News Local/State

Davis Answers Questions, Heckling, At Parkland Event

Congressman Rodney Davis, State Representative Brad Holbrook and Steve Beatty of WDWS Radio share the stage at Davis' Open Government Night event.

L-R: US Rep. Rodney Davis; State Rep. Brad Holbrook; Scott Beatty, WDWS Radio, at Davis' "Open Govt. Night" event at Parkland College in Champaign on Monday evening. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

Congressman Rodney Davis found both supporters and critics at his second Open Government Night, held Monday night at Parkland College in Champaign. But it was the critics who were the most vocal. 

When moderator Scott Beatty of WDWS Radio read a question from the audience asking Davis about ways to heal the nation's political divisions, the Taylorville Republican repeated a phrase he had already used several times.

"Well, I’d certainly like to take the political intoxication out of the political environment," said Davis.

Davis used the "political intoxication" phrase to chide critics in the audience who interrupted and heckled his comments, saying if they were not so caught up in their political identities, they could work with others to address the nation’s problems. He said the problem existed among both Republicans and Democrats.

“When we have somebody like me, who’s number 50 out of 435 most bipartisan members of Congress,” Davis began, only to be interrupted by a man in the audience, who called out, “Ninety-five percent Trump line, right?" 

The man may have referred to an analysis published by the ABC News website FiveThirtyEight of how lawmakers' votes match the preferences of the Trump administration. But Davis did not find the remark helpful.

"And it’s comments like that, that are not gonna help us heal the divide in this country," rejoined Davis. "And that is what is going to continue to perpetuate the actions and reactions from people who are going to be just as politically intoxicated throughout the rest of this country. And it’s devastating for the future of this country, it’s devastating for our children and grandchildren to see this and I certainly hope that we can be voices of change.”

Davis' own reference to his congressional ranking for bipartisanship was apparently a reference to his score in the Lugar Center/McCourt School Bipartisan Index for the 115th  Congress during 2017 and 2018. Davis' 50th place ranking during the first two years of President Donald Trump's term was a drop from his previous rankings of 26th place in the 113th Congress and 23rd in the 114th Congress.

And the congressman, who has touted his committment to "bipartisan common sense solutions," is ranked as less bipartisan that some other members of the Illinois congressional delegation located closer to Chicago, including Republicans Peter Roskam (30) and Adam Kinzinger (35) and Democrat Cheri Bustos (39). However, Davis is ranked well ahead of Illinois Republicans John Shimkus (129) and Darin Lahood (199). 

During the 90 minute event, Davis answered written questions from the audience about student loan debt, tariffs, the gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts, the use of PAC money in election campaigns, white nationalism and healthcare.

Davis also answered questions about gun violence, a topic of particular interest to audience members who had taken part in a rally before the event. 

Bend The Arc:CU organized the rally, which brought about 35 people to a designated demonstration zone outside Parkland's Jean and Harold Miner Theatre. They carried signs with messages such as "Background Checks, Rodney" and "Stop Serving Trump, Start Working For IL 13th."

Bend The Arc:CU Chair Diane Ore says gun violence inspired by white nationalism was the group's particular concern at the event, but that Rep. Davis had never responded to their requests for comment on the issue, unlike Democratic lawmakers they have contacted.

"We’ve never heard him give any kind of statement whenever there’s been a mass shooting in a place of worship," said Ore. "And we’re surprised and hurt by that." She said they would like Davis to support universal background checks and the elimination of assault weapons.

But Davis did not provide the answer Ore was looking for. In answering an audience question about his vote against universal background checks for gun-buyers, Davis brought up his presence at a 2017 shooting. A shooter wounded three people (including US Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana) at a GOP congressional baseball practice before being killed by police. That brought a sarcastic comment from an audience member who said quote, “You dodged a bullet, that makes you an expert”.

Davis replied that there should be no "political litmus test" for people who survived a mass shooting.

“I certainly hope you may take a step back when you get home, and you realize that anybody who survived a mass shooting is a gun violence victim," said Davis. "Because you’re a Republican member of Congress doesn’t make you a witness and everyone else is a victim, unless, unless you’re intoxicated by politics.”

Davis said the background check bill he voted against would have been ineffective, noting assailants at some recent mass shootings who had passed background checks. But he called for a House vote on a “red flag” bill, (HR 744, the Protecting Our Communities and Rights Act of 2019) which would allow guns to be taken away from those identified as an imminent danger by police, teachers, relatives and others. Several states, including Illinois and Indiana, have already passed their own red flags bill, and Davis called on his audience to contact House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and ask her to allow the bill to be brought up for a vote.

Monday night’s meeting was the congressman’s second where he appeared with a fellow GOP state lawmaker, and answered written questions.

Davis' guest this time was State Representative Brad Halbrook (R-Shelbyville), who went into the most detail when answering questions about Illinois' pension crisis, and his proposal (with some other downstate Republicans) to break downstate Illinois off from the Chicago area into a separate state. Halbrook questioned an analysis from SIU's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute that stated dividing Illinois into two states would mean a loss of state tax revenue that downstate Illinois currently receives, thanks to taxpayers in the Chicago area.

But he also said that if the analysis was accurrate, and that downstate Illinois benefitted from Chicago tax revenue, then Chicago should be glad to be rid of them. On the subject of state pensions, Halbrook said while pensions for future state employees would have to be modified to keep Illinois solvent, the pensions of current state workers and retirees needed to be honored.

Davis staff members said the Champaign Open Government Night drew about 230 people, compared to the more than 250 counted at the first such event last month in Decatur. 

Davis said afterward that he plans to hold more Open Government Nights, but did not say when or where.