ALTON -- If there's one thing Monica Bristow knows, it's business development.
If it's not apparent from her work history, which began at Olin Corporation close to four decades ago and saw its second chapter end last month after close to 15 years heading up the RiverBend Growth Association, then it's apparent in her demeanor. Just days before her first session as the newly appointed representative of the state's 111th District, Bristow admits the past few weeks have been a whirlwind -- "Drinking from the water hose," she said regarding the amount of information absorbed -- but she's most comfortable talking about the economy, and her ideas for improving it in a state that sorely needs it.
Bristow, 56, was sworn in as the district's representative on Dec. 18 and moved into the Henry Street office previously occupied by now-retired Rep. Dan Beiser, the man she was sworn in to replace, the following day. Since then, it's been meetings with precinct committeemen and local leaders -- heads of the NAACP of Edwardsville, 100 Black Men of Alton, area mayors, local police chiefs -- to get a feel for the constituency she now represents.
It's a population and an area she knows well. Bristow was born and raised in the Alton-Godfrey area, and raised two sons, now ages 32 and 30, here with her husband of 34 years, Melvin.
Bristow began as a secretary in Olin's environmental engineering division and worked 11 different jobs, the last as the manager of the Winchester Shooting Facilities and the popular Westerner Club, before taking a voluntary layoff in March 2003. Two weeks later, she started as president of the Growth Association.
Her new challenge will be her biggest: Finding answers to fix a state that continues to hemorrhage people and businesses. It's one that comes with a potential expiration date, too -- Bristow, a Democrat, faces opposition from Republican challenger and Wood River Township Supervisor Mike Babcock in the Nov. 6, 2018 general election.
For now, Bristow is focused on the House's first session of the new year, which begins Tuesday. Ahead of her first session, Bristow took some time to sit down with The Telegraph to talk about her experience, what led her here and what's next:
How did this come into your line of sight?
"I've been thinking about it for a long, long time. I mean, a long time. When I was at Olin, I was their lobbyist for Winchester -- I told you I had 11 different jobs, and one of the jobs was a lobbyist. I knew government, I knew that kind of stuff, but getting involved and going up and knowing what the legislative issues were that affected the company, good or bad, and lobbying for or against those kind of things ... that was when I first was introduced to the process.
"Then, at the Growth Association, we had legislative issues where I stayed in contact, keeping the (Growth Association) membership informed about legislation and things that were going on that may affect them, good or bad, as well."
What about your past experience do you think will set you up to be successful in the job?
"A couple things. I have been non-partisan for the last 14 years, and that's working with big business, small business, labor, and making sure there was even playing fields. Big business needs labor, and labor needs big business, and they've got to work together. And we did a pretty good job of that at the Growth Association. So I think just that middle ground ... I plan to work with both sides."
In regards to that, in your (swearing-in) speech you talked about fiscal responsibility -- lowering taxes for middle class families, reasonable reductions in state spending. That sort of flies in the face of the way Democrats are viewed at the state level, that they just want to keep increasing the budget and keep spending money. In terms of fiscal responsibility and things you pointed out, do you see areas specifically where you can target for reductions in state spending?
"Not specifically, yet, because I just don't know that much about it. I know that, for instance in this office, we've got a very, very small budget. And that's all state-driven. I'm not seeing any waste yet, here.
"I haven't seen the state of Illinois budget in the big picture -- I've heard a lot about it, but I've not looked at it line by line. But I'm sure there are things that can be cut. Some very difficult things. But there are some things that are very important that we need to keep our eye on, like the opioid crisis and getting help for people that are struggling with that kind of thing."
Talking about service organizations, we have a pretty big one in our own backyard in Senior Services Plus. (Executive Director) Jon Becker has been pretty transparent with the issues that they've had with state funding. You talk about advocating for them -- is that getting more funding for those programs, is that just making sure that what the state is promising they are getting? What do you foresee for advocating for the local services?
"Getting paid on time and what they're owed, and getting paid for what they do. Again, I haven't looked at the budget, and I know that people pay for their Meals on Wheels as well, but it's very limited amount, and it almost covers the cost in most cases ... but there are a lot of people that can't afford it, either. And that program is not just about the food. It's about checking on the welfare of people, too. And it's such an efficient program, with the cost of it and the volunteers that do an awesome job."
One of the things that you obviously did a lot of with the Growth Association is economic development --
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"Yeah, and hopefully that experience will help me at the state level, too, and I can serve on some committees that will do some good. I don't want to say we need lots of incentives, because I don't think it's fair to pay a very, very profitable company to come here and open up shop. But there are incentives that can be helpful for small and even large-size businesses that would help us recruit companies to this state.
"I still believe that Illinois is a good place to do business. I think our message is not clear. And I think the perception of doing business is worse than doing business in Illinois."
What impact do you think you can make, what impact do you hope to make in 10 months -- and possibly beyond, but recognizing that it may be a finite amount of time?
"I hope I can get something accomplished in the area of economic development, whether it's approving legislation that has to do with incentives or just something to make it easier for businesses to come here."
Reach managing editor Nathan Grimm at 618-208-6456.
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