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GOP challenger for Peoria House seat takes on public safety and abortion

Ben Watt has been a Peoria Public School volunteer, school bus driver, and a pastor. He now works as the HR director for Peoria Charter Company.
Ben Watt
Ben Watt of Peoria, the Republican candidate for the 92nd House District, is interim youth pastor at Eastside Bible Church.

Ben Watt is hoping to be the next representative for Peoria in the Illinois General Assembly. Without a Republican opponent in this month’s primary, he’ll run against incumbent Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth in November’s general election in the 92nd House District.

Watt said that after Gordon-Booth’s 13 years in office, it’s time for new leadership. Watt said he believes an incumbent of so many years loses a sense of accountability to their constituents.

“When I talk to people in the community, they don't know (Gordon-Booth’s) position on a lot of things because she doesn't ever have to defend them. If she would change her mind on some of the subjects, I probably wouldn't run, but I don't think she's going to. So I'm giving people an option for someone else to represent them,” said Watt.

Watt acknowledged that he does agree with certain parts of Gordon-Booth’s policies. Gordon-Booth championed public safety reform earlier this year, and Watt said he agrees with the need for police reform.

Watt said his desire for reform comes from his time working in the church.

“I have ministered to many young people who have a really bad taste in their mouth for the police. And part of that is because of the media, and part of that is because of personal experience. So I certainly think that we need respectful police reform,” said Watt.

Watt did not elaborate on specific reform policies, but disparaged the SAFE-T Act’s supposed defunding of the police. However, the act does not do this.

Another issue that Watt opposes Democratic action on is the repeal of Parental Notification Act of Abortion, which allows an underage person to obtain an abortion without mandatory notification of their parents. The Parental Notification Act of Abortion expired June 1, and Watt said reinstatement of that policy would be his top priority if elected.

Gordon-Booth, who has ascended to become a House deputy majority leader, has not faced a GOP candidate since 2010. When asked why now is time for change, Watt told WCBU that “I looked at all the possible candidates, and I liked me the best!”

Gordon-Booth is likely to be a formidable incumbent, with high name recognition in the district and $291,000 in her campaign war chest at the last quarterly update, election records show.

Watt is unopposed in the June 28 primary and will face Gordon-Booth in the November election. Early voting for other primary races is open until June 27.

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Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.