Democratic representatives and candidates addressed voters Wednesday in Marseilles, showing the importance of having women in positions of power.
Women filled the Laborers Local 393 Union Hall to listen to U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (Naperville), Comptroller Susana Mendoza, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (Matteson), and Sonni Choi Williams, who is running for the Third Appellate Court Judge, share their stories of what they’ve accomplished, how they’ve accomplished it and why they chose to run.
Underwood, especially, is in the middle of passing the Inflation Reduction Act along with measures that allow Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices.
These are measures Underwood said reminded her of a pep talk her mother would give her.
“Be a woman, Lauren,” Underwood said. “That little pep talk told me that I had the strength of my grandmother to organize and secure our right to vote. This little pep talk reminded me of the courage of the late, great Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The pep talk is instructive: As women, we do not give up, we do not back down, we protect each other and support one another.”
Underwood said the turning point for her came in the spring of 2017 when her representative promised he wouldn’t support a version of the American Health Care Act, a bill made to repeal the American Care Act, that removed protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
“I spent that summer figuring out how to run for Congress then jumped into a primary facing six guys, and I won that primary with 57% of the vote,” Underwood said. “Then I beat our four-term Tea Party Republican congressman by five points in November of 2018, becoming the youngest black woman to ever serve in Congress.”
Underwood wasn’t the only person on stage who faced adversity in her journey toward running for office. Mendoza said she walked into the worst fiscal crisis in state history when she took office.
She was sworn in on a Monday and the Friday before, almost the entire admin team had quit. There was little time for a transition since she was elected in November and took office in December.
Kelly became a state representative in 2003 through 2007 before returning in 2013. Running for office was something she never thought she would do. Kelly said she took a leap of faith and ran against a 10-year incumbent.
“I had never worked so hard in my life and toward the end of the last four or five days, I just said I didn’t care if I won or lost,” Kelly said. “I just wanted this to be over. I wanted my life back. I had a sore throat and I couldn’t talk anymore.”
What kept her going was all the people that sacrificed and donated.
Choi Williams first explained why appellate courts matter before she shared her story.
“Some of the circuit judges that you elect don’t follow the law,” Choi Williams said. “When Illinois passed the Same Sex Marriage Act that allowed and preserved gay rights for same sex couple to have the same rights as everyone else and their ability to have spouses in the hospital with them and have their children go to school, you would not be surprised some of the circuit judges refused to marry same sex couples and would say take it up to appeals.”
Choi Williams said she brings broad experience to the table, having practiced law for 23 years. She started out as an assistant public defender helping juveniles who get underrepresented in the court system.
From there, she became a prosecutor in Peoria and made it a point to treat everyone the same regardless of their background and whether they could hire an attorney for their cases.
“We all know that justice is not equal to everyone in this state,” Choi Williams said. “It depends sometimes on the color of your skin or whether or not you have money to post bail and when we look at people who languish in jail because they can’t post, you wonder why we have a system like this.
“ … It matters because the person sitting at the appellate court level are reviewing these cases from trial courts and judges who don’t see bias and racism exist in our judicial system are the ones who are sentencing people to prison.”
Choi Williams said what would be echoed by every other speaker: Representation matters.
Illinois next election takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 8.