Congressional Candidates Hold Banners High

Eighteenth-district candidates make the 2010 campaign an interesting ride.

Getting Comfortable in Congress

Born and raised in Morris, Minnesota, until he moved to Peoria in middle school, United States Congressman Aaron Schock has given the Central Illinois community plenty of reasons to esteem and embrace him.

Elected the youngest Peoria District 150 School Board President in history at 23 years of age, he later skyrocketed through a four-year career as State Representative. At 27, he landed a seat on Capitol Hill to become the first Member of Congress in what he later called on the Today Show: “the caucus of the twenty-somethings.” Currently ranked seventh among House Republicans (as of August 2010), both national media and party leadership in the House have repeatedly requested him to advocate for Republican Party positions. He has appeared on Sunday morning talk shows as well as Good Morning America, MSNBC and CNN, to name a few.

I caught up with him in the middle of his 2008 congressional campaign just after he captured 72 percent of the vote in the February primary. Schock was a State Representative who, at just 26, already had four years experience in the General Assembly.

Nearly two years after being sworn in to Congress, Schock received a waiver to serve on three committees, rather than the usual two and was also named Deputy Republican Whip. Aside from his selection as one of the closing speakers for the House floor debate on the President’s economic stimulus bill, House Minority Leader John Boehner invited him to speak at the Small Business Jobs Summit in July of this year—honors rarely bestowed upon a freshman congressman in the minority.

Ramping up Republican ebullience with his powerhouse speeches combating egregious spending, increased taxes and a massive health care takeover, Schock passed nine amendments or bills on the House floor during his first term, one of which captured the attention of The Washington Post. But the 29-year-old has taken his newfound notoriety in stride, still wearing the same winning smile that first earned him a place on the ballot.

Supporters are proud to call him their advocate in the People’s Chamber, standing against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, contesting cap and trade, advocating for economic growth policies, enabling small businesses to expand and impeding tax increases.

“Aaron never compromises his morals, and he challenges people to come out of their comfort zones for a worthy cause,” says Debra Peterson, a Chillicothe resident.

Schock’s track record defines him as a candidate who refuses to allow conventional wisdom to stand in the way of possibility. And while he may be coy on national news regarding future plans for his career, it’s no secret his work in the nation’s capital may set a precedent for things to come.

Across the Aisle

Touting a host of political experience, a PhD, and a professed willingness to place constituent requests above her own personal agenda, Deirdre “DK” Hirner is catching the eye of both Republicans and Democrats across the Heart of Illinois.

A resident of Springfield, Hirner, 55, will challenge Schock in November. She says her job experience has prepared her for an extended stay in the nation’s capital. Aside from working for Governor Holden, Hirner served as policy director for the late Governor Mel Carnahan when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000. She served as Executive Director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri and also held a position as Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Regulatory Group in Springfield.

The Hannibal, MO, native who received a law degree from St. Louis University and a doctorate in land use planning from Texas Tech, remains quiescent in her determination to win against her opponent who has been labeled by news sources as a “fundraising powerhouse” with a “ferocious following.”

“I am determined,” says Hirnir, “determined to raise as much money as possible and do whatever I need to do to prove to the 18th District that I am the candidate for this job.”

But Hirner has her work cut out for her. While she passed out cake to woo potential voters last month, Schock swept nearly 1200 constituents under a mammoth tent for a three-hour fundraiser with former First Lady Laura Bush, hosted by Caterpillar’s new CEO.

On the issues, Hirner applauds the passage of new health care legislation. “I can see what it means to people—young and old—to have health care or not to have healthcare. People should not be precluded or overcharged or overlooked because of age, income, medical history or gender. I believe in an American system of health care, including employer-sponsored care and a government option.”

Hirner also attacked Schock’s “no” vote on the stimulus bill. She cites a number of beneficial provisions in the bill. “It invests in infrastructure, which is one of the best things we can invest in to put people back to work. I believe highways and construction will help bring the unemployment rate back down. Steel mills will put more industries back to work as there is a demand for more products and more tractors that Caterpillar builds. The bill has a positive spin-off for a variety of industries.”

Her passion for politics and her heart to help working families was the impetus that placed Hirner on the path to Congress. “I think I’ve developed a deep understanding of what it means to govern verses what it means to merely hold an office. The ability to listen … to the people of the 18th District means listening to their needs, identifying their problems and then working to advance the people.

A Vital Presence

Peoria resident Sheldon Schafer who filed as an Independent with the Green Party for the 18th District seat is putting the third party on the map. Sheldon, who founded the Peoria Area Green Party in December of 2000 and who presently works at the Lakeview Museum of Arts & Sciences, says he was encouraged by the results of the last election.

“I had a lot of people coming up to me and telling me they were both pleased and impressed with the Green Party’s efforts in the 2008 election. We ended up with 2 or 3 percent of the vote, which is good considering the scope of the 18th District. As a part-time politician, I still took time to visit over 160 towns within the district. When we analyzed the results, we discovered we did exceedingly well in the areas where I had a presence. We received around 6 or 7 percent up at the Bradley area and 4.7 percent in Peoria County.”

A graduate of Ohio State University in Columbus with a BA in Astronomy and an MA in Science Education from Wagner College in Staten Island, Schafer served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and performed mission work in Haiti.

Sheldon Schafer’s mission is steadfast. “The Green Party’s goal is to create a serious third party presence in the state. We want to reform and clean up Washington, and I truly believe that as long as we keep electing Republicans and Democrats to positions of leadership, politics itself will never change. We’ve become a country of special interest politics, and it’s the special interests that are killing us.”

Schafer claims elections have helped to position the Peoria Green Party as one of the strongest in the state. “Four years ago when we ran Rich Whitney for Governor, we received a lot of publicity. We have a genuine presence now, and we need to maintain that presence.”

The candidate believes the American economy cannot recover until “we create fair playing fields for all, especially local and family-owned businesses.”

“We need to curtail and eventually eliminate the system fueled by special interests that create these unfair playing fields. Businesses should exist for the betterment of people, not people existing for the benefit of business.”

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