Rodney Davis, a five-term member of Congress in Illinois’ 13th District, has a New Year’s resolution – to win the 2022 election in a whole new district.
Illinois lost one Congressional seat because of its 2020 population (to move from 18 seats to 17), and Davis’ hometown of Taylorville was gerrymandered out of his own 14-county district, forcing him to run in a sprawling, reconfigured 35-county district. The 15th District now includes Mercer, Warren, and Henderson counties, stretches around Champaign, Springfield, Bloomington-Normal, goes to the Indiana border, and south back down to the St. Louis area.
“I’m the only member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, that lives in this new 15th District,” Davis said Wednesday, noting each District will gain about 40,000 constituents, to 750,000 total. “My district is going to be less compact, because the areas I’ll represent are more rural.”
States like Florida and Texas, that gained population, will have more members in the House of Representatives. Davis was first elected in 2012, winning the closest GOP race in the nation by just 1,002 votes – the only Republican elected to Congress that year in Illinois.
He said the new 15th District is more Republican-leaning, but he has a record of working well with members of both parties. Davis is the only candidate who’s announced so far; primaries will be held in June.
“I’ve had Democratic mayors talk about how I helped their communities and they supported me. I’ve always been someone who can work across the aisle,” he said Wednesday. “The polarization in Washington is worse than it’s ever been, but most of what we do is done in a bipartisan way. It doesn’t get coverage because we’re not fighting.
“I’ve got a great record of getting things done; I’ve written two farm bills, put us on track to have regular water resource development bills, highway infrastructure projects,” Davis said.
He has received endorsements from U.S. Reps. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, as well as 14 Republican state lawmakers in the district and 31 of the 35 Republican county chairmen, including in Calhoun County, Greene County, Jersey County and Madison County.
“2022 will be the year we finally retire Nancy Pelosi, and we need strong conservatives like Rodney Davis to get the job done,” Bost has said. “I look forward to serving with Rodney in the majority in the next session of Congress so we can put a stop to the Democrats’ march to socialism.”
A 51-year-old Des Moines native, Davis attended Millikin University in Decatur and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Prior to being elected to the U.S. House in 2012, he served as Projects Director for Congressman John Shimkus (who had represented the old 15th District) for 16 years, helping Illinois citizens and communities cut through government red tape and secure federal funding.
Working to meet people in huge district
On Wednesday, Davis said it’s a big challenge to travel, meet people, and become well-known in the new district.
“I want to be able to get out in the community, get to know folks that are community leaders,” he said. “I’m also meeting with Republican Party leaders. I want to meet more Republican elected officials and talk about my record of success.”
Davis serves on the Committee on House Administration, where he is the Ranking Member, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, where he’s Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit (the largest subcommittee in Congress), and the House Committee on Agriculture.
The Administration Committee has jurisdiction over federal elections and the security of the Capitol complex, and Davis hopes to become chairman in January 2023, after what he predicts will be a Republican takeover of the House.
He voted against President Biden’s $1-trillion infrastructure bill, while saying it had some good aspects to it.
“I voted against it when it became intricately connected to the ‘Build Back Broke’ program,” Davis said, deriding the Biden administration’s “Build Back Better” campaign. “Moderate Democrats who wanted the infrastructure bill passed signed a letter saying if this passes, they will vote for the Build Back Broke program.”
Republicans (and famously, Democrat Joe Manchin) didn’t support it because it “doesn’t address our inflationary pressures; it’s not going to address our border crisis,” Davis said. “I’ll tell you, it certainly doesn’t address the violent crime crisis in our country.”
He said members of Congress don’t know where the infrastructure spending is going to go.
Differences with Democrats
“Build Back Better” means a “disastrous tax increase policy, a Green New Deal policy,” Davis said. “I helped write the Trump tax cuts. The last thing I’m going to be supportive of is raising taxes,” in some cases o a higher level before they cut taxes, he said.
The IRS found that on average, all income brackets benefited substantially from the Republicans’ tax reform law, with the biggest beneficiaries being working and middle-income filers, not the top 1 percent, as so many Democrats have argued, Davis noted. “We’ve been saying that for years, but the Democrats lied and said it would go to benefit the ultra-wealthy and the rich.
