Rep. Phil Hare (D)
Illinois 17th District
Illinois’s western prairies are some of America’s richest agricultural land. They were first settled by Yankees coming overland from northern Indiana and Ohio and upstate New York. After 1848, Germans left their homeland in search of better opportunities and settled in a place that in many ways resembled the flat, orderly plains of northern Germany. These migrants farmed quarter-sections and built small towns, with banks and stores, community churches and libraries. As farming expanded, so did the need for agricultural equipment. Entrepreneurs and investors built farm-machinery factories, and the Quad Cities of the Mississippi—Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois—became one of the nation’s biggest agricultural-equipment manufacturing centers. The plants were unionized in the 1930s and 1940s, and in post-World War II America wages went up as the demand for more sophisticated machines increased on Midwest farms, many of them reliant on government subsidies. But eventually the cost of subsidies rose too high, and the market had its revenge. In the early 1980s, farm profits vanished, land values declined and orders for new machinery and equipment dried up. The result was a depression in western Illinois and neighboring Iowa, and a political swing toward the Democrats and away from the Republicans, who had been the ancestral party in most of this area. The Democratic tide has receded a bit, but this was still one of the few parts of rural America carried by Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, and Barack Obama in 2008. Recent job losses and wildly oscillating farm prices have helped Democrats maintain majorities here. From 2000 to 2007, population in the region declined, with Rock Island down 3.2% and East Moline down 2.5%, and median household income fell 18% in Rock Island and 16% in East Moline.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 17th Congressional District includes the Illinois portion of the Quad Cities plus several rural counties to the south. It takes in the entire Mississippi River border with Iowa almost to St. Louis. From there, the geography gets more imaginative. A thin strip of land along the Mississippi River and the lower Illinois River connects the district to an extension that includes rural Macoupin County and some parts east of there. Then another thin reed sprouts north from Macoupin to include central Springfield (but not the state Capitol building), and then reaches some 40 miles farther east to take in a portion of the city of Decatur. Decatur is home to politically influential Archer Daniels Midland, the world’s largest agricultural processor and a key champion of ethanol. It would be fairly easy to drive directly from any part of the 17th District to another, but only if you crossed over into the 18th or 19th districts. There is, of course, a political explanation for this weird configuration. By removing the Republican counties east and north of the Quad Cities during redistricting, the 17th District was made more safely Democratic, and neighboring districts were reinforced for Republicans. Macoupin County is historically Democratic, and central Springfield and Decatur are solidly Democratic.
Rep. Phil Hare (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: Feb. 21, 1949, Galesburg .
Home: Rock Island.
Education: Attended Black Hawk Community College, 1967-69.
Family: Married (Beckie); 2 children.
Military career: Army Reserves, 1969-75.
Professional Career: Factory worker, Seaford Clothing Factory, 1969-82, Dist. dir., U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, 1982-2006.
The congressman from the 17th District is Phil Hare, a Democrat elected in 2006. Hare was born in Galesburg, the son of a machinist. He attended Black Hawk Community College in Moline and was a union leader at the Seaford Clothing Factory in Rock Island, where he cut lining for men’s suits for 13 years. The work could be hazardous, and during his time there, Hare says, he was one of only three employees with all 10 fingers intact. Hare went to work as an aide to Democratic Rep. Lane Evans and stayed 24 years, chiefly as his district director. Evans was the ranking minority member on the Veterans Affairs Committee and a leading prairie populist before suffering the debilitating effects of a long-running battle with Parkinson’s disease. A week after winning the March 2006 Democratic primary, Evans announced that he would not run for a 13th term. Evans endorsed Hare as his successor, and Hare picked up the backing of labor unions and the Rock Island Democratic Party as well. But he had serious primary competition from State Sen. John Sullivan, state Rep. Mike Boland and Rock Island Mayor Mark Schweibert.
|Phil Hare (D)||220,961||(100%)||($556,136)|
|Phil Hare (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (57%)
Hare campaigned on health care and expanding renewable fuels. He supported abortion rights but favored restrictions, such as requiring parental notification for minors, and he opposed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Under Illinois law, precinct committeemen from the 17th District were authorized to choose the party’s replacement nominee for Evans in a weighted selection process. Hare says he spoke personally with nearly 350 of the roughly 400 eligible voters. He won 64% of the weighted vote to clinch the nomination. Boland criticized the “insider’s game” and pressure from party and union leaders to support Hare. In the general election, Hare faced former Quad Cities television news anchor Andrea Zinga, but her campaign never really threatened Hare. Zinga struggled to raise money, and the national GOP took no interest in the race. Hare won 57% to 43% for Zinga.
In the House, Hare votes near the center of the Democratic Caucus. He has pursued his former boss’s interest in veterans’ issues, with proposals for automatic payment of at least a portion of a disabled veteran’s claim at the time it is filed and for making veterans’ programs mandatory rather than discretionary spending. Hare also managed to win approval for a new veterans’ clinic in his district, an impressive feat for a freshman lawmaker. Following reports of bonuses to senior officials at the Veterans Administration, he cited the backlog of claims from soldiers plus security breaches at the department. In May 2007, Hare called for the resignation of Veterans Secretary Jim Nicholson.
On other issues, he was an outspoken critic of international trade agreements and publicly took issue with fellow Democrats who supported them. “I didn’t come out here to be a backbencher,” he said. When supporters said that the proposed free-trade deal with Colombia would help the Caterpillar plant in Hare’s district, Hare said he believed the opposite would be true for workers at the plant. “Somebody’s got to stand up for the American worker” and the adverse impact of past deals, he said. On the home front, he worked to secure as many earmarks as he could, despite controversy in recent years about the special provisions that lawmakers tuck into spending bills for their districts. “I don’t consider it pork,” he told the Quad-City Times. “My job is to get every penny I can back to this district.” Hare had no Republican opponent in 2008.