Want to know who will win the governor’s race in November between Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner?
Forget the polls. Watch Putnam County. It’s the smallest county in the state in geography with a population of 5,800 and an unusual knack for picking the winner.
“As the vote goes in Putnam County, so goes the state,” said Democrat and Putnam County Clerk Dan Kuhn.
It’s not just that they pick the winner, the winning percentage in Putnam County mirrors the winning percentage statewide.
In the 1998 governor’s race when George Ryan defeated Glenn Poshard, Ryan won 51% of the state vote. He won Putnam County with 49.3%.
In 2002 Rod Blagojevich beat Jim Ryan statewide with 52% of the vote. Putnam County voters gave Blagojevich 51%.
Four years later it was eerily similar with Blagojevich winning 49% statewide over Judy Barr Topinka. Putnam County voters backed Blagojevich with 46% of the vote.
The only hiccup was four years ago when the losing republican---Bill Brady--- beat Pat Quinn in Putnam County. Voters, according to reporter Ken Schroeder of the Putnam County Record could not get past Quinn being a part of the Blagojevich administration.“He was part of that regime,” Schroeder said, “that’s more than likely why the first time around against Brady, no, they didn’t take him.”
This time around the governor’s race is---so far--- quite quiet, taking a back seat to local race for judge.
“Nobody’s talking about it. Nobody’s talking about the governor’s race,” said Alma Toedter, the Republican County chair.
Dan Kuhn, the Democrat, agrees. “I don’t see a lot of enthusiasm about the governor’s race,” he said. The reason says Schroeder is simple. “There is very big resentment against Chicago politicians or rich politicians,” he said sitting on the steps of the 175-year old county courthouse. “Neither one plays real well in Putnam County.”
There are a few more Democrats than Republicans in Putnam County, a split of 58-42 says the county clerk.
Neither Governor Pat Quinn nor his Republican challenger Bruce Rauner has visited the county during this election season.
If either came here they would find this part of the state in trouble.
“I would say the biggest issue right now is unemployment,” said Denise Boggio, owner of Boggio’s Orchard a destination for visitors buying pumpkins, visiting a corn maze or stocking up on apple cider donuts.
The latest unemployment rate in the county is 7.8%, a full point higher than the state average.
The county’s largest employer, a steel mill closed, in 2009 and with that 600 jobs disappeared and disappointment has lingered.
Alma Toedter says voters tell her there is bi-partisan discouragement. “I think they are so fed up with the one we have now and then the other one he’s got so much money he doesn’t know what to do with it all,” she said, adding, “So I don’t know how this is going to go. I really don’t."
Both Toedter and Kuhn predict their respective guy will win in part because people here will go to the polls next month the way they always do.
In the March primary 46% of registered voters in Putnam County cast ballots compared to just 16% in Cook County.
“That’s one of the things about Putnam County, people do get out and vote,” Dan Kuhn said.
Or as Alma Toedter put it: “If you don’t vote don’t complain afterwards that your guy didn’t get in or he’s not doing a good job. You vote, then you got a right to b*tch.”
It’s still good news/bad news for Putnam County in the unemployment picture.
While unemployment has dropped from 9.7 percent to 7.8 percent since August 2013, the county is still more than a full percentage point behind the average in the state. Putnam County’s rate is also at a much slower rate than the state average.
Statewide, unemployment rates in August fell in every metro for the fifth consecutive month and are at six- and seven-year lows, according to preliminary data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). Rates also fell in all 102 counties for the third consecutive month. The data, which is not seasonally adjusted, compares August 2014 with August 2013 and does not remove the effects of regular or seasonal patterns.
“This is encouraging news — more people working than one year ago and fewer people describing themselves as unemployed,” IDES Director Jay Rowell said. “We now will look to see how the falling unemployment rate trend unfolds as employers continue to add permanent jobs and we begin to experience seasonal hiring.”
“Also, area employers advertised for 5,100 positions in August, and approximately 85 percent sought full-time employment, according to Help Wanted OnLine data compiled by the Conference Board. It is a global, independent business membership and research association,” Greg Rivara, director of Information Strategies for IDES said. “Employers actually need more workers than the help wanted advertising indicates because some industries, such as construction, typically don’t advertise job openings.”
The leisure and hospitality industry recorded job growth in most metropolitan areas with 10 out of 12 areas reporting new jobs.
