Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms hopes to make another major life change in 2022, by seeking the open 36th District Illinois State Senate seat.
The 62-year-old Rock Island native announced his candidacy Thursday morning, with current state Sen. Neil Anderson (R-Andalusia), who will run for the newly redrawn 47th District seat. The open 36th District seat was created by Democratic redistricting that left Anderson drawn out of the district by less than a mile.
“It’s been my honor for the last two terms to represent the 36th District,” he said Thursday at the Moline Bass Street YMCA and boathouse. “During the re-map year we go through every 10 years, the majority party decided to do a little more gerrymandering, which is why I’m not running again. They districted me out of the 36th District by about half a mile.”
“They couldn’t beat me, so they decided to draw me out, but what they didn’t realize is – we have somebody ready to take over and represent the 36th District in a big way,” Anderson said.
Thoms has “done a great job as mayor, and before mayor, he’s done a great job working in the community, doing his philanthropic work,” he said. “He’s going to be a great asset to the Senate Republican caucus.”
Anderson noted it takes a special temperament to be a conservative, representing a Democratic-leaning district like the 36th.
“Mike has that temperament. He is good at working with both sides of the aisle, bringing people together,” he said. Anderson said it comes down to working hard, meeting and talking with people, and finding a lot of commonality among Democrats and Republicans.
“You just actually have conversations, rather than having debates,” he said. Another Rock Island Mike — State Rep. Mike Halpin (D-Rock Island) has also announced his candidacy for the Illinois 36th District Senate seat.
“I am extremely enthusiastic about Mike Thoms running for the Illinois State Senate,” Anderson said. “Mike has the right temperament for public service. He’s got a proven bipartisan record as the leader of Rock Island, and his record reflects results. He gets it done for the people he represents by working with everyone involved, treating people with respect, and most importantly, listening more than he talks.”
Thoms — mayor of Rock Island since 2017 — is a fourth-generation resident of Rock Island, where he worked his way up over 29 years at the family business, Thoms-Proestler Company. Mike started as a dockworker and advanced to inventory control, buyer, warehouse manager, vice president of operation, and finally to Chief Operation Officer.
After he retired in 2005, Thoms started developing residential and commercial properties including a golf course (Fyre Lake), and sleeping rooms in airports (Minute Suites). He has also served on dozens of boards and committees to advance the region’s services and quality of life.
Mike and his wife Sara have been married for 41 years. They live in Rock Island, and have 3 adult children and 10 grandchildren.
At Thoms-Proestler Company, he learned every aspect of the business for 15 years, before he got into management. “I was fortunate at one time to work with three generations – my grandfather, my father and my brothers,” Thoms said Thursday. They sold the business in 2002, to Performance Food Group.
He said he’s running for Senate because of “jobs, jobs and more jobs.”
“Economic development is one of the biggest issues,” Thoms said. “Too many businesses are either not coming to Illinois or leaving Illinois, because of laws and policies that have been put in place.”
Focus on economic issues
He highlighted the key areas he believes matter to the voters of the 36th District, focusing on job growth, workforce development, and economic development.
“The Illinois economy needs stability,” he said. “We all know that Western Illinois thrives when we have a stable economy, a strong workforce and a safe community. If the next generation leaves, they aren’t coming back.
“We must strive to have a growing job outlook, a trained workforce, and a community with revered first responders,” Thoms said. “We have to make sure we’re doing all we can to preserve the values that make this a great place to live, work, build a business and raise a family.
“That’s why I am running and I’m asking people who support that notion, no matter what their political party is, to support me in June and again in November.”
Illinois was one of just three states to lose population between 2010 and 2020, falling from 12,830,632 people to 12,812,508, and will lose a U.S. House seat when the new district maps are drawn.
“This district reflects border community, rural and urban issues,” Thoms said of the 36th. “It includes manufacturing, higher education, agribusiness, food chain infrastructure, small business and logistics. We need a leader who is focused on community development and experienced across a wide range of challenges and opportunities. I have a lifetime of experience that fits that model and I believe I am the strongest candidate in the race.
“I am ready, on day one, to go to Springfield and represent Western Illinois,” he said. Current state Rep. Mike Halpin is running for the Senate seat, and Thoms faces the potential of a contested Republican primary on June 28, 2022, before the general election on Nov. 8, 2022.
“We need to add more jobs; more jobs means more rooftops,” Thoms said of boosting Illinois population. “More rooftops, more retail. More retail, more income, and that’s how we do it. We need to generate more income for the state of Illinois by not continuing to tax people that are here more every year. It doesn’t work.”
Better quality job training is necessary, to reach students who aren’t going to traditional college, he said.
Support needed for police
Thoms also stressed support for area law enforcement, to both battle rising crime and make sure they have local control over their departments.
Laws have made it so officers can’t review their body camera footage before a report is released, which makes it very difficult, he said. “They need to refresh their memories on what happened, and this does that.”
“I’m for body cameras, but I think it should be a local decision,” Thoms said. “We need to give law enforcement the tools, the training and the support they need to reduce crime. We need to have their back.”
Shawn Roselieb, executive director of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, spoke in support of his candidacy.
“We have a great relationship with Mayor Thoms and Rock Island. We appreciate the work he does there, with the police department,” he said. “We know that he always has our back.”
“We like what we hear. We feel where he’s wanting to go is along with our vision,” Roselieb said. “We like to see that politicians that are elected have our backs. We like to know we have someone who understands the equipment we need, the job that we do. We’ll work hard to make sure we have the things we need and the ability to do our job.”
Anderson said many endorsements don’t mean a lot, but one that’s meant a lot to him (and others) is that law enforcement standing right now, supporting Mayor Thoms.
“There’s a certain section in politics right now that want to downright get rid of these guys,” Anderson said of the “defund the police” movement. “And there’s these guys, to make sure we not only have more law enforcement, but make sure they’re properly trained and move forward and back them up.”
“I think it speaks volumes that we have FOP here right now, standing behind Mayor Thoms,” he said.
The district has many Democratic voters, and Thoms said he can work with everyone, regardless of party affiliation. “It’s the citizens. I have had great support as mayor from Democrats, so I feel we can reach across the line and have commonality.”
Thoms prefers Senate over House
He wanted to run for the Senate seat rather than the 72nd District House seat Halpin currently holds, in part because Senate is a four-year term, versus two in the House.
“I do appreciate that, not having to do this every two years,” Thoms said. “I wanted to follow in someone’s footsteps, who I had a lot of respect and faith in. On Neil’s behalf, I wanted to fill his seat.”
Democrats Gregg Johnson and Jeff Deppe are seeking the nomination to run for Mike Halpin’s current House seat, the 72nd District. Anderson narrowly beat Johnson in 2018 for the State Senate, winning by 1.6% of all votes (or 1,281). Anderson first won office in 2014 by defeating incumbent Mike Jacobs 54.3 to 45.7 percent.
Anderson said his 47th District now is the largest geographic Senate area in the state, covering 6,400 square miles – stretching from Andalusia to Adams County. to Menard, splitting Macomb in half, and back to Henry County. Macomb (home to Western Illinois University) will be represented by both the 36th and 47th Senate districts.
Thoms also made announcements Thursday in Galesburg, Monmouth and Macomb. His campaign website is thomsforsenate.com.