Q&A: Illinois Rep. Terri Bryant Focuses on Education and Prisons

05/19/2015 07:53 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016

Reboot Illinois is speaking with the 22 new Illinois state legislators who joined the other General Assembly lawmakers for the body's 99th session in 2015. We would like to learn about their professional goals and more about them as people.

Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro. Bryant worked her way through the ranks during her 20 years at the Illinois Department of Corrections, eventually becoming a public service administrator at the Pinckneyville and DuQuoin correctional facilities. Also a former restaurant owner, Bryant says she saw her chance to "plug in" to politics when now-U.S. Rep. Mike Bost decided to run for Illinois' 12th Congressional District, leaving vacant his seat in the Illinois House.

The following is an edited transcript of Reboot Illinois' interview with Rep. Bryant.

Q. Why did you run for office?

I ran for office because, number one, we need to have good representation in the 115th District, and also because Mike Bost was leaving the district. Mike and I think very similarly and have been friends for a long time, but going back even before that, I've always been very politically active and I didn't really know how I wanted to plug in with that.

I read a book eight or ten years ago, Chuck Colson's "Kingdoms in Conflict," and as a very active Christian, I always thought you shouldn't be too engaged in politics. However, if you're a person of faith, the book makes a very good case that you not only have the right, but the responsibility to become active politically, so I started looking at how I could make that happen.

In 2009, I went through the Illinois Lincoln Excellence in Public Service Series, which is a program that kind of trains you for how you can do it and gives you the self-esteem that you need to say, 'Hey, I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, I can do this.' It really was a progression of things, but of course, when Mike Bost decided he was not going to run for reelection, it became very evident that this was the place I could plug in and do the most good.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish during your time in the General Assembly?

There are a couple of real serious things in my district that need to be addressed. As a mom and a grandma, I think this part of the state has not received its fair share of education funding, and I wanted to be on the inside to have a say on how that was going to be done. Also, after spending 20 years with IDOC, I watched for a long time how funds were mismanaged in state government.

Education funding and reopening two state-of-the-art IDOC facilities -- Tamms Correctional Center and the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro -- are my top priorities. I have filed a House Resolution that encourages Gov. Bruce Rauner to reopen Tamms Correctional Center. While I understand that there were some issues there, I probably understand those issues better than anyone else in the Legislature because of my experience.

Q. What's your favorite book?

I have two books that I love equally as much: The Hiding Place and Tramp for the Lord by Corrie Ten Boom, who is someone I've always looked to as a model. She was a Christian woman and holocaust survivor who helped Jewish families escape Nazi-occupied territory in Holland by hiding them inside a false wall in her bedroom. She and her family were eventually caught and sent to concentration camps, yet she still spent the rest of her life going around the world speaking about how one can forgive -- even the Nazis. As for classics, I really liked the book 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 because they're a little bit fantasy but there's enough truth and realism in them.

Check out more of the conversation between Bryant and Reboot Illinois at Reboot Illinois, and learn which professional sports team is her favorite, plus an interesting fact about her legislative district.

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