The August 2014 not seasonally adjusted statewide rate was 6.7 percent compared to 9.1 percent one year ago. Nationally, the rate was 6.3 percent in August and 7.3 percent one year ago. The rate identifies those who are out of work and looking for work and is not tied to collecting unemployment insurance benefits. Historically, the state unemployment rate is higher than the national rate.
As technology progresses, it becomes important to teach it in school, so students can keep up with the ever-changing world. At Putnam County Elementary School, that hasn’t been a problem.
The fifth-grade students at PCES have been using Chromebooks in the classroom since the beginning of the school year, and so far, the results have been favorable from the standpoint of students and teachers.
“It’s pretty cool,” McKinley Swickla said. “You get to go online, and it’s like your own computer.”
“My favorite part is using it for homework and studying for a test,” Lucas Carroll said. “You can text each other on it.”
The Google Chromebooks are part of the school district’s 1:1 Initiative program. The goal is to continue to progress with technology in the classroom and eventually have students use Chromebooks one-to-one throughout their curriculum. Such technology would be utilized throughout their entire school career. The fifth-grade class is part of the pilot program to see if the idea really works. So far so good.
“I like it,” teacher Monica Frund said. “I think it engages them.”
“A lot of them are used to computers at home,” teacher Josie Hall said. “I think sometimes they know how to do things I don’t.”
“If there’s a downside, it’s making things work the way you want them to. The other day, we got on the website to practice math games online, and they figured something out that I didn’t know you could do,” teacher Becky Boudreau said. “They were able to create a game room. So they were still practicing, but it turned into ‘Join my room! Join my room!’ They were still working, but they were playing against each other instead of some faceless person. They just turned it into more of a social action than just doing math facts.”
Students in Boudreau’s class are using Chromebooks to blog with each other about stories they read. Students can instantly communicate with each other and their teachers to discuss and share ideas, problems and solutions, as well as dialogue based on books they have read.
A basic Chromebook costs about $200, and each book can be taken home by the student assigned to it. You might think that would raise some worries with the teachers, but that’s not the case.
“We were excited about it,” Hall said. “I’ve been able to do some projects with social studies. They really enjoy it.”
“There’s times that you wanted them to do research, and the tech lab wasn’t available,” Frund said. “Now, you don’t have to plan certain days to do certain projects. You can do it anytime.”
If the pilot program works, the school district will implement the 1:1 Initiative for the other grades.
Just off Route 26 in Hennepin is a dirt road entrance to the Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin & Hopper Lakes.
If you drive too fast, you might miss the brown highway sign that points you in the right direction. The trees on the roadway block the vast wetlands that contain hundreds of wildlife species. In 2012 this refuge was listed as a Wetland of International Importance in accordance with the International Ramsar Convention Wetlands. It is one of only 35 other sites in the United States to have been recognized as meeting the qualifications of Ramsar in the past 25 years.
Saturday, volunteers came to the refuge to take part in collecting seeds during the annual seed harvest. Even with bitterly cold temperatures and rain, volunteers showed up ready to work with buckets in hand.
“Just 14 years ago this was all vast farmland,” said Louise Harrison, originally of South Africa, but now residing in Kewanee. “What they’ve done here is mind-blowing. It’s incredibly difficult to restore wetlands, so I have the utmost respect for the people who have helped do this. I just wish I was here sooner to take part in it.”
Rick Seibert, the site supervisor for Hennepin & Hopper Lakes who works for the Wetlands Initiative, said he and volunteers were collecting seeds to be planted in different areas of the wetland to have a more diverse ecosystem. Seibert said about 20 volunteers came out Saturday and split into groups to collect seeds.
His group split off from the others and went down Sleep Forest Trail, a one-mile walking trail in the refuge to look for Royal Catchfly seeds.
In Seibert’s group, a master gardener, Antoinette Strezo of Earlville, and a master naturalist, Laurel Maze of Peru, said that in order to hold their certification, they have to complete several hours of training and volunteering.
“This is a wonderful way to get the volunteer hours,” Maze said.
Not everyone in the group was a master of something. Bob Meyers of Hennepin was part of Seibert’s group as well, and he was just a loyal volunteer to the refuge.
“Bob has been volunteering with us since 2001,” Seibert said, adding Meyers used to take water samples from the refuge three times a week to check nitrogen levels.
“It was just an excuse to get in the woods,” Meyers said. “I was more privileged to do it than making a donation to it.”
A former science teacher was also part of the group of volunteers. Mary Ann Smith of Princeton said the last year she taught, she taught a botany class and she took her students to see the refuge.
“I think it’s important to say that not all of us here are here for training purposes. Just local people who care about it,” Smith said.