SPRINGFIELD — In Illinois’ newly redrawn 15th congressional district, Congresswoman Mary Miller is up for re-election. Miller topped fellow incumbent Rodney Davis in the Republican primary in June.
Miller will face Democratic challenger Paul Lange, a former precinct committeeman and commodities broker from Quincy, Illinois, in the November midterm election.
Lange spoke to Illinois Newsroom’s Harrison Malkin about his support for a strong welfare state, how to address climate change, and more.
Malkin: Paul, thank you for sitting down with me.
Lange: Well, thanks for having me, Harrison,
Malkin: Of course. So first, I just want to do this for viewers. Tell me about yourself. Tell me about your political background.
Lange: First off, I live right now in Quincy, Illinois, which is in the far west side of the district. I’ve been involved with politics, (more) recently, since 2018…mostly…in (the) capacity of helping candidates, statewide candidates or even local candidates with their campaigns, doing door-to-door. That type of thing. In the 90s…I ran for state representative from that area. I think it was the 96th district. So that generally is my political background, other than the issues that are facing our country right now.
Malkin: I know you were a commodities broker. You were also (a) precinct man. Anything else that people should know about your background?
Lange: Well, just, I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Well, in that area. I moved here in 1974 to Adams County. I wanted to experience what it was like on a farm (and to) work in a farm…it’s kind of different. And, I just happen to…I just love (and) like the area that I’m in…in Adams County. So over time, I eventually got a degree in MIS at Quincy University. And I taught for a while at the university, also at John Wood Community College. Just your basic intro level classes. And in 1994, somebody talked me into (running) for state representative. It was fun. I didn’t do real well…got 28 or 29%. But I got to meet a lot of people doing door-to-door.
Malkin: So now you’re running in the congressional election. And I’m curious what compelled you to run, because obviously this is a heavily Republican district.
Lange: That’s what compelled me, I knew it was highly unlikely that anyone else would run. In 2018, I helped probably (a) more qualified candidate Junius Rodriguez run against Darin LaHood. That was the 18th congressional district. Well, Junius didn’t have a lot of money for his campaign. So he had to keep working. So he wasn’t able to get out full-time campaigning in the season. I, as a commodity broker, I was thinking about retiring at the end of the year. I just saw that move it up a little, if I got the nod to be the person running. And so that’s what I did. That’s how it came about. I want to see (a) person out there stressing certain issues. I can get into the issues if you want or you want to wait.
Malkin: We will. So to your point, I mean, you got thousands of votes in this primary, right? Do you think that there’s a Democratic population of voters in the 15th district and in your hometown of Quincy that feel underrepresented (and) that needs somebody like you to support them?
Lange: Yes. Just to show you an example, we have throughout the whole district, as a matter of fact, like I said. I was down south last night. There’s a lot of people who depend on Social Security. Now recently, the Republicans, (like) Mr. Scott from Florida…who is in charge of the Republican campaign for 2022, the Senate campaign, has proposed possibly sunsetting Social Security and Medicare. So, yes, I think there’s a lot of people out there that would not be happy if that happened. The senator from Wisconsin, Mr. Johnson…I think he’s also chimed in lately that he’d like to see it. And Mr. Graham, from South Carolina. So you got three prominent Republicans who are saying, well, social security…but I think it’s very vital for this area.
Malkin: So two bills that we’ve seen recently are the Social Security Fairness Act, which is being led by Congressman Rodney Davis. But also it’s very bipartisan. And there’s also the Social Security: A Sacred Trust, which is a bit more progressive. And that has, I think, over 200 co-sponsors as well. Are either or both of those things something that you support?
Lange: Yes, I support anything that strengthen(s) Social Security. Now, recently, AARP came out with a pretty good article, and they had eight items. At the moment, what I prefer is raising the cap, or also looking at defining other sources of income…you know, with a lot of people, like dividends that corporations collect, or things like that, maybe that needs to be thrown into the income poll. I don’t want to see benefits cut at the moment. And, I had actually two customers recently, commodity customers, one retired from UPS, he worked 30 to 40 years, but his body has kind of been through the grinder, not to use that term. But while I do use it, I know another person, he fixes these large tires that go on tractors or whatnot, it’s a heck of a job…And so I can see it, he didn’t say anything about (it) to me, but it’s taken a toll on him. So, and you know, I hear other stories, truck drivers through the years. I’ve known that at a certain point their bodies (are) done. And so I don’t want to see anything as far as raising the age limit, to collect benefits for a lot of people.
Malkin: What other economic policies would you support? Because right now, it’s such a precarious time. And I think we have inflation, and we have wages that are not keeping up with that. So to bolster the economy of your district, and also the economy (of the country), what would you be inclined to support?
