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Outgoing U.S. Rep. Bustos offers some advice to successor as she reflects on her time in office

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Office of Public Relations
Bradley University
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, holds her honorary doctorate from Bradley University as she stands next to Bradley University President Stephen Standifird last week at the 15th anniversary ceremony for the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service.

Retiring 17th District U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos has a message for whomever her successor may be: “Do it for the right reason.”

“We have more than 700,000 people who live in this congressional district, and you don't do this for fame or fortune or anything else,” the Moline Democrat said during a stop in Peoria last week. “You do it for making sure that you're doing right by people.”

During her visit, Bustos presented the city with $1 million to demolish the abandoned Harrison School before receiving an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Bradley University during the 15th anniversary ceremony for the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service.

“It's just, it's a great honor,” Bustos said before the reception. “President (Stephen) Standifird called me several weeks ago now and said that they were they were going to do this, and it feels really good.”

With less than a year remaining on her final term, Bustos reflected on what makes her the most proud during her decade in Congress.

“We just got an award in our office for having the best constituent service of any Democratic office in the House or the Senate,” she said. “That's a total of more than 270 offices altogether, and to me, it's just validation of what we've always kept front and center, and that's the people that we serve. I’m very, very proud of that.”

Bustos added she ranked first among House Democrats in the amount of federal funding secured for her district, including for projects like the Harrison demolition.

“I'm lucky enough to serve on what many consider the most powerful committee in all of Congress, and that's the Appropriations Committee,” said Bustos. “It was out of that committee that we came up with a plan to have what we call Community Project Funding. This is the first time Congress has had this opportunity in about 10-plus years, and serving on that committee, I'm very well situated to help bring back bring back the goods for this congressional district. And we did that to the tune of $55 million.”

Bustos said President Biden has been “measured, with a sense of urgency” regarding the U.S. response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“He’s not committing our men and women in uniform with boots on the ground, but he's doing everything but that,” she said. “We are sending the highest powered weapons that we can send. We have the toughest sanctions that we've ever imposed on any adversary, and they will continue to come as long as Putin doesn't back down. So, I think we're doing what we can under a very, very tough situation.”

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Joe Deacon
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, stands between Peoria Mayor Rita Ali and Peoria Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Kherat during a news conference Thursday outside the former Harrison School building on the city's south side.

Domestically, Bustos said she sympathizes with American consumers who are feeling the economic pinch of inflation, adding she'd like to see a “strike force” established to examine rising consumer prices and address the causes.

“We have to understand that this is a worldwide inflationary time where this isn't unique to the United States. We're living through the first war in Europe since World War II, and this is happening all over the world,” she said. “We just have to be united and look for all the solutions to clamp down on corporations that are gouging the consumers.”

She said it’s impossible to drive by any gas station and not see the impact of inflation, suggesting a possible solution can be found in Illinois corn fields.

“We've got close to 10,000 family farms in this congressional district, and you grow corn that can be turned into ethanol,” she said. “We have seven biofuels plants in or around this congressional district. That's how we can bring down the price per gallon of gasoline, by blending a higher level of ethanol. We can bring that down by 50 to 60 cents a gallon.”

While the party of the incumbent president has historically struggled in the mid-term Congressional elections, Bustos is optimistic that Democrats can hold onto their control. She said the answer to what the party must do to succeed in November is simple.

“Deliver results; show up in every corner. Those who are in office, you've got to listen to people and do right by them,” she said. “That's what we have to do all over the country, is deliver on results and then make sure that people know what we've delivered.”

With Bustos opting not run to for a sixth term this fall, seven Democrats are seeking the party's nomination to follow her, while 2020 Republican challenger Esther Joy King is running for a second time. Bustos said she will support and campaign for whomever wins the Democratic nomination in the redrawn 17th district that now stretches from Bloomington-Normal through Peoria and the Quad Cities, and up to Rockford and the Wisconsin border.

But Bustos suggested that anyone entering the race hoping to build up their social media presence is misguided.

“I have no interest in people who are doing this to gain Twitter followers, or have a giant presence on (news networks), whether it's MSNBC or Fox or anything else,” she said. “You’ve got to do this for the right reasons, and it's a lot of hard work. This is a sprawling district, and it's going to be even a more sprawling district after this next election.

“If you look around us, the former principal of this school (Aurthur Mae Perkins) who showed up — we do this work for her. The kids across the street playing (on) that playground, we do this work for them. We do the work for people who are working very, very hard, and we just never can lose sight of that. So, my advice for anybody is (to) make sure you're doing it for the right reason.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.