URBANA — The November midterm election is less than two months away. In the newly redrawn 13th congressional district, Democratic candidate Nikki Budzinski will face Republican Regan Deering.
Deering spoke with Illinois Newsroom’s Harrison Malkin about her background, what compelled her to join this important race, and some of her policy proposals.
Malkin: I’m sitting down with Regan Deering, who’s running for Congress in the 13th district. Reagan is running against fellow newcomer Nikki Budzinski. Regan is here with me today at the Illinois Public Media studio in Urbana-Champaign. Regan, thank you so much for joining me.
Deering: Thanks for having me.
Malkin: Nice to see you. So first, I just wanted to ask you a little bit about your background. Can you tell our viewers a little bit about yourself?
Deering: So I am a lifelong Illinois resident. And my husband, Brian and I are raising our three children in Decatur. So, I have worked as an educator and a small business owner and most recently have been supporting my community through various nonprofits focused on low-income families.
Malkin: And so I know during COVID, you were passionate and active, especially against the school mask mandate. What was that fight like? Can you tell us about that?
Deering: Well, really, I found myself being a parent that was concerned about my children being in school and getting the best education possible. So, the challenge really was trying to discuss with my school board their policies and the preferences of the majority of our parents and our school buildings, and being able to choose what’s best for the students.
Malkin: And was this a really informative moment for you? Do you think it pushed you to run for office?
Deering: I think that watching the display of people coming together and advocating for their individual rights and freedoms did play a part in my deciding to run for this open seat in the 13th congressional district for sure.
Malkin: What else compelled you to run in this district? Because I think it’s definitely a really competitive one.
Deering: I’m an Illinois native, and I’m raising my family here with my husband, and we’d like to stay. And so I know that the political environment in Illinois can be polarizing sometimes. And we seem to be a state divided. But I know my family and friends is really looking to come together and stay here and make good, you know, good policy decisions (to) bring good growth to our own communities. So, I felt like I had the possibility of serving in the role as a congresswoman and in Central Illinois to be able to advocate for those issues for myself, as well as those in our communities.
Malkin: This is a pretty bipartisan district. And to your point about bringing people together, I’m curious your plan on doing that and if there’s any policies (you support) that you think speak to that?
Deering: Well, I do think that as I travel around the district on the campaign trail, I have really met a number of people that are really invested this year in making progress. And that’s a big piece of my goals for going to Washington is thinking about the people at home that are struggling right now. And I know that we want to be able to work hard and provide for our families, we want to send our kids to great schools, we want to live in safe neighborhoods.
And so in thinking about the people I’ve met on the trail, you know, I’m looking to represent all Illinoisans. Obviously, my focus being on those in the 13th congressional district, but national policy will affect us all. So, knowing that I’m making informed decisions and really being a good listener, going out and meeting voters where they are and knowing what their top priorities are, and their concerns are, and really advocating on their behalf. So, I do think that this district is like many across the state and across America, and people are just looking to bring back some hope to everyday life and really having our elected officials be good representatives.
Malkin: I’m curious if the National Republican Party or the state (Republican) Party has been supportive through your campaign. I know you were recently named a young gun by the NRCC (National Republican Congressional Committee).
Deering: Yeah, they have. I think it’s really exciting to know that there are people that are entering politics for the first time. Our primary race for the Republican nominee in the 13th, included four first time candidates. So, I think it’s exciting to know that we’ve got people that have had real world experiences and see the challenges in their own communities, in their everyday lives, that they want to advocate for those issues for myself, as well as those in our communities at a bigger stage, really the national stage is one of the biggest we can get to (do it).
And so I think that the national party in the leadership has seen our race as a competitive one and one that can be won by a great candidate like myself, that is really looking to meet voters where they are and find people who might not traditionally be engaged politically or might not feel comfortable in the two party system right now.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m really looking to make progress for all. So I think that leadership is really seeing some exciting candidates across the country that are coming together from a diversity of backgrounds, diversity of thought, to really work for the people. It doesn’t feel like the government’s working for us right now when we’re struggling to, you know, put gas in the tanks and food on the table. And so I think that both the national party and the state party has been very supportive of my candidacy and is excited.
Malkin: As you just said, your focus (is) on economic issues, especially because it impacts everybody. What policies would you like to see that would benefit job growth and support families?
Deering: Well, I think that we have some great opportunities with the work that I’ve seen and done in a lot of public-private partnerships. I mean, certainly, we have had a huge injection of trillions of dollars into our economy, which is tough to sustain. So really breaking that down and looking at our local communities and our local industries here in the 13th.
