For U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, a new chapter

Editor’s note: This column should have said Bustos helped create more than 600 union and management jobs at Thomson prison. The number of jobs created was incorrect when the column originally was published on May 8. It since has been corrected.

My North Star has always led me toward community service and building a stronger future. As a journalist, I exposed corruption to make our area a better place to live. Serving as an executive in a health system, I fought for better care for those in need. And when first elected to public office on the city council, I worked to make my town a better place to live, work and play.

As I’ve rounded each new decade of my life, I’ve reflected on where the next 10 years might take me. Ten years ago, it was a run for Congress. But the next 10 years will be a new chapter. On April 30, I announced I will not seek another term at the end of this one in January 2023. I am healthy, relatively young, full of energy and passion and am ready to make a difference in a new way.

Working together, we have made real progress for our region. I first ran on the promise that I would work to expand access to health care. I championed a special enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act to help our families during the global pandemic. For our rural communities, I created the first-ever Rural Health Liaison position with the USDA. And when so many of our families were hurt by the opioid crisis, I introduced and passed legislation to help our combat opioid and heroin use.

I created new economic opportunities: Two farm bills; more than 600 union jobs at Thomson prison, 500 jobs at the Chicago Rockford International Airport and 65 new jobs at the Rock Island Arsenal; the end of a hiring freeze at Peoria’s Ag Lab; and economic summits to connect the people I serve with resources.

I championed rural broadband and secured a spot on the House Task Force fighting for it, to make sure our corner of Illinois gets the resources it needs to stay competitive. To set our families up for success, I worked to address teacher shortages by introducing the RETAIN Act to help fill our empty classrooms and invested in increased access to child care.

To safeguard services for our veterans, I helped lower VA clinic wait times and expand travel options for our vets to get to clinics and hospitals. When I met a Gold Star spouse struggling to afford to return to her family after her husband’s death, I stepped up and passed legislation to help spouses and dependents whose loved ones gave the ultimate sacrifice to our nation.

And as our nation faced dueling public health and financial crises, I helped pass the most significant series of relief packages in American history, including the transformative American Rescue Plan. Together, we’re making it safe for our children to return to school, distributing vaccines as quickly as possible, putting dollars into the pockets of Illinois families, and helping our small businesses stay afloat. After a dark winter that cost more than 22,000 lives in our state, we are finally turning a corner, and I’m proud I was able to help deliver relief to the people I serve.

Your voices have guided my every step. From protecting basic rights to organize, travel, marry, and vote, to helping replace thousands of toxic lead pipes to deliver clean water, to investing in our locks and dams so goods we produce get to market, to making room at the climate change table for our farmers, my greatest job has been to make sure Washington heard you.

And whether it was showing up at the grocery store for “Supermarket Saturdays” to ask working families what they want to see in Congress, delivering thousands of donated books to our local libraries, or solving nearly 6,000 cases for residents, I have always understood the importance of showing up and working hard.

Although I will not seek re-election, I know our work isn’t done. Throughout the remainder of my term, I’ll fight as hard as I can to make sure Washington continues to hear you. Although it won’t be in the halls of Congress for me, our work together will continue in the aisles of our small town grocery stores, on our factory floors and on our family farms.

It continues to be my honor to serve you – and I can’t wait to see all we’ll accomplish, together, in the next chapter.

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, now in her fifth term, is a member of House Democratic leadership and represents the 17th District of Illinois, which includes Rockford, the Quad-Cities, Peoria and hundreds of communities in between.