Chip Markel knows it’s an uphill battle to unseat an incumbent Republican Congressman in Illinois, but he’s in the run to win it.
Homer “Chip” Markel, 62, is running in the 12th Congressional District for Illinois, representing much of the metro-east and southern Illinois. He will face U.S. Rep. Mike Bost in November. A graduate of Trico High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served four years. Upon discharge, he was employed as a boiler technician at the Sikeston Power Plan in Missouri and was a member of IBEW Local 702.
In 1985, he joined the Illinois Department of Corrections as a correctional officer at Menard Correctional Center. Three years later he was union president of AFSCME Local 1175, and it was at Menard that the union had to really step up.
Markel said when he was there, the violence against correctional officers was extreme: one officer was stabbed 18 times, another four times. This was in the late 1980s into the early 1990s, and Markel said if the prisoners weren’t in lockdown, an officer was being assaulted every day.
“I didn’t have the luxury of giving an officer an excuse why I couldn’t make the place safer,” Markel said.
It took two and a half years, but the union convinced the state to open Tamms Correctional Center as a “supermax” prison for the most dangerous offenders, Markel said. He transferred to Tamms when it opened, and was a union steward and contract negotiator for ISEA/Laborers Local 2002, which included their initial contract.
“I worked every day as union president to get that done, and that’s the same drive and determination I’ll take to Washington if I’m lucky enough to go there,” Markel said.
Markel has been retired from the Illinois Department of Corrections since 2012, and he and his wife have been “living the retirement dream.” But being active in the union and working with the legislators drew him back into public service.
“I enjoy my life as a retiree,” he wrote on his website. “But I cannot sit by and watch the country that I love continue to crumble.”
And Markel become discontent with his representation. “Mike Bost began voting against the people,” he said when he spoke to the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council last month. “He voted against union interests, against the infrastructure bill… That’s the lifeblood of southern Illinois and everyone in this room. I don’t see how our representative can do that.”
Markel said if elected, he would be able to work across the aisle, having worked with a Republican governor to open Tamms. “If I go to Washington and there’s a bill I want passed, I don’t care if it’s from a Democrat or Republican, I’m just looking for 235 votes,” he said.
The events of Jan. 6 also made a difference, Markel said. “One Republican who knew Mike Bost personally and voted for him told me that after Jan. 6, he’ll never vote for him again,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats aren’t enemies. We can come together for the right reasons, and hopefully this is the first step of getting us back on the right track.”
He said bipartisanship is key to getting work done, and that he believes people are tired of the divisiveness. “Every time I walk in a parade, I tell people something’s got to change, and they always agree,” he said. “Just give me one chance, give me one vote and if I can’t earn your second vote, I don’t need to be there. But I promise I will work with you every day, just like I did to get Tamms open.”
Markel knows it’s not going to be an easy fight, considering the conservatism of southern Illinois. But he’s a long-time working class, union member, and he hopes that will carry him through.
“In order for someone to have a chance to beat Mike Bost, it has to be someone with a military, labor and law enforcement background,” he said. “I’m not an East Coast Democrat, I’m not a West Coast Democrat, I’m a southern Illinois Democrat. I’ve worked my whole life and I know what it’s like to work for a living.”
Markel said he knows Bost has $1 million in his campaign fund, and he can’t match that kind of fundraising. Instead, he said, he’ll focus on a grassroots effort, talking to people and getting them to talk to friends and family in his favor.
The Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council voted unanimously to endorse Markel for the 12th District race. He also joined the recent rally in Collinsville to bolster support for the Workers’ Rights Amendment in Illinois.