Bustos, Kinzinger Ready To Work In New Congress

Jan 10, 2013

The 113th Congress includes a freshman Democrat from northern Illinois and a second term Republican from a neighboring district who is taking on new territory. Cheri Bustos and Adam Kinzinger are busy preparing for what lies ahead in the next session.

24 hours after being sworn in, Democrat Cheri Bustos held a conference call with reporters. She expressed a strong desire to work with lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle:

"I have reached out to, at this point, every new member of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats. I've called each of them personally or met them individually" Bustos said.

Bustos represents the 17th district, which covers a good portion of northwest Illinois. It includes a lot of farmland, plus a handful of metro areas, including parts of Rockford.

During last Friday's conference call, Bustos was also eager to talk about her new committee assignments: transportation and agriculture. She says her appointment to the Ag Committee is vital given the industry's strong presence in her district. It also comes at a time when federal lawmakers continue to wrangle over the Farm Bill, which was recently given a short-term extension.

Bustos says she wants to see Congress get serious about approving a bill that stretches for five years. She also reached out to the ranking Democrat on the committee, Minnesota's Collin Peterson.

"I talked to him about coming to our district - going around and meeting with some farmers and getting to know our area a little bit" Bustos said.

Bustos says Peterson was receptive to that idea. Her Republican colleague, Adam Kinzinger also held a conference call with reporters at the start of the new Congress.

Kinzinger was first elected in 2010, when Republicans took over the House. Because of redistricting, he decided to run in the new 16th against longtime Republican incumbent, Don Manzullo. Kinzinger defeated Manzullo in the primary and later secured an easy victory in the General Election.

Kinzinger told reporters that he was renewing a pledge he made two years ago.

"Which is to always remain accessible to the people of the new 16th District. My staff and I are here to ensure that constituents never walk away that they weren't able to share their thoughts, ideas, opinions and beliefs with me" Kinzinger said.

Like the 17th District, the new 16th also covers portions of Rockford, one of several areas Kinzinger will be representing for the first time. He says his new constituents can expect many of the same outreach efforts he did during his first term, like town hall meetings. Like Bustos, Kinzinger says he would like to see more bi-partisanship in Washington.

When asked about the nation's debt ceiling, Kinzinger took a more party-line approach.

"If we're gonna agree to raise it, we've said and we've raised the precedent, that we're not gonna raise it any more than we get in spending cuts" Kinzinger said.

NIU political scientist Matt Streb says when it comes to national issues, northern Illinois voters can expect to see plenty of polarization between these two representatives.

But Streb says he wouldn't be surprised to see them work closely with one another on local issues, especially since they both represent one of the state's largest cities. He cites the good relationship former GOP Congressman Don Manzullo had with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.

As for challenges within their own boundaries, Streb says Bustos, who not only has to deal with all of the chaos of being a newly-elected representative, faces the daunting task of serving constituents in a somewhat politically diverse district.

"We do have a fair number of districts in the country that are pretty homogenous in terms of overwhelmingly Democratic or overwhelmingly Republican. She does have a pretty strongly Democratic district, but she does have a combination of rural and urban areas. She's gotta balance different perspectives from that point of view" Streb said.

Streb says that means Bustos will have to spend a lot of time in the district, getting to know her constituents in anticipation of a strong challenge to her seat two years from now.

As for Kinzinger, Streb says his situation is a little less hectic. But because of redistricting, he says Kinzinger will also need to spend a lot of time back home. He says because the way the election played out, Kinzinger didn't have to campaign in every corner of the district.

"He was elected without knowing the district as well as maybe he would like to. The fact that it's such a Republican district will certainly help him, but nonetheless, you still gotta go out and you have to press the flesh and you need to get to know the constituents" Streb said.

When it comes to having any influence on national policy matters, Streb says Kinzinger and Bustos have to face reality that they're junior members of Congress and are not expected to have a lot of say on key decisions.