“The Build Back Broke program had a tax provision that only goes to the rich, in major urban areas,” he said. “The Trump tax cut bill did what we said it was going to do — help middle-class families. We had historic economic growth before the pandemic.”
“Now once we get beyond the pandemic, the last thing we should be doing is raising taxes on companies and small businesses that have been fighting to survive,” Davis said.
Despite the Democrats controlling the White House, Senate and House, he didn’t think they’d “do as bad a job as quickly as they’re doing,” he said, claiming there is “unbridled spending, that’s not addressing inflation in this country.”
The current border crisis was exemplified in September, when about 10,000 migrants were packed under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas, waiting to be taken into U.S. custody. That number is about the population of Davis’ hometown of Taylorville, Ill., but just under one bridge.
“The administration tries to gaslight the American people and say nothing’s happening when it comes to the border crisis, when we know that it’s worse than ever,” he said.
The Democrats gerrymandered the 15th District, but the issues affect all people, Davis said. “This district is much more rural, which is great for me and my experience — on the House Agriculture Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.”
Bringing down student debt
His current district has four public universities and four private colleges, and he’s focused on addressing student loan debt, currently at $1.7 trillion. Forgiving that debt is never going to happen, Davis said. As part of the CARES Act, he got passed a private-sector, voluntary approach.
Davis met new Illinois State University president Terri Goss Kinzy in August, when he filled her in on his bill signed into law last year that addresses student loan debt. The law allows employers to offer a student loan repayment benefit to employees up to $5,250 tax free — for the employer and the employee.
“It’s a great talent recruitment and retention tool too. I actually announced the bill alongside students at ISU several years ago and am proud to say it is now law,” Davis said. “It allows every single employer in the nation to use our tax code to be incentivized to pay down the student debt of their employees.”
“If you’re graduating college and looking for your first job, the first question you should ask a prospective employer in this great job market is — to be able to see if they have a student loan repayment program,” he said. “That’s my law; it’s already passed, and it’s one I’ve been working on ever since I got to Congress.”
Though improving the fortunes of Western Illinois University is a state — not federal — issue, Davis said he’s happy to work with them to show what other colleges in Illinois have done to be successful, and improve enrollment and overall finances.
“My three kids are at Illinois State University right now, so I’ve got a pretty good idea as a parent, what it takes to send kids to school,” he said. “Also, as a policymaker who’s been working with U of I, ISU, SIUE, and UIS for the last nine years, to make sure that they’re able to tout what they can do for students in Illinois.
“We’re losing too many students to other states, because state officials aren’t making tuition as competitive as our surrounding states,” Davis said.
Holding Jan. 6 insurrectionists accountable
With the first anniversary of the Jan. 6 violent insurrection at the Capitol quickly approaching, Davis said the select committee investigating that day is a “sham circus” and a “partisan sideshow.”
“I said it was gonna be a partisan sideshow when I was nominated to be a member of that on that committee, but Speaker Pelosi — in an unprecedented decision — decided not to seat two minority members. That’s never happened in the history of our country.”
“The work as we’ve seen, as it’s played out, is nothing but a partisan witch hunt,” Davis said, noting he was in the House chamber that fateful day, and was evacuated. “It was a dark day in American history, but in the end, there were security failures that have never been addressed. I’m the leading Republican on the committee that has oversight responsibility for the security apparatus.”
The Jan. 6 committee should have had an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, to look into what happened, he said. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want questions asked “about what she did to make the security apparatus fail, leading up to January 6th.”
Davis said all people who breached the Capitol must be held accountable for breaking the law.
“Everybody that walked into the Capitol that day knew they were breaking the law,” he said. ‘If you break the law, you should be held accountable.”
Some of Davis’ top priorities are:
- Growing Jobs and Small Businesses
- Providing Tax Relief for Working Families
- Supporting Law Enforcement and First Responders
- Investing in American Infrastructure
- Supporting Our Troops and Veterans
- Making Health Care and Education More Affordable
- Supporting the American Farmer and Rural Communities
- Making Washington Work for Citizens
Davis and his wife Shannon (a nurse) have a 24-year-old daughter and two 21-year-old sons.