Meet the six Democrats who hope to keep the 17th Congressional District blue in November
Democratic U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos is not running for re-election this fall, leaving the 17th Congressional District race wide open — and the upcoming June 28 primary hotly contested.
The 17th District includes parts of Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, Macomb, the Quad Cities, Rockford, and most of the northwest corner of the state.
Hoping to flip the seat red are two Republicans who will face each other in the primary. Meanwhile, a total of six Democrats are vying for their party's primary nomination.
On Tuesday night those six candidates traveled to Bradley University in Peoria to participate in a forum co-hosted by WCBU and WGLT and many other partners. Co-moderated by WCBU's Tim Shelley and Yvonne Boose of WNIJ in DeKalb, the forum covered a variety of hot button issues, from climate change to inflation to Social Security. (Watch the entire 90-minute forum.)
The leaked Supreme Court draft opinion regarding the landmark abortion rights case, Roe vs. Wade, came up throughout the forum.
"We as women and people who can become pregnant in our country, are facing an existential crisis right now," Litesa Wallace said. "And it really isn't limited to just us."
A former Illinois state representative from Rockford, Wallace said her work in the Illinois General Assembly helped Illinois become the "safe haven" that it is for those seeking abortions.
She said voters in the upcoming primary should be concerned about where the conservative court could go next.
"As a woman who sits on the intersection of race and gender, voting rights, and reproductive health care rights, are rights that my foremothers fought for so hard," she said. "I want to continue to be able to fight in Congress."
For Marsha Williams of Channahon, the issue of abortion rights is deeply personal.
She shared with voters that her unborn son died at 38 weeks. She was in a situation where she had to have a medically necessary abortion, but said doctors and her conservative hospital made her fight for it.
"In this country, we have a maternal mortality crisis. It's four times higher than any other developed ... country," she said. "And states [that] have strict anti-choice laws, their maternal mortality is through the roof."
When asked about the leaked Supreme Court opinion, the candidates said voters need to elect a strong "pro-choice" candidate in the 17th District primary.
"I will be introducing legislation to codify into law at the federal level, that a woman's body is a woman's body," Jackie McGowan said. "And 'my body, my choice' needs to be unilateral. It can't apply to a mask and a vaccine, and not a woman's body."
A resident of Palos Hills, McGowan grew up in the Chicago area has experience lobbying for the cannabis industry and working on Wall Street.
She tried to impress upon listeners that of all the Democrats candidates running for the primary, she has the best chance of keeping the district blue.
"My father died of COVID in February and I was not invited to the funeral because I'm a 'commie liberal,'" she said. "That's what he died hating more than, than anything else, you know, on the planet. And I am the best person to take out a Trump Republican, in the form of Esther Joy King, because I was raised by them."
King is facing off against fellow Republican Charlie Helmick, a candidate she has vastly out-fundraised.
Jonathan Logemann is a Rockford alderman and a public school teacher. As an Army veteran who served a tour in Afghanistan and as someone who's a member of a union, he said that he is voters' best chance of beating a Republican in November.
"This is going to be a tough seat," he said. "And we need to make sure that a Democrat emerges from the seat."
When talking about climate change and inflation, Logemann and Williams agreed Illinois should explore nuclear energy, in addition to providing incentives for renewables such as electric-based products.
Given Russia's war in Ukraine, energy independence should be a top priority, Logemann said.
"I think it's important that we continue to even step up our energy assistance, you know, to countries like Germany, so they are not dependent on that Russian oil," he said. "Those are the funds that Vladimir Putin is using to, to continue to destroy Ukraine."
While most candidates advocated for complete or nearly all elimination of student debt, Logemann and fellow Rockford resident Angie Normoyle — an assistant professor at Augustana College — say that only some student debt should be erased.
For example, people who are working in the nonprofit sector or in public service should definitely have their loans forgiven, Normoyle said.
"A lot of those folks that are teaching, serving in areas of need, they qualify for student loan forgiveness, but unfortunately, we have outsourced the ... administration of those programs to for-profit organizations that are motivated to deny folks," she said.
