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Halstead: Democrats Will Find ‘Very Good Candidate’ To Follow Bustos

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, left; Peoria County Democratic Party chairman Billy Halstead
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, left; Peoria County Democratic Party chairman Billy Halstead

Peoria County Democratic Party chairman Billy Halstead said the 17th Congressional District is losing a strong advocate with the retirement of U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, but he remains confident the party will find a suitable candidate to follow her lead.

“She’s a very hard worker and I think she did an excellent job as a congresswoman,” Halstead said of Bustos, the Moline Democrat who last week announced she will retire from Congress when her current fifth term ends.

“She’s an extremely, extremely hard worker for her constituents. She’s a hard worker as an elected official and she’s also a hard worker as a candidate. Since she’s been in (Congress), she’s done a lot of good; she’s been to Peoria a lot and gotten a lot of things done here. She’s going to be missed.”

Halstead said that while some replacement possibilities have come to mind, it’s still a bit early to focus on specific potential candidates for the 2022 campaign.

“Yeah, I’ve definitely thought about it because that's kind of the job as a chairman: to always be thinking ahead of replacing anybody, it doesn't matter who it is,” said Halstead. “I don't have any names right now, but you're just always thinking about it and discussing it with some of your internal people to see who's going to be the best candidate.”

Shortly after Bustos’ announcement Friday, her Republican challenger from last November, Esther Joy King, said she intends to run again in 2022, with plans for an official announcement “in a couple weeks.”

“I want to thank Cheri Bustos for her service and I wish her the best going forward. Cheri has always claimed she knew this district well – so she clearly saw what we’re seeing every day: IL-17 was going to make a change in 2022 and Cheri was destined to lose,” King said in her written statement.

Halstead said King only moved into the district before the last election in an attempt to claim the seat for the GOP.

“If it's the same opponent (Bustos) had last time, I think we can find a very good candidate that could win that seat,” he said. “As we all know, her interest wasn’t the excitement of trying to help the constituents of the congressional district.”

The current 17th District boundaries include parts of Peoria, Pekin, and East Peoria, as well as other strongly Democratic urban areas such as Rockford and the Quad Cities. But with the 2020 Census figures resulting in Illinois losing one congressional seat, Halstead acknowledged that retaining Bustos’ seat will hinge on how the districts get redrawn.

“It's all going to depend on where the lines are,” he said. “We’ve got to see where the boundaries are for the 17th, and we don't know if they're going to push the (current) 18th farther south or east or where it's going to go. We know there's going to be some larger boundaries in the Chicago area. It all just depends on where the boundaries are actually going to go; it'll be interesting to see.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.