We have several large industries, obviously, ag (and) healthcare. We have large university systems, big manufacturing. So really knowing that we can work through Congress to be able to provide good policy and good funding to come back and strengthen those markets, be able to continue to let businesses, especially small businesses, invest and reinvest those dollars and be job creators.
I enjoyed being a franchise owner during my time, just returning to Decatur. And it was really a wonderful opportunity to bring education to the forefront for Decatur school children. But also be a job creator. You know, there’s the stress that comes along with being your own small business owner and making all the decisions. But it was a really great opportunity to think like, I see many of my fellow small businesses now just saying, hey, we want to be able to do good work, we want to reinvest in our community.
So I think that, you know, knowing we’ve got economic issues, like skyrocketing gas prices. You know, we need to talk about energy independence and a lot of the manufacturing in this district and a lot of the oil and gas industry that runs through this district. We need to continue to support American energy independence. And that can start really pretty easily at the local level, like a number of a number of policies that we can try and rely on the experts. You know, we have great economic advisers at the national stage and (I) really challenge them to be able to think about everyday Americans and their pocketbook issues.
Malkin: This is an agricultural district. And I’m curious what you’d like to see to support farmers and also farmworkers.
Deering: Sure, I mean, there’s a huge ag industry growing up here in Decatur, you know, has an agribusiness focus. And I know that we always need to support our farmers, I don’t think it’s been more apparent ever than right now. You know, we have global crises, we have slight supply chain shortages. We have high input costs for our farmers, and they are really feeling the stress. And so we need to continue to support them with funding, you know, with resources, being able to bring manufacturing back, you know, focus on our energy sector…
Malkin: How do you think climate change is impacting farmers, in particular?
Deering: Well, I think that, you know, our farmers and our ag industry has always been very focused on climate change issues. You know, here in America, we do a great job on a global scale to be able to prioritize environmental decisions. I think our farmers are feeling a little bit of the pressure of overregulation. At this time, I have heard from many of them that, you know, that’s an extra layer. That’s a challenge. Whether it’s just a husband and wife that are in charge of the books, and the paperwork, and the farming. You know, some of that regulation seems as though it’s a hindrance.
Of course, we all want to see great environmental outputs, especially here on our home country soil. But I think it’s important that we find a balance. You know, we’ve been talking a lot at the national level about, you know, the Green New Deal and green energy initiatives. And here in Illinois, we have some great opportunities to be able to support that work. But we do need to make sure that we’re not turning right off, you know, our energy sector right here in Central Illinois.
Malkin: Would you support the Green New Deal?
Deering: Well, like I said, I think that we’re working very diligently and we have been for decades to be able to control, you know, CO2 emissions and other environmental factors that are involved in our industries and our manufacturing. So I do think there’s room in there, that our industries will continue to support that we just can’t continue to move the goalposts in a big hurry, which I think is causing the biggest strain on farmers especially.
Malkin: Just to transition a bit, I’m curious and I want you to describe your stance on the second amendment.
Deering: Okay, so I am a supporter of the second amendment. I am a gun owner, myself, as well as my husband. Legal gun owners. And I think that we value the ability to protect our families and our property. So I will be a staunch defender of the second amendment.
Malkin: I think just thinking about your stance, and then also thinking about some of the gun violence that we’ve seen across the country. Over 300 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. What do we do about that? How do we reconcile both issues?
Deering: Yeah, it’s a very challenging time. And I absolutely support you know, the bipartisanship that’s been happening at the federal level to be able to talk about what this conversation needs to do going forward. You know, we have really great laws on the books as far as legal gun owners, and we want to make sure that they’re not feeling penalized as a result of, you know, murderers that take matters into their own hands often with guns. So I think we need to focus on education, we need to focus on gun safety.
I mean, as a parent, school mass shootings are heartbreaking for me to watch. I know that my children themselves have been part of training in their own school buildings, here locally, to know what happens in an active shooter situation. So, you know, continuing to work with administrators and parents and mental health professionals to know that we are looking for any red flag situations, you know, if we have individuals that might be prone to taking drastic action. We need to be able to identify them early and continue to support our teachers in the schools and our communities.
Malkin: So it seems like you think red flag laws are a good idea.
Deering: I don’t think red flag laws necessarily, as they read today and (as they) are trying to be passed in legislation are a good idea. I think people need their due process rights. And that can be a slippery slope with red flag laws.
