Skip to main content

A true patriot's story - Glenn Poshard

by Mike Matejka
Social share icons

Who is a patriot?  Is it the person with the largest flag hanging by their door?

A true patriot is revealed in Son of Southern Illinois, the biography of former Illinois State Senator, U.S. Congressman, unsuccessful Illinois Governor candidate and Southern Illinois University (SIU) chancellor Glenn Poshard. Poshard was not only an effective legislator, ensuring federal and state programs assisted the state’s south, but did so with high ethical standards.

Poshard was born into poverty in White County -- his father was an active Democrat and young Glenn learned those values along with a strict Baptist upbringing.  His family’s politics reflected 1930s Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agenda – social uplift for people in need, jobs programs and union support.  Glenn went from high school to the U.S. Army, where he spent his late night guard duty memorizing President John F. Kennedy’s speeches and the nation’s founding documents.  He returned home to complete degrees at SIU, his family’s first to complete a higher education, and began an educator’s career.

He remained politically active and was soon appointed to an Illinois Senate seat vacancy (1984-1988).  His conscientious work for Southern Illinois soon earned him five U.S. congressional terms (1988-1998).  He had promised his constituents he would term limit himself. His Democratic run for Governor in 1998 saw him lose to Republican George Ryan, who painted Poshard as an anti-woman, pro-gun extremist.

Poshard strongly holds his political beliefs -- balanced budgets, social program support and union jobs.  He refused to take PAC (Political Action Committee) funds, wanting no allegiances outside his constituents.  In the 1990s he was also anti-abortion and against LGBTQ rights, which was used against him during his gubernatorial quest. While running for Governor he tried to clarify that his abortion stance was personal, not a legislative agenda.  Republican candidate Ryan was also anti-abortion, but that did not stop his opponents from stereotyping Poshard as an extremist.  Poshard’s campaign was given corruption evidence within Ryan’s Secretary of State’s office but no official entities would investigate. Ryan was later convicted and sentenced on those charges.  Although anti-abortion, Poshard was a strong proponent for women’s rights.  Leading SIU opened him to diversity and he widened his perspective toward inclusion and support for LGBTQ rights. 

Poshard’s deep personal values, his bipartisan political skills and his deep love for Illinois’s neglected south shine through in this book. He is very spiritual and while in Washington gathered every Tuesday for an hour to discuss spiritual issues with other legislators, particularly civil rights icon John Lewis.  Those efforts helped launch the Faith and Politics Institute, which is still active today.

With the divisive 2020 Presidential election, Poshard launched his own values tour, visiting each county seat in his old Congressional districts, marching around the courthouse square and reminding those communities that core American values should unite people, not separate.

Democrat Glenn Poshard won easily in what are considered “red” counties in rural, southern Illinois.   He accomplished this through retaining his values, constant communication with his constituents, by eschewing corporate cash and supporting decent jobs and economic development.  This book is a wonderful introduction to a representative who was a strong union supporter.  For some readers not immersed in the state’s south, there might be too many details about his time in SIU’s administration, yet his goal was maintaining an educational lifeline for that region.   Son of Southern Illinois reflects a thoughtful and caring American who deeply embraces this country’s highest values and seriously lived by his own ethical code.

Son of Southern Illinois: Glenn Poshard’s Life in Politics and Education

Southern Illinois University Press, 2023

By Carl Walworth with Glenn Poshard