Political newcomer vying to be the voice in Springfield for growing Latino population in northern Illinois
Campaign leaflets, cookies, and even a baby for Juan Reyes, 50, to pose with were at hand at a recent fundraising event in Rockford for his candidacy. He's running for Illinois Senate in the 34th District as a Republican against Democrat Steve Stadelman.
“When they asked me what is my platform, I say three things: God, family and country,” Reyes said.
“God is the first thing on my platform. And God stands for 'Guide Of Direction.' He's my guide of direction [and] told me to run. When I say 'family,' we have to stop allowing the government to wedge themselves into family— every single thing that family does, the government's on there.”
The newly drawn 34th district map includes Rockford, Loves Park, New Milford, Perryville and all of Belvidere. The district includes a significant Latino population. Belvidere is 37 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census.
“I know most of Hispanics are somewhat Democrats, but a lot of them are moderate conservative,” Reyes said.
“I've been talking to a lot of them going, ‘I don't like the right, I don't like the left.' Well, I don't know what to tell you. And that's the problem. We only have two choices.”
While a majority of Latinos vote Democrat, in the last presidential election, former President Trump did win more Latino votes than he did in 2016.
Other Latino candidates running locally for legislative races as Republicans include Jonathan Ojeda, running for state representative in the 68th District.
The chairman of the Winnebago County Republican Central Committee told WNIJ the organization endorses all Republican candidates including Reyes.
But Reyes is falling well short of his challenger in fundraising. State campaign financing reporting shows the Reyes For Illinois committee received $3,000 in September. Second quarter reporting shows no money came in. Stadelman, meanwhile, reported over $225,000 in the same period.
The incumbent State Sen. Stadelman has touted his main priorities to be access to healthcare, increased education funding for the district, job creation, and economic development. That includes tax credits to redevelop vacant buildings and develop passenger rail between Rockford and Chicago.
Reyes takes party line views on issues likely to dominate Springfield after the November election like the Safe-T Act, which he wants repealed.
The law aims to increase accountability, transparency, and fairness in law enforcement and the court system.
“So, you're saying if someone kills or an aggravated DUI, somebody crashes until you, you get a citation and walk,” Reyes said. “That's wrong.”
A major target of misinformation has been the policy’s end of cash bail that goes into effect in 2023.
The legislation states that a defendant can be jailed before their trial begins if they pose a threat to the public or if they’re likely not to appear for their court hearing. For those already awaiting trial as they sit in jail, the law permits prosecutors to request individuals considered violent or a risk of flight to stay incarcerated.
Critics say some of the policies and definitions are too vague. Legislators plan to make tweaks to the law during the veto session, scheduled after the election.
State Sen. Stadelman said the 700 page long legislation is a work in progress.
“I think the legislation is really unclear in places,” Stadelman said.
"When you have major comprehensive legislation like this, it's not unusual to go back and clean it up and making sure that there aren't areas that are misinterpreted, or intentionally misinterpreted,” incumbent Stadelman said about the law.
Gun control is another issue Reyes believes resonates with voters in the district.
After the Fourth of July parade shooting in Highland Park, Gov. Pritzker called for a state and national assault weapons ban, the same kind of weapon used in that killing and in the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Reyes believes efforts to restrict gun ownership violate his constitutional rights. He wants to do away with the FOID card, which identifies someone permitted to purchase a firearm and ammunition.
“My thing is this, if we're so against guns, why are we in so many wars?” he said. “You know, I look at that, if we're against guns, or firearms, why do politicians have security all around them with guns? You know, that's what I'm saying. When I look at people, [they] don't realize they're being hypocrites.”
Regarding abortion, he believes it should only be permissible in the case of rape.
He opposes the state repeal of the Parental Notification Act in December. It required minors to inform their parents before getting an abortion.
Reyes was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and grew up in Rockford, the sixth of 11 children. He said his family is fourth generation Texan.
“We still call it 'Mexico,' because the government came and just put a line there. This is yours. And this is ours. So long story, you know, we love Texas.”
Reyes has a military and law enforcement background, including serving in the Rockford Park District Police Department for seven years. According to court documents, he was dismissed for allegations of sexual harassment and for planting evidence to coerce a suspect to confess to a drug crime.
Reyes filed a lawsuit claiming his termination was influenced by racial discrimination. A federal judge ruled Reyes did not have sufficient evidence to prove his argument. Reyes said it was a settled case and declined to comment further on the matter.
In addition to his background in law enforcement, Reyes touts his business experience. He owns three, including a security firm.
Reyes and Stadelman were uncontested in their respective primary races in June. Stadelman has served since 2013 and won in the last general election by 22%.