There are four Republican candidates on the March 17 primary ballot for Illinois’ 15th District congressional seat. But Kerry Wolff said when incumbent John Shimkus first announced his plans to step down last August, other candidates were slow to launch their campaigns. So Wolff, who said he grew up seeing his father and other relatives volunteer for civic and church responsibilities, decided he needed to step up.
“I know Washington is a swamp,” said Wolff. “I know the challenges in going there. But I also know my positions. What kind of example am I setting for my kids, if I don’t raise my hand to say that I’m willing to serve?”
Wolff lives in the Effingham County of Altamont, where he works for a firm that installs solar power systems, and serves as vice-president of the school board. He said he see himself as being similar in temperament and views to Rep. Shimkus, although he he differs with him and other Republicans in Congress on some recent issues.
“One of the things that drives me is that for years and years, conservatives have sent new representatives to Congress, only to find out after they get there, that their direction changes,” said Wolff.
One example is in healthcare. Wolff faults Republicans in Washington with failing to follow through with a pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, even though they controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress in 2017-18.
“Obamacare is so entrenched into life right now, that I don’t know at this point that it can ever be reversed, but it certainly has to be improved.”
He said the law has failed to curb the number of people without healthcare coverage, and has led to higher costs. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of uninsured Americans went up in 2018 for the first time in a decade, but is down about five percent since the Affordable Care Act took full effect in 2013.
Wolff said he wants to restore competitive markets, allowing insurance companies to compete across state lines, and for different groupings of people to band together to negotiate lower premiums. He said “Medicare for all” proposals are the “worst-case scenario,” which would lead to the rationing of healthcare.
Wolff said he’s ready to reach across the partisan divide to work with Democrats. The Republican, who grew up on a farm, said the shrinking numbers of people who work in agriculture is accustomed him to forming coalitions with others with different views, in order to get things done for farmers.
“Do I want to be a firebrand Republican?”, said Wolff, “or do I want to take a kind of middle ground, where I separate out the differences in our beliefs … leaving that ground open so that me and a Democrat can sit down with each other over a cup of coffee and hammer out some places that we agree on.”
Wolff said his number one agriculture priority is growing the export market for American farmers. Acknowledging that the trade war with China has hurt farmers’ exports, he said most farmers agree that the U-S trade imbalance with China needed to be dealt with.
“I think most farmers right now understand that, even though we’re taking it in the pocketbook really hard, with the lack of exports,” said Wolff. He said the new U.S.-China Phase One trade agreement looks “really attractive,” and hopes China will follow through with their commitments.
Wolff said another area of concern for agriculture is making sure small farms and businesses can continue to thrive in rural communities. He says he sees farms and businesses consolidating, resulting in fewer people and less economic activities in rural areas and small towns, which he refers to as a hollowing out of U.S. agriculture.
“As fewer and fewer people are their own entrepreneur, running their own businesses, working somewhere else, we’re seeing that loss,” said Wolff.
Nevertheless, Wolff said the U.S. economy is general is strong right now, and he gives credits to the Trump administration and Republican leadership in Congress. He said if elected, he would work to continue GOP economic policies if elected.
“Any time that we can allow people to keep more of their own money to invest in their own communities, we’re helping everybody,” said Wolff.
Besides Wolff, the Republican candidates in the March 17 primary for Illinois’ 15th District congressional seat are Mary Miller (wife of State Rep. Chris Miller), Vermilion County Treasurer Darren Duncan, and Camargo physician, Dr. Charles Ellington. The Democratic candidates are Salem pharmacist and city council member Craig Morton, high school teacher John W. Hursey Jr. of Collinsville, 2018 Democratic nominee Kevin Gaither of Charleston and Coles County public defender and Mattoon school board member Erika Weaver. They’re competing to succeed Republican incumbent John Shimkus of Collinsville, who is retiring from Congress after twelve terms in office.