Rep. John Shimkus (R)
Illinois 19th District
Much of Southern Illinois is a land of prairies, of flat, treeless land sloping imperceptibly down to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. It was settled almost entirely from the south by farmers coming overland from Kentucky, such as Abraham Lincoln’s family. Just beyond the Ohio River, they found hilly terrain, some of which turned out to have coal deposits. As they traveled farther north, they must have been astonished, after miles of thick forest, to see the great American prairie stretch before them, a vast sea of empty land extending past the horizon. The prairie lands proved wondrously rich and were soon crisscrossed by rail lines taking their produce away and bringing in industrial products from St. Louis, Chicago and points east. About the same time, vast coal deposits were found in southern Illinois, and several mining towns sprouted. This was the home turf of John L. Lewis, the imperious leader of the United Mine Workers for half a century and, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, one of the most powerful and eloquent figures in American public life.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 19th Congressional District of Illinois, the largest in the state, extends more than 200 miles up, down and across. It covers all or part of 30 counties in the rich heartland of southern Illinois—most of the land area south of Springfield, from the Ohio River to the Mississippi. Much of it is south of the old National Road, which became U.S. 40 and is paralleled by Interstate 70, the traditional boundary between the part of downstate Illinois settled by Southerners and the part settled by Yankees. The city of Effingham, which straddles that line, is where corn and soybean fields give way to hills and valleys with orchards and woodlands. The boundaries of the 19th are jagged, but there is a rational political explanation for them. The biggest voting blocs are in Madison, Clinton and Washington counties, part of the St. Louis metropolitan area, and the Sangamon County suburbs of Springfield, the state capital. The district includes the coal-mining area around Mount Vernon, sparsely settled areas along the Ohio River and some prairie counties along U.S. 40. Traditional Democrats have become harder to find here. George W. Bush won 61% of the vote in 2004, his best performance in the state. In 2008, John McCain won 26 of the 30 counties in the district.
Rep. John Shimkus (R)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: Feb. 21, 1958, East St. Louis .
Education: West Point Military Acad., B.S. 1980, Christ Col., Teaching Cert., 1990, S. IL U., M.B.A. 1997..
Family: Married (Karen); 3 children.
Military career: Army 1980–85; Army Reserves, 1985-2008..
Elected office: Collinsville Township trustee, 1989-93; Madison Cnty. treas., 1990–96.
Professional Career: High schl. teacher, 1986–90.
The congressman from the 19th District is John Shimkus, a Republican first elected in 1996. Shimkus grew up in Collinsville, in Madison County. His father was an installer for Illinois Bell, and his mother a township trustee. He is of Lithuanian descent, as is his predecessor in the seat, Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin. Shimkus graduated from West Point, trained in the Army as a ranger and paratrooper, went to college in California, then came back to Collinsville to teach high school. Almost immediately, he began running for local office. In 1988, he ran for the Madison County Board and lost. The very next year, however, he was elected a Collinsville Township trustee. In 1990, at age 32, he beat a 12-year incumbent to become Madison County treasurer. He challenged then U.S. Rep. Durbin in 1992 and lost 57%-43%, a closer margin for Durbin than in his previous campaigns. In 1996, when Durbin ran for the Senate, Shimkus easily won the Republican primary, with 51% against seven other candidates. In the general election, he faced state Rep. Jay Hoffman. Both were anti-abortion rights, anti-gun control, and pro-balanced budget amendment. Hoffman raised more money and had the benefit of support and financial backing from the AFL-CIO, but Shimkus won, 50.3% to 49.7%. The following August, after taking classes part-time for six years, Shimkus received an MBA from Southern Illinois University.
|John Shimkus (R)||203,434||(64%)||($1,209,093)|
|Daniel Davis (D)||105,338||(33%)||($68,004)|
|Troy Dennis (Green)||6,817||(2%)|
|John Shimkus (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (61%), 2004 (69%), 2002 (55%), 2000 (63%), 1998 (61%), 1996 (50%)
In the House, Shimkus’s voting record is at the center of House Republicans. In August 2008, he joined with other House Republicans in briefly occupying the House floor after Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveled the House into recess without calling a vote on new domestic oil drilling and production. The group was protesting the absence of action on the issue as energy prices soared and also what they called strong-arm tactics by Pelosi. Shimkus has made several visits to Iraq and occasionally criticized the news media for not fully reporting the conditions there. In May 2007, he spurred liberal protests when he compared the current state of the war to a baseball game in which the St. Louis Cardinals left the field in the middle of a game with the Chicago Cubs. “You can’t quit,” Shimkus’ spokesman said. Shimkus was a lieutenant colonel on active duty in the Army Reserves until he retired in 2008.
From his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee early in his House tenure, Shimkus ushered to passage a locally important piece of legislation that qualified the soybean-diesel fuel blend B-20 for the alternative-fuels program. The bill passed despite objections from the Clinton administration. In 2008, Shimkus harshly criticized President Bush’s decision to curtail funding the FutureGen project, an experimental, clean-technology coal-fired power plant that was to be built in the neighboring 15th District and could have provided an economic boost for his own district.
As a former high school teacher, Shimkus took what seemed to be a routine assignment as chairman of the House page board and imposed stricter review procedures for applicants. But five weeks before the 2006 election, revelations that Republican Rep. Mark Foley had sent inappropriate and sexually explicit e-mails to former male pages was a political bombshell for the party, including for Shimkus and GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois. Both men had known of questionable contacts Foley had with pages and failed to launch an investigation. Shimkus said that in 2005 he had confronted Foley with reports of e-mail messages to young pages and alerted House officials. “I don’t know of a single thing I would have done differently,” he said. The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct found that Shimkus should have shared the information with other House members on the page board and should have demanded copies of all of Foley’s e-mails. But the committee called for no sanctions against him. Later, Shimkus said he wished that he had done more to investigate the allegations about Foley, and he stepped down from the board.
In 2001, when the state’s redistricting plan eliminated the seat held by Rep. David Phelps, a conservative Democrat, Phelps decided to run against Shimkus in the new 19th District. After a spirited contest, in which organized labor spent more than $1.5 million trying to dislodge Shimkus, he won 55% to 45% for Phelps. Since then, he has been re-elected easily. When he first ran for the seat, Shimkus said he would limit himself to six terms. But Shimkus reconsidered and in September 2005 called his earlier pledge “a mistake.” He said, “Unless everyone plays by the same rules, term limits don’t make sense.”