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Democratic candidate Nikki Budzinski backs natural gas production, supports lowering prescription drug prices in IPM interview

13th Congressional District candidate Nikki Budzinski (D) at Illinois Public Media's studios.

URBANA — Two first-time candidates, Democrat Nikki Budzinski and Republican Regan Deering, are facing off in the newly redrawn 13th congressional district in central Illinois. The winner will help determine which party controls Congress in January.

Springfield resident Nikki Budzinski spoke with Illinois Newsroom’s Harrison Malkin.

Malkin: Nikki (Budzinski) is running against Regan Deering, a Republican. And Nikki is here with me in the studio for Illinois Public Media in Urbana-Champaign. Nikki, thank you so much for joining me.

Budzinski: Thanks for having me, Harrison

Malkin: So first, just tell us a bit about your political background. You’ve been in politics, but now you’re very front facing, which is a first for you.

Budzinski: I’m a first-time candidate. I’m somebody who has spent either my life in public service, working for really great people or actually working in the labor movement. But consistently throughout my career, I’ve always been very focused on working people and how are we helping working men and women, especially right now. 

I worked for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union…I’m one of the few congressional candidates you’ll meet that’s been on multiple kill floors. I know the dangerous work that working men and women do every day, and that they need an advocate…but I want to be their advocate in Congress. And so my background, I think, has really gotten me to a great good place, where I can point to things that I brought people together (on) to get things done. 

And that’s what I did when I was in public service, working to get things done on behalf of working men and women, bringing different sides of an issue together to do that. That’s what I want to do in Congress. And I think that’s what people want, to elect somebody that’s going to go to Congress and accomplish things and not be a part of the political noise.

Malkin: And why this newly drawn 13th district? What compelled you?

Budzinski: Well, I have to say, I’m really proud to be here in Urbana, because I’m a proud Illini grad. I graduated from the University of Illinois, I’ve spent a lot of my career living in Springfield, I’m proud to call Springfield my home. When I worked in Springfield, that was when I helped negotiate the passage of the $15 minimum wage. So I’ve had some real accomplishments and work that I’ve done that has benefited working people in Central and Southern Illinois. 

And I also have spent a lot of time in the Metro East area, that is the newer parts of this district, the two counties, Madison and St. Clair County, that are just on the other side of the Mississippi River from St. Louis. These are communities that really need a federal congressional advocate and really haven’t had that person in a very long time. And so I was excited to be home and running for Congress and taking on this challenge as a first time candidate.

Malkin: So according to a report from Mark Maxwell, you voted numerous times in recent years in Chicago. How would you address that concern that some people might have?

Budzinski: Look, when I’ve not been in this district, I’ve always been working on behalf of working people. And that’s something I’m incredibly proud of. As I mentioned, I work for the UFCW. I also worked for the International Association of Firefighters when I was advocating for them to have better training, more equipment. (They have) a dangerous work environment that they do every day fighting on their behalf. So when I wasn’t in Springfield, I was working on behalf of issues that support working people. And that’s why I want to go to Congress.

Malkin: You’ve worked a lot in labor. You’ve been outspoken on the campaign trail about economic issues, like inflation, which, you know, is still plaguing people in this district, really, across the country. What would you like to see done differently if you were elected to Congress? 

Budzinski: Well, I think some of the things that we need to be doing is focusing on how working people can keep more of what they earn. I will go to congress and fight for things like middle class tax cuts. It’s also why when we have seen gas prices high, I’m really glad to see that they’re starting to go down. But I think we need to provide more relief at the gas pump for working people struggling to just fill up the gas tank. 

That’s why I’ve called for a federal gas tax freeze until 2023. Just to give working people a little bit more breathing room. I also very strongly support something that did happen in Congress, which was allowing Medicare to negotiate over prescription drug prices. Let’s lower the cost of prescription drugs. Let’s tap the cost of insulin at $35. Those are real tangible things that I think are helping working people save money and keep more of what they earn. That’s the kind of economic focus I want to have when I go to Congress to support working people, that I do think Harrison, are still struggling as we’re recovering from COVID.

