By: State Journal-Register
This will be the third time since July 2015 that voters in the 18th Congressional District will go to the polls to select a candidate.
The district’s bumpy ride began when scandal enveloped former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, who resigned in early 2015 after questions emerged over his spending. His resignation triggered two special elections: a July 2015 primary and a September 2015 general election to fill the remaining year of the term. Republican Darin LaHood, who was at that point a state senator, won those contests.
LaHood, during his first year in Washington, has focused on issues crucial to the district, such as transportation and agriculture. He has worked with local law enforcement and social service agencies in developing legislation to fight the opioid crisis, by providing funding for the antidote Narcan, money for rehab programs and efforts to prevent over-prescribing of prescription painkillers.
LaHood supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership, arguing that it will provide markets for central Illinois agriculture products. He favors a higher level of scrutiny and screening for refugees from Syria, Yemen and Iraq. On most issues, he hews to Republican party lines.
He has criticized some of Donald Trump’s comments, but continues to support him, saying he is concerned about future Supreme Court appointments and thinks Trump would do a better job on homeland security and improving the nation’s economy.
LaHood’s opponent, Junius Rodriguez, said he sees himself as a conservative Democrat. He opposes the TPP deal, saying that he is not convinced that it would protect American jobs or address environmental and safety concerns elsewhere. He also differed with LaHood on refugee screening, saying he feels existing vetting is already intense. Rodriguez said he’d like to see civic groups and churches volunteer to sponsor refugees, and efforts to bring orphaned children to the U.S. for adoption.
In the presidential race, Rodriguez said he believed Hillary Clinton has faults and was not the ideal candidate. But he said he would vote for her because he “absolutely cannot” support Trump.
Rodriguez comes across as someone who would sincerely try to work across the aisle and be willing to compromise. He has a dedicated track record in volunteering and leadership roles with social service agencies that try to combat homelessness and domestic violence. We’d like to see him as a candidate again — and the state Capitol in Springfield would be an ideal venue where his talents could be utilized to make a difference.
But in this race, with the turmoil the district has endured in recent years, there is legitimate concern over how quickly Rodriguez would be able to become effective in Congress.
LaHood has proven to be a quick study in Congress, and has been a strong and effective advocate for his constituents. With his prior background in the state Senate, it was clear that he also understands the district and its needs. In this race, voters should send him back to Washington.
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