Malkin: Besides education, are there any policies that you could get behind, that you think would quell gun violence?
Deering: Well, I do think that unfortunately, a lot of the communities that are experiencing gun violence across the country do have very strict gun laws on the books. So I don’t know that necessarily more legislation is going to have a huge outcome. But I do definitely want to get behind policies where we are supporting, like I said, educators or building administrators. We want to support our communities in mental health, you know, we have a lot of areas that we need to continue to support job growth and community activities for our youth and coming at it from a more holistic approach instead of continued legislation.
Malkin: Where do you think this comes from? Because definitely, mass shootings have skyrocketed in recent years. And yeah, I just want to hear your sociological perspective on this?
Deering: Well, that’s a big question. I do think that our communities are losing a lot of our youth in structured situations. You know, the breakdown of the traditional family, I think plays a part as well. And, you know, we just have seemed to lose our way with morality in this country. And so I think it’s going to take all of us coming together to think about, you know…reach one teach one, a lot of youth initiatives, a lot of supporting (of) our working families. We have a lot of two parent working households, you know, they may not be able to be at home as often. And we just need to continue to look out for one another. I mean, I work for a nonprofit, and one of our guiding principles is love thy neighbor. And we really do need to be more aware of what’s going on with our neighbors and our communities and our families, so that we can try and support each other the best way possible.
Malkin: How do you think we can do that through congressional means? You know, coming together, and really trying to look out for our neighbors?
Deering: Well, I think a lot of that could stem from funding and good policy. You know, we want to support community resources, that government is good at spending dollars, spending taxpayer dollars, and making sure that we are highlighting those organizations and those groups that are doing good work, and allow them sort of the space and the flex to be able to take dollars that are allocated to community resources or mental health, for example. But we all have to work together to be able to, you know, get our communities back on track and strengthen our relationships, whether that’s at the federal level or in our own neighborhood.
Malkin: Just to dig in a little bit here, what do you think those community partnerships would look like? And what kind of community groups would you like to see us investing in?
Deering: Well, you know, I’m from Decatur, and we have a number of organizations that are targeting our youth. You know, Boys and Girls Club would be a great example. We have an outreach center in Decatur that’s trying to get young men into productive work, knowing that they have an impact to be made, regardless of their circumstances. I think that certainly strengthening our educational piece, we want to create good citizens and (a) good future workforce.
We have a number of community colleges in this 13th congressional district and they are focusing on skilled trades and training and finding alternative pathways for success. For the young men and women coming out of high school. We actually had a really great opportunity with Caterpillar’s large employer in Decatur, had a signing day at the local high school, where they put their hard hats on for Caterpillar and they were elevated. highlighting their choice to be able to go and work for a great manufacturing company right out of high school. So, you know if we continue to support opportunities for young men and women, and then you know, asking that they stay and reinvest in our communities. I think that’s something that we could really prioritize.
Malkin: It seems like both your campaign and the (Nikki) Budzinski campaign have been labeled as pro-labor or as labor candidates. And I just wanted to hear your thoughts on that kind of description.
Deering: Well, we have a tremendous workforce here in Central and Southern Illinois as far as the 13th. And, you know, as a candidate, of course, I want to support job growth, I want to support great paying jobs. You know, jobs with great, safe working environments, good health insurance. And, you know, in my local community, we have a labor foundation arm that’s actually receiving an award later next week for their reinvestment. You know, those labor unions are supporting the workers, and then they continue to contribute to those foundational dollars.
You know, they’re the ones that are supporting their communities as well. So clearly, job numbers are important to our communities, of course, to Congress as well. We want to continue to grow our job market, across a variety of industries, whether that’s, you know, retail, small business, or all the way up through salaried positions. So I’m definitely in favor of any opportunity to be (a) job creator.
Malkin: She (Budzinski) has been vocal about various unions across the country and some of the fights that they’ve been working on, for example, Starbucks. What’s your thought on that? Do you see the government as having a relationship with unions?
Deering: Well, sure. I mean, we all have to work together. And unions are advocating on behalf of their membership for a lot of great policies. I think we sometimes struggle at the federal level when we have too much power and control that can come from unions that is, you know, setting really high expectations, and membership. You know, we need to treat union membership, just like any other job, and we need to be able to provide them opportunities and good paying jobs. So while she does have a lot of experience, working for unions and advocating for unions, I don’t think that that means I’m not necessarily pro-union, and pro-job creation.