Malkin: When you look around the district and you think about some areas that might be struggling, which are those places?

Budzinski: I think there are communities, like I look at in St. Clair County, for example, in East St. Louis. Their number one employer is a casino. Casino Queen. I think we can find more economic development opportunities in communities like East St. Louis. You know I was really excited just this week it was announced…that (we’re) bringing back more manufacturing here in Decatur to build compressors. (Or) for EV vehicles that are going to be built just in Bloomington-Normal, just on the other side of the 13th congressional district. 

That’s creating real manufacturing jobs. One of the things I think is really important, and I do spend a lot of time talking about is, you know, as we’re recovering from COVID, what we’ve really seen as some vulnerabilities in our supply chain, we are overly reliant on a global supply chain. We need to be finding ways to make more things here in Central and Southern Illinois that will relieve the pressures on our supply chain, and it’ll relieve inflation pressures as well. It’s creating good jobs. I think that’s exactly what you saw in Decatur with the announcement of TCCI. But I think there are really impoverished areas that need more economic development focus. Like I highlighted with East St. Louis. I want to be focused on those areas and making sure that we’re lifting up all communities throughout Central and Southern Illinois. And I’ll be focused on all those issues and all those communities for working people.

Malkin: How do you continue to attract businesses? Like, what would you do to say, hey, x company, come here, you know, this is a great part of the country for you to be a part of?

Budzinski: Yeah, that’s a great question. And it’s something that when I served as the Chief of Staff at the Office of Management and Budget, President Biden actually signed an executive order establishing in the Office of Management and Budget, a Made in America office. And why that’s so important is what it said is we need to be prioritizing federal dollars, taxpayer dollars should be incentivized toward American businesses and American workers and supporting that. 

And that’s what we did at the federal level. I think we need to be expanding that to incentivize new industries. You know, I think one of the things that is exciting, I mentioned EVs and Bloomington and what’s happening at TCCI. That’s a direct result of attracting new electric vehicle industries to Central Illinois. That’s the kind of innovation that I want to be doing in Congress. And it’s what I want to be doing to support working people throughout Central and Southern Illinois.

Malkin: Now, this is a newer industry, but cryptocurrency. What is your relation (to it)? Would you like to see that grow in the state, because I know, according to a Chicago Sun Times report, you’ve been endorsed and supported monetarily by the political action committee, Protect Our Future?

Budzinski: Cryptocurrency is an interesting issue area. And to be honest with you, Harrison, I’m learning a lot more about it myself. I guess what I would say is like any, you know, any market, there needs to be regulatory protections that are going to take care of (it to) make sure that consumers are protected. It is opening new markets. And so I think that is exciting. It can be exciting. But we do need to make sure that we have an eye on protecting consumers as we’re looking at that market expanding.

Malkin: Another major part of this district is agriculture and farming. It’s no secret that a lot of farmers in this area lean right, oftentimes. How would you compel them to vote for you? What would you say? 

Budzinski: I’d say to the agriculture community, first, ag is incredibly important as an economic driver throughout the entire state of Illinois. But especially right here in Central and Southern Illinois. I’m somebody who’s been able to get things done. I think one of the things that supports the ag community is obviously infrastructure investments. And you saw that at the federal level, and at the state level, investing in things like locks and dams (that) will make sure that Central and Southern Illinois family farmers maintain their edge as ag exporters in the country.

Because we’re able to get our goods to market that’s critically important for the agriculture community. I also think we have a farm bill. I know that’s coming up next year (with) really important issues, looking at how we’re expanding biofuels. I want to make sure that we’re protecting crop insurance for family farmers. I think, you know, I’ve been (a) very vocal advocate of an E15 blend. That’s a win for everybody because it lowers carbon emissions, but it also supports family farmers and biofuels, because it’s supporting ethanol. 

