DECATUR — At a Farm Bill forum in the Metro East region last week, Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Springfield, found herself sitting next to Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, a fellow member of the House Agriculture Committee who represents most of the rural communities surrounding her more highly urbanized district.
Miller was physically sitting to Budzinski’s right on the panel, hosted by economic development corporation Greater St. Louis, Inc.
It was figuratively fitting, in a sense, given that Budzinski is a center-left Democrat and Miller is a far-right Republican who has endorsed indicted former President Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign.
On large issues like abortion and taxes, the pair agree on little. But, there are some areas of agreement, such as support for the region’s farmers.
And it’s these kernels of common ground that Budzinski has sought out in her first 100 days as a member of Congress.
“For me, bipartisanship isn’t just like a talking point,” Budzinski told Herald & Review in an interview Friday afternoon. “I really am in this first 100 days — and will continue to be doing that — actively working to find places where I can find common ground with Republicans and Democrats on issues that are supporting working people in central and southern Illinois.”
Beyond appearing at events with Republicans, Budzinski spearheaded a letter last month that pushed U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to enforce trade commitments under United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement as Mexico considers a ban of genetically-modified corn.
Signatories included Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro; Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria; and Miller.
She has also struck up friendships with other Republican members, like Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Ia., together with whom she hopes to meet with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack so they can lay out joint priorities for the Farm Bill, such as support for crop insurance and biofuels.
This bipartisan streak has extended to Budzinski’s legislative agenda.
She has introduced two bills so far. The first, if passed, would provide businesses that hire apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship workers a $1,500 federal tax credit. The second would designate the site of the 1908 Springfield Race Riot, an event that led to the creation of the NAACP, a national monument.
Both measures have Republican co-sponsors and were previous initiatives of former Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, whose district boundaries included many of the same areas Budzinski now represents.
“If you’re intentional about trying to find partners on issues that you can find common ground, and build the relationships and the trust that you need to have in order to work together, I think we can get things done,” Budzinski said.
Of course, there are many issues on which Budzinski and her Republican colleagues differ — among them the status of former President Donald Trump.
Trump was indicted in New York late last week on 34 state-level charges of falsifying business records to cover up a hush-money scheme involving porn actress Stormy Daniels.
“I think no one is above the law, whether you’re a former president, whether you’re a millionaire or a billionaire or you run a big corporation,” Budzinski said of the Trump charges. “No one should be above the law.”
“And so, like everybody at home, I’m going to be following this case and I think if he is found guilty, he should be prosecuted, obviously, to the fullest extent of the law,” she said.
But, even then, Budzinski was quick to pivot, saying it was “equally important is for me to stay focused on the work at hand” in Congress.
This includes focusing on passing her legislation, advocating for priorities in the Farm Bill and approving measures to reduce inflation and improve workforce development.
Budzinski, speaking the day after Republicans in the Tennessee House expelled two Democratic lawmakers for participating in anti-gun violence protests, said she’s “not denying that there’s a polarization in this country right now,” but she remains “an optimist.”
“But I do think that if we don’t try, it’ll never happen,” Budzinski said. “And I think that to create more civility in the political process, I think it starts with us as individuals and what we’re doing to either contribute or exacerbate the problems. And I certainly want to try to be a part of the solution.”
Contact Brenden Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @brendenmoore13.
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