By CARL GREEN
Edwardsville – Madison County’s chief judge for seven years, the well-respected Ann Callis, has agreed to become a key part of the Democratic Party’s strategy to retake the U.S. House of Representatives from Republicans in 2014.
Metro-East Labor leaders applauded her decision to run for Congress but predicted a close race.
Callis, 48, is seeking the Democrat nomination in the 13th House District, a strangely configured area that runs from Edwardsville in the south to parts north and then east over to Champaign-Urbana. It is currently represented by Rodney Davis of Taylorville, a Republican protégé of longtime U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, now in his first term.
In order to seek the office, Callis had to resign her position as judge after serving for 18 years. She has already been replaced as chief judge by Circuit Judge David Hylla.
Metro-East labor leaders were united in their praise for Callis’ judicial work.
Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council, noted Callis’ many reforms and innovations in the courts, notably creating the Veterans’ Court that has helped many military veterans cope with problems upon returning to civilian life.
“She’d be great for us if she can get elected,” Stewart said. “She’s done a lot for Madison County. She doesn’t just talk it, she does it.”
Glyn Ramage, business manager for the Southwestern Illinois Laborers’ District Council, said Callis’ work on the bench reflects her upbringing in a family dedicated to working people. Her father is the noted Granite City trial lawyer Lance Callis.
“I have known her father for more than 30 years. There was never a greater advocate for working men and women,” Ramage said. “She grew up in that environment and carried it through her years on the bench, and I think she will carry it even further into the Congressional district.”
Tim Evans, assistant business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 309 in Collinsville, recalled attending Granite City High School along with Callis.
“If we can gain that seat back, it would be a big plus,” Evans said. “I’m wishing all the best for her.”
In her announcement of candidacy, Callis described herself as a proven reformer – something much needed in the halls of Congress.
“Like many of my friends and neighbors, I’m frustrated right now that Washington is not listening, and it’s not delivering for the middle class,” she said. “As chief judge, I’ve delivered reforms when Washington didn’t, and I’m running to deliver solutions for middle-class families who are looking for good-paying jobs and someone to protect Medicare and Social Security.”
In addition to the Veterans Court, she developed a mediation process that has helped families keep their homes in the face of foreclosure threats, and she has worked to open more court records to the public.
The veterans’ program was honored by the national Foundation for Improvement of Justice and has saved taxpayers thousands of dollars. She is also credited with helping curb excesses in class-action litigation that gained the county a national reputation.
Callis lives near Troy in Madison County and has a son serving in the U.S. Army and a daughter studying to become a teacher. Her home is just outside of the 13th District, but she is legally allowed to run in the district and plans to move there as well.
The last Democratic candidate in the district, Dr. David Gill of Bloomington, almost defeated Davis in the 2012 election – the vote was 136,596 for Davis and 135,309 for Gill.
Gill was taken out of the running May 3 when Gov. Pat Quinn appointed him assistant director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The way appears open for Callis to win the Democratic nomination, but in the general election she will face the challenge of running in an off-year election, when Democratic turnout typically falls off.
Stewart says that means Callis – or any other Democrat — will have a difficult time defeating a Republican incumbent in 2014. “It’s going to be a tough fight for her,” he said. “She’ll work hard.”
Ramage said he expects strong support for Callis from Laborers’ locals. “It’s do-able, but we’re going to have to work very hard on this,” he said.
Brandon Lorenz, a Democratic Party staffer from Washington, said Callis is one of a handful of potential Congressional candidates singled out for special assistance from the party because of their potential for claiming Republican-held seats.
The party already issued a statement blasting Davis for voting for the GOP bill to undermine overtime for workers by allowing employers to substitute promises of paid time off. The bill passed the House but is not expected to clear the Senate.