Write Team: Getting to know new candidate for Congress

One of the changes I’m looking forward to this fall is voting for incumbent Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood for Congress.

Because of redistricting, much of the Illinois Valley region is now part of the Illinois’ 14th District, along with DeKalb, Joliet and Naperville, where Rep. Underwood resides.

I caught up with the Congresswoman at a recent campaign event at a home in Marseilles. Walking in I recognized a couple of folks whom with I’ve disagreed over policy in the past, but I was glad to see them there. It was a welcome opportunity to put aside differences in support of a larger goal.

When Rep. Underwood arrived, accompanied by her mother, I was standing in the kitchen chatting with some friends. As she came through, she stopped to say hello and shook my hand and I was impressed by her friendly, unassuming manner. A few minutes later, we all came to attention as she began to speak.

She began her career as a registered nurse and moved into public policy working for the Obama administration back in 2014. As senior advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, she helped implement the Affordable Care Act. She left government service in 2017, when it became clear the new administration was not supportive of the ACA. Returning to Illinois, she was inspired to run for Congress when Rep. Randy Hultgren voted in support of the American HealthCare Act, legislation that would have repealed the ACA had it succeeded.

When Underwood ran for Congress, she had both political and personal reasons for doing so – she has a heart condition that would make insurance prohibitively expensive were it not for the protections in the ACA. And I can relate to her experience: before I got my current job, my family, like so many American families, was covered by insurance purchased through the exchanges created by the ACA. We benefited by having affordable insurance and the access to care it enables.

When she prevailed against Rep. Hultgren in 2018, she became the youngest African-American woman elected to Congress. Although her background might suggest an association with the group of congresswomen known as “the Squad,” Underwood is more moderate. Since being elected she has passed six pieces of legislation into law with bi-partisan support, including the Lower Insulin Cost Now Act. And she works hard to connect with her constituents: in her first term alone she held 25 town halls and 135 community events.

After she finished her remarks to our group in Marseilles, Underwood took questions and later made a point to recognize others running for local office who were in attendance. She emphasized the importance of voting in the upcoming primary elections on June 28 as well as the general election on Nov. 8 and encouraging voting with mail-in ballots.

There’s a kind of old-fashioned quality to Underwood’s campaign I admire: it’s about building a coalition through conversation and constructive debate. Meeting the Congresswoman’s mother reminded me of the stories I’ve heard about my partner’s grandfather, a local farmer who campaigned tirelessly all over the Illinois Valley for his daughter when she first ran for the Illinois General Assembly back in the 1970s.

  • Samuel Barbour is a proud papa, loving life partner and amateur ukelele composer. A local economics professor, he muses on all things topical, within our community and abroad, affecting our daily lives. Questions and comments are fielded at newsroom@mywebtimes.com