Rep. Aaron Schock (R)
Illinois 18th District
Old vaudeville bookers, presented with a new act, used to ask, “Will it play in Peoria?” The implication was that if an act went over in this small city on the bluffs above the Illinois River, 154 miles from Chicago and 171 miles from St. Louis, it would go over just about anywhere. In the first half of the 20th century, Peoria did seem pretty typical of America. If its citizens were mostly of British or German descent, with a small percentage of African-Americans, that was the image of ordinary America that prevailed through the 1960s, despite the great immigrations of 1880-1924 and the northward urban migrations of Southern rural blacks of 1940-1965. But Peoria’s economy has changed, much as America’s has changed. This is still a heavy manufacturing town, dominated by big plants that produce farm machinery and earth-moving equipment. Its biggest employer is Caterpillar, the world’s leading producer of earth-moving and construction equipment, and one of America’s major exporters. There are more than just memories here of the sharp divide between blue collar and white collar, union and management, Democrat and Republican—the basis of the class warfare politics that was the norm in heavy industrial metropolises of the Great Lakes region starting with the sit-down strikes of the late 1930s.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
But the blue-collar workers now are not as numerous and the unions not as strong. The Peoria area went through terrible times in the 1980s, as big farm machinery plants laid off workers and even closed down. Then Caterpillar, struck by the United Auto Workers in 1992, hired replacement workers and continued to operate—not without some friction and inefficiency, but profitably—something unheard of a decade or more earlier. Not until 1998 did union members approve a settlement, pretty much on the company’s terms. Memories of those hard times were revived by the recession in late 2008 and early 2009. Caterpillar was not immune from the national economic crisis, and the Peoria factory became one of the public faces of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus legislation. Obama claimed that Caterpillar promised to rehire some laid-off employees if the stimulus bill passed, but Caterpillar refuted those claims. Obama visited the Peoria plant on Feb. 12, 2009. Despite the passage of the bill, Caterpillar went ahead with its planned layoffs in mid-March, including more than 900 in Peoria.
The 18th Congressional District of Illinois, variously configured, has been the Peoria district since the 1940s. It includes all 11 counties that President Abraham Lincoln represented during his one term in Congress, 1847-49. It has been represented by two national Republican leaders: from 1933-49 by Everett McKinley Dirksen, who was elected senator in 1950 and was Senate Republican leader from 1959-69, and Robert Michel, a House member from 1957-95 and House Republican leader from 1981-95. The 18th’s boundaries currently extend through rich farmland south along the Illinois River and east to include half of Springfield, including the state Capitol, and west within a few miles of Iowa. It is the home of Eureka College, which dedicated the Ronald Reagan Peace Garden in honor of its 1932 graduate and the end of the Cold War that he helped to achieve. George W. Bush won this district in 2004 with 58% of the vote, but in 2008 McCain eked out a win with 50% to Obama’s 48%.
Rep. Aaron Schock (R)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: May 28, 1981, Morris, MN .
Education: Bradley U., B.S. 2001.
Elected office: Peoria Bd. Of Education, 2001-05, V.P., 2003-04, Pres., 2004-05; IL House, 2005-08.
Professional Career: Founder, GarageTek, 2001-03; Dir. of devel. & construction, Petersen Co., 2007; Real estate investor/developer, 2001-present.
The new congressmen from the 18th District is Republican Aaron Schock, who at age 27 was the youngest member of the House when he took office in January 2009, and the first member to be born in the 1980s. Schock (SHOK) succeeded Republican Rep. Ray LaHood, who retired after the 110th Congress and then was chosen as Obama’s Transportation secretary.