Lange: Well, let me say this, this goes to my opponent, Mary Miller. She didn’t support the Infrastructure Act. I would have. And the reason is…along the Mississippi River, and then also the counties that border the Illinois River. This Act put some money into improving the lock and dam systems on both rivers…They have to break up these barges so that they can get them through the lock and dams or the locks…Quincy was founded on a river, water transportations (are) important. And if we could move the barges up and down the Mississippi and Illinois much quicker, faster, people in this area (and) on that side, and maybe the whole district could benefit in this way. Water transportation is much cheaper…so you run the barges down to New Orleans and put them on ocean going vessels.
And you’re in a global economy much better, much faster. My brother moved to Charleston, South Carolina recently, and so we went down to visit him. And when you see those large ships coming in with the containers, you know…because that economy in that area is just booming, really booming…I liked the idea also in that Act about infrastructure. The internet access was (big)…they’re at like 42%. As far as…the amount of data that’s moved and in some capacity. So…the idea would be to get it close to 100%, which would help those people possibly (and) would give them an opportunity, a better opportunity, to use the internet to help themselves.
Malkin: Because that’s a rural issue. Lack of access to connection. But I think it’s often seen as not as important in rural areas.
Lange: I think, and this is an opinion I have, I’ve been around farmers, my customers, they are very efficient at what they do, very good at what they do. They know how to raise corn, soybeans. Anything else that we can do to help them market them…I think is a benefit to the whole area, where this is largely agricultural…
Malkin: How would you describe your connection to agricultural issues?
Lange: (Mary Miller’s) more up to date that way. But, I, this would have been back in the 70s. And things have changed quite a bit when I moved here in the 70s. If you had 2 to 400 acres, you could raise a family. That’s not the case anymore. And also, everyone had, or not everyone, but most everybody had livestock, cattle, a few cattle and some hogs…So what I know from my customers is marketing is a big thing…let’s just use the USDA as an example. They come out with estimates through the year and they’re always large estimates of what the crop will be…So anything I can do to help further that along. That’s one thing I’d like to, you know, get involved in talking about. (Like) inflation.
One is the ability and things are changing. And I don’t know everything as far as the federal level. I know there’s a case on the state level of trying to help farmers be able to repair their own equipment. Now John Deere, to name one, and they’re not an evil company or anything, but they’re out to make money. That’s why they’re a corporation and this and that, (and) they have a lot of proprietary things on their equipment, so that they don’t just let anybody work on it. Well, the costs have gone up quite a bit to fix that equipment.
Now…when I moved here, farmers did a lot of the repair work themselves, not all of it, but a lot of it. So that would help…keep the cost down, help lessen the inflation farmers (are) feeling. Second thing is we have four major packers in the area. meat packers, beef packers, and…the administration has pointed this out, (they’ve) been making large profits…so they’re paying the cow person X amount of money for their steers and calves whereas they’re charging the public in the grocery store another level…you know, I mean…quite a bit higher. So I’m in favor of anything to increase competition. Give the farmers a chance to make more money and also bring down costs for the consumer.
Malkin: I was curious (about) your thoughts on the connection between climate change and agricultural issues?
Lange: I think there is a connection to a certain extent, because most of the machinery that I know of still use(s) carbon based things. And I don’t see that changing for a while. But there are things (that) can be done. One thing would be cover crops. So if the government, you know, promoted cover crops (that) might be one way to help with the carbon situation…you know, I grew up in Baltimore…but the amount of time that cars spend idling in big cities, where the fuel is being burned, but the car isn’t moving anywhere is mind boggling.
Malkin: Yeah, I mean, that’s connected to mass transportation (too), which is lacking in major cities. And so what kind of other solutions would you support? Would you support the Green New Deal if you were elected?
Lange: Yeah, to a certain extent. I don’t know how fast our economy can move (in) that way. If you have somebody, economically, having trouble making their car payments (and) now (you’re) telling them to buy a new car. You can’t do it all in one big rush. So I’m more of a gradualist. We don’t have the infrastructure as far as electric vehicles that I understand. And, of course, one thing there too, is the material we need to make the batteries. That’s a big question mark out there. So there’s a lot of question marks. I believe there is global warming. I don’t know that you (can) just…stop the economy. To give you another thing. Around here in the winter, we can get pretty cold. So people can’t rely at the moment on the solar and the wind turbines. They’ve got to stay warm. So we do need some carbon based things. But I’m, you know, in favor of moving towards, you know, let’s say nuclear. If we got to a point where we could safely make nuclear power plants. To me, that’s one way to look at it possibly.
Malkin: There’s two issues I want to transition to. The first is gun violence, which has been a major topic of concern. Obviously, in Illinois, we had a tragic shooting recently at Highland Park. And, according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been over 300 mass shootings so far this year. What would you suggest? What would you like to see to address this issue?
