Republican Bob Pritchard resigned his post in the Illinois House this summer. He’s now a member of the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees. When he’s not serving constituents, Pritchard, of Hinckley, can be found on his family farm. In this week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Jenna Dooley talks with Pritchard as he reflects on his time in the General Assembly and looks ahead to his new role at NIU.
A row of bright green farm equipment lines the back of a large shed. It’s all John Deere on this farm.
“Farm equipment is always a hot topic about what you think," Pritchard explained on a tour of his property. "But we have evolved into the long green and yellow line, and we think either brand of tractor, whether it’s Case IH or John Deere, have really improved the technology and provide a lot of benefit for farmers."
Bob Pritchard has worn a lot of civic hats over the years. In addition to farming, he’s been a radio reporter, a county board member, a legislator, and now university trustee.
In his newest role, Pritchard says he will draw on his experience as a state lawmaker.
"During my 15 years, I was very engaged in educational issues, and a lot of that time was spent on K-12," Pritchard said. "Today we know there's a need for articulation or growth—a hand off—from elementary school to high school to community college to a four-year institution."
Pritchard says enrollment will continue to be a struggle for the state's public universities.
"I think systemic changes are going to be needed," Pritchard said. "I think we will keep the universities we have in some fashion. There may be a different organizational structure. But communities have a lot invested in those universities and colleges. And we have well over 100 private and public institutions in our state, so we're really education blessed. But not all of them can be competitive."
He explained that fewer children are born causing part of the stress seen in higher education.
"That’s not new—we knew this wave was coming," Pritchard said. "In fact, it's going to be another couple years before we'll really hit the bottom of what that youthful population is."
He wants NIU to consider looking at non-traditional students as recruits.
"We know that the jobs of today and tomorrow are going to require additional education and training. So, let's look at those adults," Pritchard said. "Let’s bring them back to our colleges—our community colleges, as well as the university—and let them get into the pipeline of developing their skills so that they're more competitive, they can get better paying jobs, and perhaps be more satisfied in the jobs that they do have."
Pritchard says he is not quitting the General Assembly "cold turkey."
"I'm going to be watching very closely. One of the committees I'm on deals with our legislative relations," Pritchard said. "I understand the legislative process. So, I'm going to be monitoring and I'm going to be sharing concerns we have that are important to Northern."
As he looks back at his time in the state House, Pritchard says Speaker Michael Madigan isn't always as intimidating as he is protrayed sometimes in the news media.
"In his role as Speaker, yes. As an individual, no," Pritchard said. "I mean, you can visit with him. He seems very cordial. He has grandchildren. He has certain goals and aspirations for his family. But his power has become too large. And that's what's got to change."
Pritchard wants term limits in legislative leadership.
When it comes to the Governor's race, Pritchard says the price tag is too high.
"Oh, there's too much money in politics in general," Pritchard said. "And that has evolved. Part of that is people's thought that they can control the agenda by who they elect. And I think that's where we've got to come back to the democracy philosophy that the majority will rule and that you have to sell your ideas. So yes, the governor's race is obscene."
Pritchard says his background in farming helps put hopes for civility in perspective.
"Well, I’m always hopeful," Pritchard said. "That's one of the things you learn growing up in agriculture—that you always hope next year will be better or we'll get rain in another month or so when we need it. You continue to look on the optimistic side of things, and I continue to do that with Illinois."