Freshman class

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Freshman class


When freshman Congresswoman Nikki Budzinski, has reached across the political aisle for bipartisan support on key issues in her district, she has frequently found that her colleagues have reached back.

“To me, bipartisanship is not just a talking point,” Budzinski said. “The work I’ve been focused on is how I can build relationships across the aisle to get things done in a bipartisan manner on the issues that we can find some common ground on.”

Budzinski, a Springfield Democrat, has recently completed her first 100 days in office representing Illinois’ 13th Congressional District. The newly drawn district looks like someone is trying to do a long division problem through the heart of the state, as its long and narrow boundaries begin in the Metro East St. Louis area, shoot straight up to Springfield, then make an abrupt right turn to swallow most of Decatur and encompass all of Urbana-Champaign.

The 13th District mixes two major universities – the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville – with large employment swaths in agriculture, manufacturing and health care. Budzinski calls it a “working class district” and “a lot of my background is working on issues that support working people, who are concerned about inflation, paying for groceries or filling up the gas tank,” she said. “My job is to help them keep more of what they have earned.”

Budzinski approaches that job in the U.S. House of Representatives, in which she is a junior member of the minority party, by trying to work with colleagues of varying ideologies if there’s a chance that the unconventional, and often fleeting, partnerships can bear fruit.

“I was impressed that she reached out.”

Budzinski is quick to point to the Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs (LEAP) Act as an example of Democrats and Republicans working together for the common good. The bill uses federal tax incentives to encourage more businesses to hire apprentices, and Budzinski co-sponsored the bill with Congressman Mike Carey, an Ohio Republican.

“I was proud to introduce this legislation with Rep. Budzinski and believe it will lead to stronger apprenticeship programs and eventually a stronger workforce across the country,” Carey said.

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Freshman class


U.S. Rep Nikki Budzinski holds a meeting with key staff people in her Washington, D.C., office.

The LEAP Act was initially introduced by former Congressman Rodney Davis, who lost his reelection bid last year when the same redistricting process that created the eyebrow-shaped 13th District forced him into a showdown with fellow Republican Mary Miller in the 15th District.

“I was glad to see Nikki take up this very important issue that will incentivize companies to get apprentices on job sites.” Davis said. “I was impressed that she reached out and asked me about making it one of her first bills she introduced.”

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat from the inkblot-shaped Eighth District that includes parts of Cook, DuPage and Kane Counties, has been in Congress for six years. He was another cosponsor of the LEAP Act.

“Nikki has been a welcome addition to the Illinois congressional delegation, and has quickly proven herself to be a dedicated problem-solver who reaches across the aisle to deliver results for her constituents,” Krishnamoorthi said. “I have already had the opportunity to partner with Congresswoman Budzinski on legislation, and I look forward to working with her more on behalf of Illinoisans and all Americans.”

Budzinski said her support for the LEAP Act was something that came naturally, since her family history is rooted in education and union labor.

“I feel very passionately about creating more career pathways that don’ t require a four-year degree or take on a huge amount of student debt,” Budzinski said. “They can get great training through our community colleges or apprenticeship programs that can get them immediately into the workforce.”

“I’m not going to say that we will agree on everything because we’re not.”

As a freshman member of Congress, Budzinski is not allowed to sit on the prestigious Ways and Means, Appropriations or Energy and Commerce committees. But she has hit the farm ground running as a member of the House Agriculture Committee, which has created some interesting, albeit temporary, alliances with Illinois members of the opposite political party.

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Freshman class


Budzinski, fourth from left, poses in the U.S. Capitol with fellow members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Budzinski was among five federal lawmakers from Illinois who called on the Biden administration to vigorously challenge Mexico’s ban on the import of genetically engineered corn grown in the United States. Those lawmakers included Democrat Bill Foster and Republicans Mike Bost, Darin LaHood and Mary Miller.

“I have seven counties in the 13th District and six of those counties I share with Congressman Mary Miller, who is a member of the [ultraconservative] Freedom Caucus,” Budzinski said. “I’ m not going to say that we will agree on everything because we’re not, but she and I have found some areas of common interest that I think support the communities of central and southern Illinois.

“Congresswoman Miller and I were both invited recently to the Greater St. Louis Inc. Breakfast and the topic was agriculture,” Budzinski said. “She and I had a fireside chat with St. Louis area business leaders about the concerns and opportunities in the Farm Bill, and we also found some common ground there.”

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Freshman class


Budzinski shares a lighter moment with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during an orientation session for new members of Congress.

Congress members Miller and LaHood did not respond to a request for a comment for this story. But 11th District Congressman Bill Foster, a northern Illinois Democrat and a fellow Mexico corn letter signatory, shared thoughts about his colleague from the 13th District.

