Q&A: Londrigan On Post-Primary Campaigning And Why Voters Don’t Ask About Impeachment

Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan at a WGLT event in February.

Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan at a WGLT event in February.

Carleigh Gray/WGLT

Before there can be a blue wave, before it’s really the Year of the Woman, Democrats like Betsy Dirksen Londrigan have to win.

The Springfield Democrat is challenging incumbent U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, in the 13th Congressional District, which includes all or parts of 14 counties stretching from Champaign-Urbana to the Metro East near St. Louis.

The race is drawing national attention as Democrats try to win two-dozen seats to re-take the House. The 13th District is considered competitive but leans Republican.

Londrigan recently visited WGLT’s studios in Normal for an interview. Here’s a transcript of her conversation with GLT’s Ryan Denham, lightly edited for clarity and length:

GLT: It’s been just over a month since you won a five-way Democratic primary in the 13th Congressional District. What have you been doing for the past 44 days?

Londrigan: I’m still getting in front of voters and trying to also focus on fundraising. I know that it's going to take a lot of support to make sure that we can communicate our message to voters. And so making sure that we have the resources to do that is important.

I saw a photo of you recently with a few of the other Democrats who ran in the 13th District primary. What kind of relationship do you have with them at this point?

We have a great relationship. Jon (Ebel), Erik (Jones), and David (Gill), I have enormous respect for each of them. They immediately jumped on board and are committed to winning this district with me.

What are you learning about the differences between campaigning in a Democratic primary versus campaigning in a general election?

Pre-existing conditions don't pick political parties. Health care is an overarching concern for Republicans and Democrats alike. And there are a lot more areas that we have in common than not.

People ask me, what are your issues? What are you focusing on? And I can very honestly tell you that it's the voters that choose. They’re the ones who are telling me what our issues in the 13th District are, and it's health care, jobs, education. And it really, it doesn't matter if you're Democrat or Republican if you're sick and you need to go to a doctor, then that's what you need and health care is important to all of us.

An issue that’s likely to be central to Rep. Davis's bid for re-election is the tax overhaul that passed right at the end of last year. What is going to be your message on the tax overhaul?

It’s that middle-class working families are losing with that tax bill. The real winners there were corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent. And people know that. As I move around district and listen to people, they know that the people who got the most help were corporations and the wealthiest and they don't like that. I believe we grow the economy from middle class out, and I want to make sure that my focus and any tax reform is to help middle-class families. 

We’ve described you in shorthand as “a professional fundraiser in Springfield.” Let’s flesh that out. What are some things you’ve done professionally that you think set yourself up for this job?

I'm a former middle school teacher. I loved teaching middle school.

I was the first director of alumni affairs for the University of Illinois at Springfield and got that program up and running, when the University of Illinois took over Sangamon State and added that third campus, and I'm very proud of the work I did there.

I've actually been self-employed for over 20 years. I have a background as a writer, as a graphic designer, and web design. I've done a lot of things. And for the last seven and a half years, my primary contract has been with Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, and my job there was to make sure that we were that we were promoting the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

How long did you teach middle school?

Two years. I intended on teaching, but when I got the call from the University of Illinois and they said we're taking over this third campus and we would love for you to start the Alumni Association, bring the Sangamon State graduates into the system and get us up and running, that was such a fantastic opportunity that I jumped. I'm a University of Illinois graduate and I was very active with the Student Alumni Association when I was on campus. And so that's how that came to fruition.

The gerrymandered, sprawling 13th District includes parts or all of 14 counties, stretching from the western half of Bloomington-Normal all the way south to Edwardsville. President Trump won the district by 5 points over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Why do you think you can win in this district?

What we saw in the primary is that there was about a 30,000-vote swing. Typically Republicans in the past have pulled about 20,000 ballots more than Democrats. We pulled over 8,000 more than Republicans in the primary. And I think that shows a great energy.

And I think the issues that are on voters’ minds, both Republican and Democrat, and the way that Rep.  Davis has voted against the best interest of the district are really going to propel our campaign forward. Because I believe that healthcare is a right and not a privilege, and the voters in the district are scared of losing their access to health care. And they know that I'm committed to making sure that in every corner of the district that people have access to affordable health care.

A recent poll done for a Democratic outside group called Patriot Majority shows that Rep. Davis is leading you by just 3 points in an initial hypothetical matchup. Caveats galore here, considering it’s a Democratic poll. But what did you take from that?

That our message is resonating with voters. That they are paying attention. That they know that if they want someone who's going to protect and fight for their health care, that they're going to pull a ballot for me. That if they want someone who is going to put the middle class first then their vote is going our way.

My whole life pretty much has been invested in the 13th District. I've grown up in Springfield. Went to school at U of I. I've raised my own family here. I'm bringing with me a whole life of experience to this race. I haven't been in a D.C. bubble. I've been right here in the district, invested in my community and in my neighbors. And I think that when people are voting for you, there's a little bit of a leap of faith that you really are going to keep their best interests at heart, and they know that I'm doing that and that I will continue to do that.

I get around the district and stand in front of voters all the time. And I have put now probably over 35,000 miles on my car getting around the district and doing just that. They want someone who will listen to them and then take their concerns to Washington D.C., not the other way around.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has added you to its Red to Blue program, which sends additional resources to a handful of the 100-plus districts that the DCCC is targeting in November. What does that actually mean for your campaign?

They are highlighting our district and giving us a national spotlight, saying here is a candidate in a campaign where we feel very strongly that this district can be flipped from red to blue.

What about tangible resources? Is it people? Is it direct money or indirect money?

Nothing tangible yet. But it's more it that it is highlighting us and saying to people across the nation, ‘Hey, here's a race that you need to look at.’

If the Democrats were to retake the House in November, how aggressive do you think Democrats should be in investigating or perhaps moving to impeach the president?

That's a question I only get asked on like on radio or, you know, by, interviewers. Voters don't ask me those things because that's not what's on their minds.

I'll be taking my nod on priorities from the voters here in the district. And I can tell you what they want me to focus on is health care, good jobs, and education. That's where my priorities will be.

Should Nancy Pelosi become speaker again if the Democrats were to re-take the House in November?

Again I will be taking my nod from the from the voters in the 13th District. I don't know who's going be up for speaker. That's a big hypothetical. And what I want to do is make sure that whoever I vote for it has the best interests of the voters in the 13th District in mind, that they really will represent us.

You’ve traveled the 13th District a lot by now. It’s huge. Illinois’ political boundaries are now drawn by state lawmakers. Do you think there’s a better way to draw political maps, and what kinds of changes would you support, if any?

I think in an independently decided upon map is the way to go. It needs to be reviewed independently.

Story source: Illinois Public Radio