There’s one thing that sets Betsy Dirksen Londrigan apart from the other candidates in Illinois’ 13th Congressional District — both those who have announced and those considering the race.
She’s a woman.
The three announced Democrats, as well as two said to be considering the race, are men. So is the incumbent congressman, Taylorville Republican Rodney Davis. And if you’ve been paying attention to the opposition to Davis’ position on the Affordable Care Act and other issues, you’ll see that it’s being led mostly by women.
There’s no guarantee that female voters will flock to Londrigan, a Springfield mother of three who graduated from the University of Illinois-Urbana in 1993 and has been a professional fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation. But talk to her for a while and you can see how her life story and her position on issues would appeal to many Democratic women in the primary election next March.
Her touchstone issue thus far has been her support for fixing the Affordable Care Act instead of Davis’ “repeal and replace” mantra. She talks passionately of being the mother of a 12-year-old boy who was put in a medically induced coma eight years ago and how it has affected her stance on affordable health care for others.
Again, as a mother, she talks of how she wants her high school-age daughter “to have the same freedoms as my sons,” including “the freedom to make decisions for her own personal body.” And last year, said Londrigan, she was a member of the group Sangamon County Women for Hillary that has morphed to Women Rising, an organization dedicated “to recruit, support and elect progressive women to office.”
She hits Davis for not holding town hall meetings with constituents and not being accessible. She said she would hold town halls and meet even with those who disagree with her.
“I understand that you have to have a structure in place but shutting down people’s communication with you, whether it’s having an hour and a half in one city where only a handful of people can talk to you, that’s not enough,” she said. “Right now, people are craving interaction with their representative. I pride myself on listening to people and being able to have an open dialogue and communication.”
One of the wild cards in the Democratic primary race is whether Durbin and his campaign funds will end up in Londrigan’s corner.
“He has been really helpful just in talking to me about what it takes and things like that,” she said of Illinois’ senior senator. “In terms of him getting out front, I think that he should wait and see how the campaign goes. I’m sure he’ll do that. He’s a really thoughtful person, and he’ll want to see how all of the candidates run before landing somewhere. But he’s a mentor.”
Emily’s List, the political action committee that promotes pro-choice women for public office, last week said it put Davis “on notice” for his voting record and is targeting him in the 2018 election.
“Rep. Rodney Davis has failed to protect the Illinoisans he was elected to represent — and Emily’s List and our 5 million strong community are committed to flipping his seat,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List.
This may sound familiar. Two years ago, Emily’s List said it didn’t like Davis’ position on raising the minimum wage and repeatedly prioritizing abortion bans “over enacting policies that benefit more women and families in Illinois’ 13th Congressional District. That’s why Emily’s List is putting Rodney Davis ‘on notice’ — his refusal to stand up for women and families in Illinois will get him sent packing in 2016.”
But Davis won re-election in 2016 with 60 percent of the vote.
State Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, was the only state legislator to attend last week’s announcement by Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forysth, that he would retire after 20 years in the Illinois House. None of the nearby Republicans who have served with Mitchell during that time was there.
“My best friend in the General Assembly, David Reis, drove three hours to be here,” Mitchell noted.
It was only 2 hours, Reis said.
“He’s a great friend,” Reis said of Mitchell. “He’s my seatmate. He’s watched my kids grow up. You don’t find friends in Springfield like that very often.”
Mitchell and Reis also were among 15 House Republicans who last month voted to increase Illinois’ individual income tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent — and heard about it from their constituents.
“We had well over 2,000 people contact our office in four days by email, voice mail, Facebook, all sorts of things,” Reis said. “Some were angry, just like they are with Bill. But a lot of them didn’t know how bad (the state’s financial situation) was. When the biggest employers in your district are health care providers and schools and community colleges and prisons, it gets a little tight.
“But they’ve made it clear to me they want me to stick with the governor, that now is our chance to make some real changes in state government.”
Reis said that he’s running for an eighth term next year, “and the governor wants me on his team as well. It’s a very voter-rich area for him, and we need to be on the same page and the same team.”
March town hall
Anthony March of Danville, one of three announced opponents of U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, in Illinois’ 15th Congressional District, said he will hold a town hall meeting at 4 p.m. Aug. 13 at the Vermilion County Democratic Party headquarters, 916 E. Fairchild St., Danville.
“I want to be an accessible and responsive representative, and that will start as a candidate,” March said.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 217-351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.