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Sen. Koehler prioritizes need to protect individual rights approaching midterms

State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, speaks as Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello stands by during a news conference discussing the Farm Family Resource Initiative to address mental health issues Tuesday at the UnityPoint Health Atrium in Peoria.
Joe Deacon
Dave Koehler is a Democrat Illinois state senator running for re-election in Illinois’s 46th District.

Recent Supreme Court decisions, the January 6 hearings, and transitioning out of a pandemic loom large over the r midterm elections in November.

State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, said a lot is at stake when looking at the future of U.S. politics.

Specifically, Koehler said the three Supreme Court justices appointed by former President Donald Trump — Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett — have dramatically changed the course of the high court.

“We’re a nation that is used to having rights expanded, and if you look throughout history — with Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, with women getting the right to vote, with the Civil Rights voting act — all kinds of things. With the fact that now, we can have same sex marriages. We have come used to the fact that as society progresses and as we change, that we have an expansion of our individual rights. This is the first time that I can remember that we’ve actually taken a right away,” Koehler said.

He said overturning Roe v. Wade was a step backward for protecting individual rights, and he worries taking away individual rights will not stop here.

“… We’ve all seen Clarence Thomas’ wish list. It doesn’t stop at abortion rights. It goes to same sex marriage. It goes to contraception. I mean are we really talking about whether government is going to allow a man and a woman to practice contraception? I think that there’s a list of things, at least in Clarence Thomas’ mind, that he would like to now go down that path of taking other rights way from individuals. I just find that hard to fathom,” Koehler said

“We have been a nation that has generally bent over backwards to make sure we protect individual rights. That’s what differentiates us as a democracy from a dictatorship or a communist country. We protect individual rights. That’s what this is about.”

Illinois has some of nation's most expansive abortion rights legislation on the books. After Roe v. Wade was overturned, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced the Illinois General Assembly would hold a special session, though no date has been specified.

Koehler said Illinois does a great job protecting women’s reproductive rights, and one of the goals of the special session is to strengthen legislation surrounding reproductive rights.

He said it's important Illinois discusses ways to protect physicians and patients seeking an abortion coming from other states, one of the many topics he hopes will be addressed during this session.

“I’m old enough to remember the early '70s before Roe v. Wade. … I remember hearing the horror stories of women who were basically mutilated by backyard back-alley butchers, who were performing abortions for money. They in some cases died. It was very risky business,” Koehler said. “With Roe v. Wade, we stopped that. Still, abortion is a personal decision that a woman makes. Never did the states say, ‘You have to have an abortion.’ No. It just said you weren’t going to be charged with a felony if you did. It’s an individual right,” Koehler said.

Koehler said ensuring everyone is represented is critical, and he worries how current representation standards are neglecting the individual rights of many.

“With the filibuster in the Senate, that means you have super minority control. Personally, I think that has to change. I think we need to protect and preserve this system of government because it’s the best the world has seen, and it’s our duty,” Koehler said.


The midterm elections are on Nov. 8, and Koehler said he hopes to see larger voter turnout because the ballot box is what he calls “the most powerful tool that we have in the United States,” especially following discussions about the fairness of elections during the last presidential election in 2020.

“We have to work always to protect the fairness and integrity of our electoral process. So, stating that, that we do have a good election system, I hope that people really can exercise their vote because that is what really sets the course for the United States. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at a local school board race or whether you’re at a city council race or state races or national races. Your vote helps to set the direction and the coarse that we take,” Koehler said.

He said this year’s elections are unique as Americans are transitioning away from the pandemic and two years of isolation into a time of many economic challenges and recovery attempts throughout the nation.

“Inflation is high because of the war in Ukraine, or just the fact that our oil companies haven’t kept up with oil production. We have a high demand, low supply situation, so gas prices are through the roof. There’s just a lot of uncertainty. I think the January 6 hearings have created some political and national anxiety that has existed for some time, and now it’s coming into a focal point,” Koehler said.

Koehler said following last week’s primary elections, it is hard to predict how November elections will go.

Koehler is running against Republican candidate Desi Anderson in the November general election. He has served in the Illinois General Assembly for 16 years.

“I’ve tried to do the job honestly and fairly and to my convictions. Some people agree with that; some people don’t. I hope that they at least know that I’m honest,” said Koehler, adding if re-elected, he hopes to focus on improving community security.

He said that depends on giving incarcerated people the chance to be rehabilitated, and investing in prisons.

“At the same time, we need to make sure we do everything to make our neighborhoods secure. No one wants to feel like they are going to be victims in their own home, and so there’s a balance there. You can’t go overboard either way,” Koehler said.

Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WCBU. She joined the station in 2021.