Normoyle also said that if elected to Washington, she would make it one of her top priorities to get more federal funding toward infrastructure projects.
When talking about student loan forgiveness or inflation, even climate change, a theme that came up in a lot of the candidates' answers was job training.
If elected, Williams — who currently works for a trucking company — said she would advocate for the expansion of programs that help students go to school for free.
"I see so many wonderful people who are able, capable, and eager to work…but they don't have money, or the funds, to pay for a $5,000 tuition," she said. "We need these people to work to help build our infrastructure."
Eric Sorenson of Moline is a former television meteorologist. With two decades of experience in the Rockford and Quad Cities markets, he talked about how he sees shortages of workers across all industries.
"I look at places like in Rockford, Peoria, and in Rock Island, where we are training medical personnel," he said. "We need to make sure that people who are in high school, they can go into that medical career field without going into debt."
Sorensen joined his five opponents in advocating for the federal government stepping in to combat inflation. Specifically, he suggested Congress do more to bring down the price of prescription drugs.
On inflation ... Dr. Wallace stressed a need to reinvest in local farms and energy production as a way to circumvent supply chain stoppages. Williams agreed, but said she blames inflation on corporate greed.
McGowan said that her priority, if elected, would be to increase the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline, which could reduce gas prices. She also echoed concerns about supply chain issues and corporate greed.
All candidates had ideas for short term fixes and long term; Logemann agreed that ethanol caps could be lifted, but he also suggested that if companies are incentivized to bring outsourced jobs back the U.S., supply chain issues could be eased in the long run.
Dr. Normoyle focused on the modernization of the lock and dam system in the Quad Cities, meant to ease the supply chain, as well as the need for better shipping systems across the country. Sorensen stressed the need for legislators to take responsibility for inflation but did not suggest steps to do so.
As someone with a meteorology background, Sorenson said one of his top issues in Washington would be addressing climate change.
"We have the potential of electing a climate communicator who's going to be science-guided through the term, to make sure that we're bringing back the solutions here at home," he said.
Sorensen, who is gay, added that voters could "make history" by electing the first LGBTQ member of Congress from the state of Illinois.
The primary election is June 28, but early voting begins May 19.
Learn more about the candidates
Jonathan Logemann, Rockford, is a Rockford Alderman and a teacher at Auburn High School. He is an Illinois National Guard captain who served a nine-month tour in Afghanistan.
Jackie McGowan, Palos Hills, grew up in the Chicago area and returns to Illinois after running for governor in California last year. She is a former stockbroker and has lobbied for federal legalization of cannabis.
Angie Normoyle, Moline, serves on the Rock Island County board and is a part-time assistant professor at Augustana College, her alma mater. She also holds a master’s degree and a doctorate from Northwestern.
Eric Sorensen, Moline, is a former television meteorologist who worked for stations in Moline and Rockford. He is seeking elected office for the first time.
Litesa Wallace, Rockford, is a former Illinois state representative with a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Northern Illinois University. She co-founded the Rockford Anti-Racism Network and serves as a fellow for the Diversifying Faculty in Higher Education Board.
Marsha Williams, Channahon, is a trade school admissions advisor, community organizer and activist. She previously served as chair the Minooka Community High School alumni board as well as the planning committee for the Bold Urban Renaissance Network benefitting the arts community in the Chicago area.
Joe Deacon contributed to this report.
Tuesday's forum's cosponsors and partners included:
- League of Women Voters of Greater Peoria
- League of Women Voters of McLean County
- League of Women Voters of McDonough County
- League of Women Voters of Freeport
- League of Women Voters – Rock Island County
- League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford
- League of Women Voters Kewanee Area
- NAACP Peoria
- NAACP Bloomington-Normal
- NAACP Freeport
- WNIJ (DeKalb)
- WVIK (Quad Cities)
- Tri States Public Radio
- Bradley University’s Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service
- Illinois State University Center for Civic Engagement
You can listen to the full audio or watch the event below: