‘I’ve spent my whole life fighting for working people, and I’ll do the same in Congress’
By CARL GREEN
Nikki Budzinski, a Democratic leader with extensive ties to the Labor Movement, is mounting a full-bore campaign for Congress to represent the Metro-East’s new 13th Congressional District.
Budzinski, 44, comes from a Peoria union family. In recent years, she worked as a senior adviser to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and before that was with the Office of Management and Budget in the Biden administration.
The incumbent, Rodney Davis of Taylorville, is a Republican who has benefited from a favorable district since taking office in 2013, but the map for next year is being redrawn by the Democratic-majority Illinois Legislature.
“I’ve spent my whole life fighting for working people, and I’ll do the same in Congress,” Budzinski said in announcing her campaign. “I want to make sure every American has access to the same middle-class opportunities that my grandparents did, as a union painter and teacher.”
The clans have been gathering for Budzinski, leading to endorsements from a string of unions and public officials, including:
- County Democratic chairmen including Paul “Snow” Herkert, Calhoun; Pam Monetti, Macoupin; Mark Pohlman, Jersey; Bill Houlihan, Sangamon; and Ben Curtin, Christian.
- IBEW Locals 51, 146, 193, 309, 601 and 649. Bobby Wedell, business manager of Local 51, said, “We need allies like Nikki in Congress to make sure we are supporting and creating good union jobs. Nikki is a tireless advocate for working families.”
- The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). “It is critical that the IAFF has leadership in Congress that understands our legislative priorities and listens to our interests,” President Chuck Sullivan said. “We know Nikki will be there for us and advocate for our members.”
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881.
- U.S. Rep. Sean Casten, of the 6th Congressional District outside of Chicago. “I know we have an advocate in Nikki who will fight on critical issues like climate change and lowering the cost of prescription drugs,” said Casten, who won office in 2018 by defeating a Republican incumbent.
- U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Rock Island).
- U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Chicago).
- State Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville).
Illinois’ proposed redistricting map, released on Oct. 15, would make parts of the Metro-East the southwestern anchor of the 13th Congressional district, which would include all or parts of Springfield, Champaign-Urbana and Peoria.
“I want to build a strong, broad coalition to beat Rodney Davis, and I think I can start doing that right now, even not necessarily knowing where the lines are going to be,” Budzinski said in an interview.
Budzinski graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and interned with U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt and Planned Parenthood. She also worked for the fire fighters union and as national political director for the UFCW.
When Joe Biden became president, she became chief of staff of the Office of Management and Budget and helped start the Made in America office.
Budzinski returned to Illinois to become Pritzker’s senior adviser on Labor issues, leading the successful campaign to raise the state’s minimum hourly wage to $15.
“There was just so much politics around bringing a $15 minimum wage to Illinois,” she said. “But by bringing people together and staying true to our word and our values, we got it done. Now every year, low-wage workers are going to get a dollar more in their paycheck. And by 2025, we’ll get to $15 an hour. This means a tremendous amount to me, and it shows what we can get done when we’re focused on helping working people.”
Budzinski also served as executive director of Climate Jobs Illinois, a coalition of 12 unions working for clean energy infrastructure programs.
ROOTS IN CENTRAL ILLINOIS
“I really wanted to come back home to central Illinois, where I was born and went to college and have lived off and on throughout my career,” Budzinski said.
Her grandfather, Leonard Budzinski, was a union painter for the Peoria School District, and her grandmother was a union public school teacher.
“They were people of modest means,” she said. “They didn’t have a checkbook. They didn’t have a credit card. The money they took out of the bank was what they had to spend that week. I learned to be hard-working, humble and to be happy with a modest lifestyle. They taught me the value of hard work and the dignity that is in work, too.”
ANOTHER PRIMARY CANDIDATE
One other Democrat, David Palmer of Champaign, a former professional basketball player now working as a retirement planning adviser for Country Financial, has said he will enter next year’s primary.
Palmer said he hopes to build a coalition of Democratic voters in Champaign, Springfield and the Metro East.