|Aaron Schock (R)||182,589||(59%)||($2,602,218)|
|Colleen Callahan (D)||117,642||(38%)||($607,734)|
|Sheldon Schafer (Green)||9,857||(3%)||($9,074)|
|Aaron Schock (R)||55,610||(71%)|
|Jim McConoughey (R)||13,363||(17%)|
|John Morris (R)||9,160||(12%)|
Ambitious even as a child—Schock started his own Individual Retirement Account at 14 and amassed $18,000 working in a gravel pit in high school—he graduated from Bradley University with a finance degree in just two years. While still in college, Schock decided to challenge the sitting Peoria school board president because the board had refused to let him graduate early. The incumbent challenged Schock’s petition signatures, and he was disqualified. Undeterred, Schock staged a write-in campaign and went door-to-door to campaign. On Election Day, he won with 60% of the vote. After two years, he was elected vice president of the board, and the following year, at age 23, was unanimously elected school board president. Schock didn’t stop at local politics. In 2004, he mounted a campaign against eight-year incumbent state Rep. Ricca Slone, a Democrat, in a district that trended 60% Democratic. He argued that her liberal votes stopped jobs from coming to the district. Despite being outspent by Slone, Schock relied on the same grassroots outreach that had made his school board campaigns successful, and again, he won.
In the Illinois General Assembly, Schock passed 11 bills in his first five months in office, including reforms in disability testing for students in elementary schools and a change in the way colleges report eligibility of transfer courses. Schock also worked on identity-theft, prescription drug affordability and road construction issues. He was also an outspoken opponent of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s economic policies. In January 2008, Schock proposed a bill to allow citizens who completed a safety course to carry concealed weapons.
When LaHood announced his retirement in July 2007 after seven terms, Schock quickly made plans to run for the open seat. He met with LaHood in mid-August to seek his support, and LaHood gave him the names of county chairmen to contact. Shortly afterward, LaHood learned his son was considering running for the seat, and so he called the chairmen to ask that they stay neutral, only to learn Schock had already received 11 endorsements. LaHood’s son decided not to get into the contest. Still, LaHood withheld his initial support for Schock and later complained that Schock inappropriately used his name in his campaign literature.
During the campaign, Schock had some missteps. In November 2007, he called for China to impose sanctions on Iran in an effort to stop their nuclear program. If they refused, Schock suggested that the United States sell nuclear weapons to Taiwan to get China’s attention. His two Republican challengers in the primary jumped on the statement. LaHood also said the remark showed immaturity. Schock later said that his statement was meant to underscore China’s importance in dealing with Iran. And he won the February 2008 primary with 71% of the vote.
While President Bush’s endorsement in 2008 sent some Republicans running in the other direction, Schock did not shy away from a fundraising visit by Bush over the summer, which netted his campaign more than $700,000. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, from the neighboring 14th District, also hosted a fundraiser for Schock and called him “the embodiment of the kind of candidates the Republican Party needs to win again.”
His general election opponent, former television news reporter Colleen Callahan, was selected by the state Democratic Party to run after former Bradley University coach Dick Versace, who won the primary, withdrew. Schock greatly outpaced Callahan in fundraising, bringing in over $2.6 million compared to her $600,000. Callahan ran ads criticizing Schock after he was investigated for possibly backdating tax documents when serving as a notary public for his father. Two weeks before the election, the Peoria County state’s attorney dropped the case. Schock won in November 59% to 38%, losing only Bureau County.
Schock arrived in Washington with near instant celebrity as the new “Generation Y” congressman, parlaying his youth into positive stories in the media and television appearances. Attractive and unmarried, the liberal blog The Huffington Post named him the “Hottest Freshman” of the 111th Congress. But one high profile admirer was rebuffed. Lobbying for Schock’s vote on his economic stimulus bill, Obama invited the new congressman to ride with him on Air Force One during his February visit to the Caterpillar plant and then praised him in his public comments. Schock voted no anyway. He was also quick to capitalize on the controversy that erupted after soon-to-be-impeached Gov. Blagojevich named Democrat Roland Burris to Obama’s Senate seat in spite of an investigation into whether the governor sought favors for the appointment. Schock’s first bill would require special elections for Senate vacancies.