“During her short time in Congress, Congresswoman Budzinski has become a voice to be listened to for the issues important to central and southern Illinois,” Foster said. “She works with colleagues across the aisle to do what’s best for the communities she represents, and has already emerged as a leader on agricultural issues for Illinois and the nation.”

Congressman Zach Nunn, a freshman Republican from Des Moines, Iowa, is also a member of the House Agriculture Committee. He and Budzinski have developed a good working relationship on several key issues.

“There is always more we can agree on than disagree. I aim to find what my colleagues and I have in common, which in turn helps us accomplish bipartisan results to improve the lives of Americans instead of playing partisan games and getting nothing done,” Nunn said. “Rep. Budzinksi and I started working together right away, putting politics aside to focus on results for the Farm Bill and for year-round E15 ethanol to benefit the rural sections of our Illinois and Iowa districts.”

Budzinski also serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and hopes this will give her the opportunity to assist the two Veterans Administration clinics in the 13th District. She has also introduced legislation to address the shortage of health care professionals in rural areas, a measure Budzinski hopes will also receive bipartisan support.

“This isn’t a switch we are going to flip overnight.”

Life for a member of Congress isn’t always about bipartisanship, and Budzinski adheres to her Democratic Party roots on several key issues. She supports the Second Amendment but “I would support eliminating the sale of military-style weapons, which is something that has been one of the root causes of our mass shootings.”

“The House Republican majority has made no indication that they are at all interested in passing more sensible gun safety measures that the vast majority of Americans support,” Budzinski said. “So I think it will take time before we have the will, at least on the House side, to take action.”

Budzinski added that Congress shouldn’t just deal with weapons. Members also need to address the nation’s mental health crisis, and, “I get frustrated because I think that is often paid lip service. We are not doing the things we need to do to directly invest in mental health,” she said.

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Freshman class


Budzinski talks to a veteran prior to his departure on an honor flight to Washington,D.C.

Budzinski backs the Next Generation Fuels Act to help increase the use of ethanol in gasoline, an important consideration for Illinois as a major corn-producing state, but she feels the nation needs to move away from using another plentiful resource, Illinois coal.

“We are making a transition away from fossil fuels as we acknowledge the climate crisis. We need to make sure we have enough base-load power and I’m very concerned as we make this transition about the impact for consumers,” Budzinski said. “This isn’t a switch we’re going to flip overnight.”

Budzinski said she doesn’t feel President Jo Biden is too old to serve another term and, “I’ll be proudly supporting President Biden in 2024,” she said. “The administration has done a lot, but there’s still more work to be done.”

Is she worried about a repeat of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection if the public vote goes to Biden but a Republican-controlled Congress refuses to certify the election results?

“That is a frightening scenario and I would hope we never get to that point,” Budzinski said. “In Congress I’m going to be doing everything I can to make sure we are protecting free and fair elections and that those elections are certified.”

“I’d like people to say, ‘She made a difference.’ “

Budzinski is the descendant of public school teachers and union members and her political viewpoints have been developed through those influences, plus her work for the Illinois Association of Firefighters and the United Food and Commercial Workers unions. Her parents taught Budzinski about the importance of community activism, and her mother was active in the League of Women Voters.

“I have had the privilege of working for some great public servants. I interned for former U.S. Senator Paul Simon in his last year in the Senate in 1996,” Budzinski said. “He was a true statesman, he was a pragmatic progressive and had a real common-sense way about him that I try to emulate in public office.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is a fan of the first-term congresswoman who represents the Springfield district in which he resides.

“Congresswoman Nikki Budzinski has hit the ground running as one of the newest members of the Illinois delegation. We share many of the same priorities – lowering the cost of prescription drugs, improving health care options in rural America, continuing to develop and expand our workforce, and ensuring family farmers are supported,” Durbin said. “She wants to help hardworking families with everyday challenges, and it is an honor to work alongside her for Illinoisans in the 13th District.”

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Freshman class


Budzinski talks to a student during a tour of a Head Start program in Granite City.

Budzinski likes to travel the 13th District when Congress is not in session, including visits to her district offices in Springfield, Belleville, Champaign and Decatur. The interview for this story was done during a 100-day-in-office tour of key news media outlets in the district.

“My home is in Springfield, so going back and forth from Washington to Springfield takes some adjustment,” Budzinski said. “I’m happy to say I now have two sets of everything so I can easily travel and move pretty quickly.”

When her congressional career is over, whether that occurs during the next election or many years in the future, how would Budzinski like to be remembered?

“I’d like people to say, ‘She made a difference,’ that I represented the communities of central and southern Illinois with integrity, that I worked to be collaborative, I worked to bring people together and get big things done,” Budzinski said. “It’s the honor of a lifetime to go to Congress, to be one of 435 people who get to represent their communities.”

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via rk2’s favorite articles on Inoreader

April 27, 2023 at 09:45AM

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