And so as we’re making this transition to electric vehicles, we want to make sure we’re supporting family farmers in that. And that means supporting E15 and biofuels. I’ve spent a lot of time meeting with the Farm Bureau, I met with the Champaign County Farm Bureau to talk about some of their issues. And I will say, Harrison, family farmers, like all working families, are struggling with rising costs. When I talk to family farmers, it’s about high input prices, commodity prices, not keeping up with input prices, that again, to me goes to our supply chain issues. How are we making more things here, so that we can lower the cost of inflation? I also think more domestic energy production is really desperately needed. And while that does include wind and solar that also includes natural gas. So I think we need to be looking at an all of the above approach to how we’re tackling the issues that impact the agriculture community because they’re so central to working families in Central and Southern Illinois.

Malkin: You mentioned natural gas as a part of that statement, but are you concerned at all about the environmental cost? I mean, with climate (change) we’re at a pretty rough stage right now. I think that’s an objective thing to say.

Budzinski: I think it’s a transitional energy source. And I think we’re looking at, we’re uniquely in an energy market that needs more energy production. As we’re concerned, they’ve flagged concerns around brownouts in this district. We want to make sure that we’re keeping energy prices low for working families. But also making sure we’re caring for our environment. One of the things that, you know, in Pawnee, which is in the 13th congressional district, a new natural gas plant just got permitted for construction. After 10 years, that’s going to switch to hydrogen. I think that’s a positive step forward. But I think we need to be looking very specifically at our transition to a clean energy economy. That’s critically important as we look ahead to the future.

Malkin: In that kind of transition, would you support a Green New Deal? This is something I asked (Congresswoman) Robin Kelly about.

Budzinski: I don’t support the Green New Deal, because I think it’s too ambitious as far as what the goals that they’ve set in it (are). I think (in) this transition, we need to take working people into account…I think that’s critically important. That’s why I can’t sign on to the Green New Deal.

Malkin: Now, there have been over 300 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. What would you like to see done in Congress to solve this problem?

Budzinski: Well, I think there are some exciting bipartisan pieces of legislation that have happened over this last year in addressing gun violence. And, you know, the scourge and the expansion of guns in this country and guns, the proliferation of it, I think we need to be taking on some commonsense measures that most Americans in this country support. 

And that’s what happened in a bipartisan piece of legislation, which is support for red flag laws, closing the boyfriend loophole, universal background checks. These are things that have been fought for in Congress for many years, and finally happened on a bipartisan basis. I’ll be looking for those kinds of bipartisan solutions when I get to Congress. And I think addressing gun violence and the proliferation of guns in this country is an important one. And that’s what I’ll be looking to continue to do in Congress when I’m elected.

Malkin: Would you support a ban on assault weapons? I think that’s also something that’s been talked about recently.

Budzinski: Look, I think we need to get military style weapons off our streets. I think that is a real issue. And so I think when you look at the Highland Park shooting, and what happened there, it’s deeply disturbing to me that it was the children in Highland Park that were informing the parents and the adults on how they can duck and hide from an active shooter. 

That’s not the kind of world we should be living in. I think we should make sure that kids can go to school safely, people can worship in their places of worship safely. People should go to grocery stores and be able to be safe. That’s what we should be really focused on. And I will say, just as on my opponent and her issue in the real comparison on this really important issue around gun safety, on the day of the Texas shooting, Harrison, the post that she (Regan Deering) posted on Facebook was her NRA rating. It wasn’t even thoughts and prayers with the victims. 

It was about her NRA rating. And I just think that there’s a big, important distinction between my opponent and myself on this issue. We need to tackle gun violence in this country. It’s a real issue. I was just in Decatur last night at a community meeting, where we were listening to community activists and leaders talk about how communities in Central Illinois can deal with gun violence. We don’t need someone that doesn’t understand the importance of this issue going to Congress to represent us.

