Steve Heronemus

A Tale of Two Candidates

The Illinois 14th Congressional District is reliably red most years, especially after redistricting in 2011 that countered its few urban neighborhoods with vast swathes of conservative, white, suburban and rural territory across 7 counties. The 14th is the district of disgraced and imprisoned former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and many here still pine for a man of Hastert’s ilk to represent them.Throughout our entire history we have been represented by white men.
Our Representative since 2011 is Randy Hultgren, a conservative Tea Party evangelical Christian who is unfailingly pro-business, anti-choice and anti-marriage equality. He has assiduously built a reputation for being unavailable to the public except at ribbon-cutting photo opportunities.
Hultgren’s opponent in this election is Lauren Underwood, an African-American nurse and public health expert. Underwood joined the race after hearing Congressman Hultgren promise to protect health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, then vote for the American Health Care Act (AHCA) in a move that supported the party in contradiction to his public statements. 
I like to be an informed voter and be involved in the political process. My wife, Suzanne, taught me long ago to not complain about something unless I am willing to do something about it. So I wanted to see each of the candidates in person. Ms. Underwood was coming to speak in my town, but at a location we know to be inaccessible to wheelchairs. We contacted the campaign to see if I could have a minute outside the venue. She offered to come to my home. In fact, Lauren Underwood came to my house, spoke with me for an hour on a Saturday busy with scheduled campaign stops, and listened to my concerns for over an hour without making me feel rushed. 
Congressman Hultgren was holding a forum on hunger in a nearby town, so I had my caregiver bundle me up to go to the event. I was able to ask a question using my speech device, explaining how the high cost of home health care and prescription drugs leads many in the ALS community to choose death over taking food away from their families. He dismissed my question as not being about hunger and suggested I make an appointment to see him. At the forum’s conclusion, he made no attempt to meet me or facilitate setting up an appointment.
Did I mention I am a quadriplegic? And speak through a computer? 
3 phone calls later, I did get an appointment, and my caregiver schlepped me around the suburbs for a meeting. I led off the meeting expressing my disappointment over his insensitivity to how difficult it is for me to get out and to use a phone to set up meetings. Rep. Hultgren apologized and was respectful and attentive, listening to my concerns for health care, until I clearly bumped up against his schedule. He invited me to provide more information through email, which I have done. 
For me, the contrast between candidates could not be more stark. Regardless of a candidate’s positions, a representative democracy ought to be informed by the representatives meeting with, listening to, and being available to, the citizens. Should our elected representative not represent the party of our choice, that person still should acknowledge the humanity of all and find ways to meet people where they are. Rep. Hultgren chose to look at me in my wheelchair, using my speech device to talk, and he told me to come to him some other time. Lauren Underwood came to me. I am voting for Lauren Underwood.