures, she left at 4 a.m. so she could get to the Illinois State Board of Elections office in time to be in the lottery for ballot position, standing in line with lots of other office-seekers doing the same.

“As luck would have it, I was put at the top of the ballot,” she said.

Then came the campaign, meaning she met every Democratic county leader and attended every event she could in all 33 counties prior to the primary election. She knocked on doors, made phone calls and sent out cards.

It all paid off when she won, she said.

Saline County Democratic Party Chairman Bob Oglesby said having Robinson in the office is an asset for both the region and the county.

“I think it’s an honor for someone from Saline County to be in that position, and it’s an advantage, especially because of the contacts they have and the availability of leadership they interact with,” Oglesby said.

Now, Robinson said, she is in fact-finding mode, learning specifically what each of those 33 counties needs for improvement. Besides education, she’s concerned about understaffing at Illinois Department of Corrections. She said at Harrisburg’s Illinois Youth Center, for example, assaults of staff members happen nearly every day. She said the same holds true for other IDOC facilities in her district.

She also is concerned about the future of health care for southern Illinois residents and wants to ensure existing programs aren’t cut or restricted.

Robinson said she’s always been a Democrat, but when she became president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local No. 1048, she became truly politically active.

While she’s been involved in many political activities through the years, she said she’s also excited about more energy within her party.

“People are coming together,” she said.

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