Lange: Well, the first thing I would do, which would have been different from what they passed recently…I would like to see anyone under 21, the age of 21, can’t buy an assault weapon legally. Now we know that it’s always possible (that) somebody could come in and steal their parents’ gun or whatever. To me, that’s a start…and I don’t favor taking everybody’s guns away (or) that type of thing. But it would be a start to recognize that somebody’s been able to go with an assault weapon into a school or shopping or, you know, grocery store, or parade and just mow down people…that’s not acceptable…but this massacre of people that we’re seeing is not acceptable in a society, you know, (a) civilized society in my opinion.
Malkin: What do you think has caused this? Because we haven’t always seen this kind of level of mass shootings in the U.S?
Lange: Well, some of it is, maybe (it) has to do with the marketing of these assault weapons…there’s a lot of people that have, you know, some use the word: mental problems or this or that. But there’s also from my doing door-to-door, and our group in Quincy (is) doing door-to-door, there’s a certain amount of hopelessness…moving through our society. And I don’t have all the answers to be frank with you, as I’m speaking with you now. But there’s some people that just don’t feel like they have any hope for tomorrow.
Malkin: I think another issue that’s caused that blight for some people across the country is the recent overruling of Roe v. Wade, which ended people’s access and right to abortions across the country. Though, in certain states, like Illinois, it’s protected. So, on a federal level, what would you like to see put in place to protect that?
Lange: Well, let me say this…I got to ask the question about abortion quite a bit. And at that time, much to the consternation of some people I knew, I said, I believe a woman has a right to choose. So let me make this statement…I believe every woman has the right to choose their own destiny. I don’t want to get into all these aspects of abortion and this and that. But that’s my basic (opinion). Now to get to a level that the society could, in my opinion, I’m going to bring up something new that I am throwing out. And that would be…The American People’s Referendum Act, where literally, we (would have)…a nationwide referendum on certain issues. One of them would be: Does a woman have a right to choose or not?
In Kansas, we saw it was to keep the constitution the way it was, if I’m (not) mistaken…where a woman has a right to an abortion. We need to come to a consensus that the society as a whole can live with in my opinion. In Ireland, they had a national referendum…the whole nation said, yes, we want abortions legal(ized). So that’s where…I think they’re and to go back on the gun issue, I think it would be a perfect thing to ask the nation: Should someone under the age of 21 be able to buy an assault weapon? I mean, I might be surprised…but if the society doesn’t accept a change, it’s hard to implement that change. In other words, change, in my opinion, is best when it comes and moves up…
Malkin: What other issues would you like to see go up for a referendum?
Lange: Concerning climate change? If, you know, let’s just say somebody had an item, and laid out, let’s say, for 20 years, we’re going to do this, to get from this point with let’s say, gas powered cars, to move to electric cars. If we could do that in a way that the whole country got involved in…I think it would go better, in my opinion. I go back to World War II. Now, there was a group of people that figured there was going to be a problem coming. The President among them, President Roosevelt, but there’s another group of people (who) didn’t want to get involved in this situation in Europe.
And then we have all of a sudden, a sudden bombing by the Japanese of our facilities in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. People lined up…at the recruiting offices, at the draft boards, whatever. People took their place. Let’s say somebody was working in a factory or something. And so they decided they were going to go to war, go off, and fight the war. Other people came and took their place at the factories. So…everybody sacrificed towards the end of beating Nazi Germany and Japan. Everybody came together. To me, issues that encompass everybody, if we could figure out a way that the country could come together, instead of fighting the way we do, we could solve a lot…more things, in my opinion.
Malkin: Do you expect to receive support from either the state or national Democratic Party?
Lange: Well, I have a little support from the state. But not necessarily…(this district) is not designed for a Democrat to win at the moment…but on the local level, I have a lot of support…
Malkin: Can you explain that, though, just to get the context (right), like, how are people on the ground…helping your campaign?
Lange: Well, we’re gonna start something Saturday going door-to-door, but (in) other ways, they drive me places, we got 35 counties, as you know, and they’re spread out all over. Heck, it’s a large territory, and I’m older…but they’ve driven me (all) over. They helped me with brochures and things like that. And they’re setting up social media for me…that mean(s) a lot.
Malkin: Last question, (give us) your elevator pitch. I mean, we’ve talked about a lot of the issues. But if you were to synthesize why somebody should vote for you in the 15th district, what would it be?
Lange: One, I want to strengthen Social Security. I don’t want it to be sunsetted. And that’s the same for Medicare and Medicaid. That’s the first one. The second one is because of what’s going on, I believe every woman has the right to choose their destiny. Those are the two things.
Malkin: Paul, thank you so much for joining me.
Lange: Thank you for having me.
Harrison Malkin is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him @HarrisonMalkin