By Dave Bell, The Greenville Advocate, October 19, 2017
Greenville University basketball coach George Barber has been drawing up innovative plays for Panther athletes for nearly two decades.
This week, he came up with one for himself.
Barber told The Advocate on Tuesday that he’s launching a campaign for the Illinois Senate seat in the 54th District. The first step in that quest is to win the Republican Party nomination in the March 20 primary.
Barber becomes the fourth GOP candidate running for the seat being vacated by Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon), who has held the office since February 2009. McCarter announced earlier this year that he will not be seeking another four-year term.
In a news release distributed by his campaign, Barber said that he would model his service after conservatives such as Ronald Reagan (on whose campaign he worked while in college), former State Sen. Frank Watson (R-Greenville) and McCarter.
“I’ve come to appreciate the accomplishments and bold leadership Senators Watson and McCarter showed while representing us in Springfield,” Barber said. “I want to continue that legacy of leadership.”
To qualify to serve in the Illinois Senate, candidates must be a U.S. citizen, at least 21 years of age, and be a resident of the district they seek to represent for at least two years prior to the election.
Though candidates can’t officially file with the Illinois State Board of Elections until the weeklong filing period (Nov. 27 through Dec. 4), they can now begin gathering signatures for their nominating petitions.
The Illinois General Assembly is in session between mid January and the end of May, but can be called into special session outside of those dates.
Other Republican candidates who’ve announced their intention to run in the 54th District race include: Jason Plummer, a businessman from Edwardsville; Ben Stratemeyer, a certified public accountant from Centralia; and Rafael Him, a New Baden resident who has served on the Clinton County Board.
Barber said that he has begun collecting the required minimum of 1,000 signatures, and is excited about beginning his effort to serve in the State Senate.
“I’ve had an interest in politics since I was a young man,” the 53-year-old Barber said, “and I’ve admired those who have served in that arena.
“For the past 25 years, I’ve been an educator and a coach,” he said. “I may be green in politics, but I’m a leader. And I’ve been teaching young men to be leaders.”
Barber said that restoring fiscal responsibility in the state will be a priority for him.
“We have to admit that our state is financially broken, and that people are leaving because of our financial problems,” he told The Advocate. “Our high taxes and anti-business policies make it too hard to start a business here. We must fix things moving forward.”
He expanded on his economic platform in the news release: “The state’s economy is not what it once was,” Barber said. “Today, it’s burdened by regulation, taxation, and litigation, making the cost of doing business a roadblock to business expansion and job creation. Additionally, Illinois government is not fiscally responsible. We need to lower the cost of doing business, untie the hands of entrepreneurs, and make government live within its means. Other states are creating jobs and growing their economies. We can write our own success story, too.”
After collecting the required signatures to get his name on the ballot, Barber said that his next task is to get his message out to the 108,000-plus residents of the 54th District.
That district includes all of Bond, Clinton, Fayette and Marion counties, and parts of Effingham, Madison, St. Clair and Washington counties. It is bordered by Troy and Mascoutah on the west, Effingham and Salem on the east, Coffeen and Ramsey on the north and Nashville and Centralia on the south.
Barber, who served as a graduate assistant under Coach Rick Pitino at the University of Kentucky while doing his doctoral work there in the mid 1990s, said that he’s seen several coaches make the transition into politics.
“Coaches often make good politicians because they are resilient, creative, and they work well with others,” he said.
If elected, Barber said that he would continue to coach basketball at Greenville University, but would give up his teaching duties.
“I’ve talked with Sen. Dave Luechtefeld of Okawville who served as a senator and coached at the high school level for five years,” Barber said. “He was able to do both, and do them well. It can be done.”
Barber and his wife, Lisa, have five children ranging in age from 17 to 25.
“I feel like I’m prepared to run,” he said. “I won’t be able to change everything, but I believe I can make a difference.”