I haven't written here for some time — a flaw I intend to remedy, as I highly value both this site and this wonderful community — but wanted to share some information with you all, and with anyone who resides in Illinois's 16th Congressional District. IL-16 encompasses the eastern half of Rockford, the third-largest city in Illinois and largest outside of the Chicago area, and extends south and east including towns such as Streator, Ottawa, Belvidere, LaSalle, and others, stretching all the way to the Indiana border. The newly-redrawn 16th split Rockford's Congressional representation into two districts; represented for the last twenty years by Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Egan), the 16th will be represented by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Kankakee), who defeated Rep. Manzullo in the recent Illinois primary election.
Unless we stop him.
See, the 16th has been a Republican stronghold for the past 95 years, boasting only one Democratic representative (Rep. John Cox) who served only one term between 1991 and 1993. Rockford was split between the redrawn 16th and the redrawn 17th, with the reasoning that incumbent Rep. Bobby Schilling would become an underdog in the new 17th (he's facing primary-winning Democratic nominee Cheri Bustos) and the 16th would switch from a reliably red district to a deeply red one. Perhaps with that in mind, the county chairpersons in the 16th chose not to put forward a nominee this year and allow the Manzullo/Kinzinger winner to run unopposed in November. This in a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, rampant poverty, economic stagnation, poor health outcomes, and in a district that relies on what's left of Rockford's manufacturing base and agriculture south and east.
Well, the citizens in the 16th who have kind of gotten tired of do-nothing Republican representation here decided that making Kinzinger the great conservative hope for Illinois Republicans just wasn't something in which we were interested. Enter Wanda Rohl. A citizens' convention held in DeKalb, Ill. (home to Northern Illinois University) two weeks ago selected Ms. Rohl to oppose Rep. Kinzinger in November. The formal affirmation of her candidacy requires the endorsement of the county chairpersons in the 16th as well as 650 signatures by June 4 in order to appear on the ballot as the Democratic nominee. Firstly, I'd strongly encourage fellow progressives to check out Ms. Rohl's Facebook page and to follow her to Twitter @RohlWanda. In addition, there is a private Facebook group entitled "Citizens for Wanda Rohl" for which I'd be happy to forward any inquiries to the page's administrators upon request. Secondly, I would add that the process of securing Ms. Rohl's candidacy is moving forward; if you live in the 16th, I would strongly encourage contacting your county party chairperson and encourage she or he to endorse Ms. Rohl's nomination.
So why should progressives support Wanda in a district where her victory is going to require a great deal of effort to have a chance at success? Well first of all, this district is hurting. I wrote about this in 2009 on this site, and the situation here hasn't gotten much better. Those past twenty years of Manzullo representation didn't really do much for anyone here. And no, it's not fair to lay all the blame at Manzullo's doorstep; there have been larger forces at work in the Rockford area — the general decline of American manufacturing, mismanagement at the state and local level, but Manzullo was, for twenty years, the man whose job it was to represent our community, district, and area in Congress. That job falls to Rep. Kinzinger now — an even more radical conservative ideologue than Rep. Manzullo. Our community simply can't afford more inaction, obstruction, failed and discredited policies that ensure the ongoing eradication of what's left of the American middle class.
Ms. Rohl is a self-described "progressive Democrat," one who is running for Congress out of no sense of personal ambition or desire to secure a job on K Street. She's neither held nor run for office before. She's pledged to devote her time to advancing the middle class and those seeking to become part of the middle class, and to ensure that American manufacturing and small agriculture have a strong and outspoken voice in Washington. She herself lives on such a small farm around Ottawa, Ill., and knows that whereof she speaks. She supports an immediate end to the war in Afghanistan, as well as increased federal support for the Veterans' Administration and ensuring that our veterans have access to health care, physical and mental, and have avenues to use their skills in a job when they return home. She's for single-payer universal health care, and supports the Affordable Care Act as a step in the right direction. She's pro-marriage equality, and supports the President in opposing the Defense of Marriage Act. She's in favor of keeping student loan interest rates where they currently are, and lowering them if possible, as well as using every resource of the federal government to empower prospective students — whether graduate, four-year undergraduate, two-year undergraduate, trade or vocational school — to have access to the education and training they and we need in order to ensure that we have the highest-qualified and best-educated workforce in the world.
So I encourage you to send Wanda a Tweet, or take a look at her Facebook page, and the campaign website once it's up. It won't be easy, but we can — together — win in IL-16.