I was born and raised in Peoria County, and graduated from Limestone High School and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Prior to becoming state representative, I served on the boards of Pleasant Hill School District #69 and Friends of People with AIDS, and participated in local initiatives such as Junior Achievement and Peoria Promise. As schools around our community grapple with significant funding issues, I have championed legislation to bring millions of dollars back to the 92nd district to help our young people, and I passed landmark reforms to ensure that our schools are focusing on the success of our students.
I attend St. Paul Baptist Church in Peoria, and am the youngest of eight children of Cleveland and the late Annie Jo Gordon, a retired community leader and activist with the Tri-County Urban League for 43 years. I recently married Derrick Booth, the head basketball coach and guidance counselor at Manual High School.
I represent the 92nd District, which includes all or portions of Peoria, Peoria Heights, West Peoria, Bartonville, Edwards, Norwood, Kickapoo and Bellevue. I am the youngest woman in the General Assembly and serve on several House committees: Elementary & Secondary Education, Consumer Protection, Small Business Empowerment & Workforce Development, Transportation: Regulation, Roads and Bridges (vice chairman), and Veterans’ Affairs.
Major Accomplishments of 2011
One of the biggest accomplishments for me this year was the historic education reform that we ushered through the General Assembly in Senate Bill 7, which dramatically changes how personnel decisions are made in schools. This landmark bill allows school districts to make hiring and firing decisions based on performance, instead of solely on seniority. This was a huge accomplishment because we were asking people to give up their perceived job security in order to do what was right by our children, and keep the best and brightest educators in front of our kids. Stakeholders throughout the good and bad times stayed at the table to help create this law. I am proud to have helped steer this reform from the beginning.
Another significant accomplishment in the House this spring was the creation of a balanced budget that Democrats and Republicans passed together. This had not happened in more than 25 years. We worked in a bipartisan manner in our appropriation committees and went line by line through the budget. We all made tough decisions to help get the state back on the right track.
My biggest legislative accomplishment this year was getting Peoria, specifically the Warehouse District, the first historic tax credit in Illinois history. The passage of this bill will help to create the biggest commercial and residential development that this city has seen in 50 years. It truly has the ability to transform this city with the creation of both short-term and long-term jobs. In this bill, Peoria also became part of the River Edge Redevelopment Zone, which allows cities along the Illinois River to receive incentives for development projects along the river.
I was also able to pass a number of bills that were important to the Peoria community. One example is a bill that will allow the State’s Attorney to prosecute people based on their gang activity. While the bill is currently in the Senate, I am hopeful that it will be a tool our law enforcement can use to help keep our streets safe.
How has your organization adjusted to recent changes in the business climate? The current economy has been very difficult for businesses, and the State of Illinois faces the same challenges. For example, the Illinois House of Representatives has changed the way we have been doing budgets. We determined what our revenue would be for the fiscal year, and in a bipartisan manner, went line by line through the budget to determine how funds should be appropriated. The state has also looked into how some policies should be changed to help make the state more business-friendly. We worked with businesses across the state to reform the worker’s compensation system. I also sponsored legislation to allow the public to see what banks are giving loans to small businesses. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation already collects this information; now, we can all see it on their website. It is steps like these—making the budgeting process more transparent and working with business leaders—that will make Illinois a better place for businesses to call home.
What is your leadership philosophy? I would describe myself as a citizen-leader. I believe that to be an effective leader, I must be guided by the advice of the individuals I represent. It is important to me to listen to the citizens of my district in order to learn from their lives and experiences and lead through their guidance. I have received my opportunities to lead from the citizens, and never want to lose sight of their ideas, needs and opinions.
Did you have a mentor in the early stages of your career? How did this person help you along the way? My mother, single-handedly, was the greatest mentor of my life. She was my worst critic and my biggest cheerleader. She taught me what being a woman, a professional, a Christian, a mother, a wife, a friend and a daughter was all about—not by words, but by actions. If I become half the woman she was, I will be twice the woman I ever thought I would be.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received? If the world puts you on a road you do not like, if you look ahead and do not want the destination that is being offered, and you look behind you and you do not want to return to your place of departure, step off the road. Build yourself a brand-new path. iBi