Malkin: But just to circle back, so you’re not supportive of the ban on assault weapons and more of regulating assault weapons…

Budzinski: I think that we should stop military style weapons from being on our streets.

Malkin: Just transitioning toward abortion rights. Obviously, the repeal of Roe v. Wade happened fairly recently. What was your reaction?

Budzinski: I was shocked and I was disturbed. And I will say I think this is an important distinction between myself again and my opponent, Regan Deering, who the word that she used was thrilled, thrilled when it happened…and what that means for women in Central and Southern Illinois right now that are scared and we are really confronting the possibility of a potential national abortion ban. I call this out and I understand Regan is now trying to backpedal on where she stands. 

She is supported by extremist organizations on the issue of choice and a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health care decisions. The Susan B. Anthony organization does not believe that a woman, even in the cases of rape and incest should have a decision, the ability to make her own reproductive health care decisions, about her own body. The Susan B. Anthony organization supports Regan Deering. And so I think on this issue, it is critically important, as someone that interned for Planned Parenthood, they very much believe in a woman’s freedom to make her own choices as it relates to her own body. This is an important issue. It is a big distinction between me and my opponent.

Malkin: You’ve been supportive of codifying Roe v. Wade in Congress. How do you do that? How does that work?

Budzinski: Well, it starts with electing me to Congress, because you have to elect someone that’s going to vote for something like that. It is about keeping the Democratic majority. If Kevin McCarthy gets his way…(it) would be Republican control in the House of Representatives, (and) they will bring to the floor a vote to, you know, repeal abortion rights for all women nationally. That will then impact the women that are protected in the state of Illinois right now, as we are a safe haven state with protections. So I think it starts with electing the right representatives that are going to advocate for women and women’s freedoms in Congress.

Malkin: Right now, as you mentioned, Illinois is a bit of an oasis for reproductive rights. How do you protect the people that are getting service and also doctors that are doing those kinds of services?

Budzinski: It’s a good question, Harrison, because the 13th congressional district does run right up against the state of Missouri and it really is a tale of two states for women. On the day of the Dobbs decision, overturning Roe vs. Wade, the Missouri Governor on that day signed the trigger law that outlawed abortion for women, even in the cases of rape and incest. 

So what that means for the 13th congressional district in Fairview Heights where, there’s a Planned Parenthood clinic, in Granite City, where there’s HOPE Clinic…they are seeing (at) both of those clinics an influx of women from out of state coming in looking for healthcare, looking for reproductive health care. And I want to be their partner, their ally in Congress to make sure that women’s rights to make their own health care decisions are protected. And that starts with codifying Roe v. Wade.

Malkin: Thank you so much. Let’s just finish off with your elevator pitch to voters. What would you say to people in the 13th district in one or two lines? Why should they vote for you?

Budzinski: I want to go to Congress to fight for working families and to get things done for working families. I’ve spent my entire career focused on those issues, creating good jobs, lowering the cost of health care, creating economic opportunities for working men and women. It’s why I want to go to Congress. I’ve spent my career doing it and getting things done for working people as a partner and making sure that we were raising the minimum wage, getting broadband and high speed internet access, accessible and available, to working people throughout Central and Southern Illinois. Those are two examples of the things that I’ve actually been able to accomplish in government. It’s what I want to do in Congress to get things done for working people.

Harrison Malkin is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him @HarrisonMalkin 

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Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin

Harrison Malkin is a politics reporter at Illinois Public Media. He's focusing on elections across the state, particularly the 13th and 15th congressional districts and the gubernatorial race. Malkin studied Politics and Communications at Ithaca College, where he was a nightly newscaster and reporter for WICB. From 2020 to 2021, he was a reporting fellow at the Center on Media, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College. You can send a tip, recommendation, or note to hmalkin@illinois.edu.

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