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Retired Rockford judge McGraw kicks off GOP bid in 17th Congressional District

Republican 17th District candidate Joe McGraw speaks during a news conference Wednesday near the Peoria County Courthouse square.
Joe Deacon
Retired circuit court judge Joe McGraw of Rockford announces his Republican bid for Illinois' 17th Congressional District seat during a news conference Wednesday near the Peoria County Courthouse square.

Rockford Republican Joe McGraw says he's running for Illinois’ 17th Congressional District seat because he wants to reverse Biden Administration policies that he believes are failing.

“We've had a Democratic administration that is against law enforcement and more concerned about illegal aliens than they are about American citizens,” McGraw said Wednesday afternoon at a kickoff event near the Peoria County Courthouse square.

“Our district has everything that's right about America," he said. "We make things, we grow things. We've got good, honest people that work for a living. But how can they be successful when Washington policies are so much against them?”

McGraw retired as a circuit court judge on July 5 after more than 20 years on the bench. He is hoping to unseat first-term Democrat Eric Sorensen, who defeated Esther Joy King in last year’s election for the seat vacated when Democrat Cheri Bustos’ retired.

McGraw said he’s optimistic he can flip a House seat that’s been in Democratic hands for more than a decade because he’s focused on “pocketbook issues.”

“When you think about inflation, that affects everybody, regardless of party affiliation,” he said. “When you think about the price of fuel, that affects everybody. When you think about excessive governmental regulation, and jobs going overseas instead of good paying jobs remaining here, those are not partisan issues.”

The 17th Congressional District extends from Bloomington-Normal west through Peoria, up to the Quad Cities and along Illinois’ northwestern border before wrapping back around to Rockford.

“I think the biggest issues in Peoria are the kinds of issues that are affecting every manufacturing town in America,” McGraw said. “Our technology has been shipped overseas; our jobs been shipped overseas. China's been ripping us off for a long time now.

“We need to bring technology back home. We need to bring the manufacturer of prescription drugs back home. Instead of buying minerals, natural resources from China, we should be mining our own. We should be developing our own petroleum industry and natural gas industry.”

McGraw’s announcement comes after Galesburg businessman Ray Estrada withdrew from the race earlier this month. Milan farmer Scott Cowl has filed his candidacy paperwork and has a GOP campaign launch event scheduled Saturday in Moline. Longtime state Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington opted not to run after his unsuccessful bid for Illinois secretary of state.

McGraw said he doubts he could find any common ground with Sorensen and the Democrats.

“They're the ones that have stopped energy production in the United States, put a stranglehold on it,” he said. “They’re the ones that have caused us to be energy dependent; that affects the price of everything, whether you're talking about the supply chain, whether you're talking about at the gas pump, whether you’re talking about energy for manufacturing. They put an undue burden on people that work for a living; that's a huge failure. That's driven jobs elsewhere.”

McGraw declined to throw his support behind any particular Republican presidential candidate.

“When I was on the bench, I learned one thing, and that's to make sure you have all the data before you make a decision, and that's what I'm going to do,” McGraw said. “This sorting out process is still going on right now. We're going to be following that closely, and when we have that information that we need, we'll make a decision.”

The former judge also said the legal process needs to play out in all the felony indictments brought against former President Donald Trump. He declined to say whether a potential criminal conviction should preclude Trump from returning to the Oval Office.

“You're asking me to speculate about an outcome that's not yet before us. What I'm doing is remaining objective until we have all evidence before us,” McGraw said. “When that happens, I'll make a decision.”

McGraw didn’t say whether he would’ve supported the removal of former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy if he was a current member of Congress. He also was noncommittal on a Biden impeachment inquiry.

“I think a lot of people are very disgusted, disturbed about what's taking place in Congress,” he said. “They want Congress to stop being the sideshow and to get on with the work of the people, and my goal would be to do that 100%.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.