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Republican Esther Joy King zeroes in on combating inflation during her second IL-17 run

Republican Esther Joy King of East Moline participates in a 17th Congressional District candidate forum in East Peoria on Jan. 25, 2020. King, who narrowly lost the 2020 general election to incumbent U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, is running for the seat again this year.
Tim Shelley
Republican Esther Joy King of East Moline participates in a 17th Congressional District candidate forum in East Peoria on Jan. 25, 2020. King, who narrowly lost the 2020 general election to incumbent U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, is running for the seat again this year.

For Republican Esther Joy King, tamping down inflation is the key issue she believes voters in the Illinois 17th Congressional District care about most.

She's counting on kitchen table economic issues to carry her to victory in her second run for the northwestern and central Illinois congressional district, which now covers most of Bloomington-Normal and Macomb after political remapping. The district also still includes most or all of Peoria, Galesburg, Rockford, Kewanee, Rock Island, and Moline.

During a recent WCBU in-studio interview, King repeatedly said she hears from district residents more about the economy than other issues like immigration or abortion.

"When I'm out talking with people, nine times out of ten, the first thing out of a voter's mouth is 'I'm struggling.' It's all about gas prices, grocery prices, the future for our grandchildren, if grandparents are talking to me, or mom saying 'I can't; I have to check my bank balance before I can buy food for my kids right now.' We are suffering," she said.

The race for the seat currently held by retiring Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos is widely considered a toss-up in a national political environment believed to favor Republicans, though not as heavily as a few months ago.

Democrat Pat Ryan focused heavily on the abortion issue ahead of his win in the New York 19th Congressional District special election against Republican Marc Molinaro. But King said what plays in New York doesn't necessarily play in Peoria and other parts of the district.

"If there's one thing I've learned in campaigning, it's the idiom that all politics are local. So I believe I need to be listening to and concerned with what's happening here in our communities here in Peoria," she said.

King said she's for the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson overturning the nearly half-century old Roe v. Wade precedent that shielded abortion access rights on a national scale.

"I do support what the Supreme Court did and returning the decision back to the states, to the people, really," she said. "It's closer to us, the people. So our voice matters more in this conversation."

King said she believes Illinois has some of the most extreme abortion laws in the country, citing the Illinois General Assembly's decision to scrap a law requiring parental notification for minors seeking an abortion.

She said she is "pro-life," but does support exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and to protect the life of the mother. She said abortion access should ultimately be left up to individual states to decide.

King is the daughter of Christian missionaries who raised her on the U.S.-Mexico border. She grew up in Juarez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas. As a self-described "Third Culture Kid," King said she has a unique perspective on immigration issues.

Her sister's husband lived undocumented in the United States. Following their marriage, he turned himself into authorities and was deported. It took three years for him to legally return to the country.

"I had a front row experience watching my sister and her husband, and what they had to go through, for him to come back to the United States of America. And let me tell you, we absolutely need an overhaul to the current bureaucratic system that is our immigration process," she said.

King said she supports a change in work visa policy to avoid bumping people who get married to the back of the line.

On inflation, King said energy independence and fiscal responsibility can bring high prices down. She criticized the Biden administration for canceling the Keystone XL pipeline and canceling energy permits on federal lands.

King said her approach to energy independence includes a mix of oil, natural gas, nuclear power, and renewables. She criticized Illinois' Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, or CEJA, for not delivering enough new green energy jobs to supplant those lost by the closure of coal-burning power plants like Duck Creek Power Station in Canton.

King said she believes cutting down on bloat at the federal level can make a positive impact on inflation. She cited dollars in the Inflation Reduction Act to beef up the Internal Revenue Service's ranks, but didn't immediately raise any additional examples. She said she'd have to take a look at other agencies or programs to cut, using her experience in the U.S. Army and as a lawyer.

"My specialized training is to be a fiscal law attorney. So it's my job to make sure that we are responsible and how we spend taxpayer dollars," she said.

King said she believes President Biden's recent executive order on student debt will also have an inflationary impact on the economy.

"It's not the United States taxpayers' responsibility for my student debt to be repaid on their backs," she said of her own student debt. "And so I truly do believe this is the wrong decision at the wrong time."

King said she's building a winning coalition of voters frustrated with the country's direction.

"Whether the Democrats who are just they feel like their party has gone and left them behind, or independents who are just upset about what's going on the division and just how things are going in our country right now, or Republicans who are just frustrated with the overreach and and what's going on at the federal level, all of them are coming our way," she said.

The general election is set for Nov. 8. Democrat Eric Sorensen, a former TV meteorologist, is also running to represent the 17th Congressional District. You can read about or listen to an interview with him here.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.