Malkin: Another hot button issue is abortion rights, reproductive health. And I’d like to hear your thoughts on the repeal of Roe v. Wade, which was obviously very big news.
Deering: Sure. So I think the Supreme Court returning the issue to states as far as abortion was a good decision. (It) allows it to be closer to the people who in turn elect their local leaders. You know, I feel very blessed to have had a birth mother that chose life for me. And I work, you know, every day and in supporting my own family and working in my community be able to, you know, honor that decision of hers and her, you know, support to be able to give me up at birth and, and be adopted by two loving parents. So, I do think that that’s a challenge for me personally, as someone that supports life to live here in Illinois. And (I) find that a lot of our state legislation is very radical, as far as supporting late-term abortion and (its) taxpayer funded, but as a candidate and (in) my own personal life, and in Congress, I will just continue to advocate for life and women in crisis to support them the best way we can.
Malkin: Would you like to see some of these protections repealed? Because like you said, in Illinois, there is a certain protection for abortion (rights). But would you like to see some of that stuff come back?
Deering: Well, I think that most Americans find themselves, you know, supporting life. I think that, you know, a women’s right does need to be valued. And we want to be able to help make sure that we have resources that are balanced for women and families that are finding themselves in crisis. And I mean, I personally would like to see, you know, (in) the state of Illinois, late-term abortion, you know, rolled back.
Malkin: Thinking about late-term abortions, and also thinking about some of the medical emergencies that have happened in in states like Texas, because of the stringent quality of those laws. Are you worried that (strict abortion laws) might cause more emergencies?
Deering: No, I think that the way that, you know, legislation and policy is written right now, obviously, the health of the mother is vital in the situation, as well as that of her unborn child. So I know that there are good, you know, good restrictions in place…So I do think that medical conditions are taken care of, and in the legislation.
Malkin: So, you’d like to see some protections for (medical) emergencies? And I’d imagine rape and incest as well.
Deering: Yes. I mean, my policy position is exceptions in the case of rape, incest in the life of the mother.
Malkin: Okay. A big question, but something that’s been divisive, especially on the Republican side, the 2020 presidential election. We talked about this a little bit during the primary debate at our station. But do you think it was free and fair and Joe Biden was rightly chosen as the president of the United States?
Deering: Well, Joe Biden is serving as our president here today and then obviously (it) has gone through the Congressional process. So I respect that. I do think that the 2020 election was unlike anything we’ve seen in my lifetime. And I know that we, as Americans, want to be able to continue to support free and fair elections and making sure that every legal vote counts.
Malkin: Can you say a bit more about the uniqueness of the 2020 election?
Deering: Well, I think that, as I mentioned earlier, it was quite polarized. You know, our political environment has continued to separate people based on Dems or Republicans. And I do really feel like this country is ready for coming together and really being able to find policy and positions from our elected representatives that work for us.
Malkin: Are there any policies that you’d like to endorse or even write yourself that would increase voter participation? You’ve spoken about election integrity, so, you know, increasing access to the ballot, but also making sure that elections are safe and fair?
Deering: Well, I think that every community, in every state is looking to get as many active participants in the democratic process as possible. So I know that we are working, you know, at the federal level to be able to continue to support that access. As far as you know, making sure we have free and fair elections, yes, work needs to be done. I mean, I’m a supporter of voter IDs. I think that as American citizens, we want to value our right to vote, and we want to make sure that those (who) are qualified to vote can and feel confident about their vote.
Malkin: Are you concerned at all that voter ID laws are discriminatory or decrease voter participation at all?
Deering: No, I’m really not. I mean, really, that comes from a place of working for a nonprofit that asks for ID when we give away free food boxes, or have someone come to our clothing room. Obviously, a valid ID is required for life in America, whether you want to rent an apartment or you know, rent a car…and actually, as I mentioned (with) the nonprofit, if you don’t have a valid ID, we provide you the resources to get one. So I think a lot of communities have that same support network. And so I don’t think that it would be a restrictive piece of legislation to put in place.
Malkin: But sometimes I know in the south (in Georgia, for example), they’re sometimes difficult to access. They (can) take a few months to secure an ID, and then if you didn’t apply by a certain time, then perhaps you can’t vote. Is that a worry at all?
Deering: No, I don’t think states in the south have month-long waits to secure a (voter) ID.
Malkin: Okay. I just want to finish off with your elevator pitch to voters. Why should people in the 13th district choose you as their representative?
Deering: Oh, that’s a great question. I have really enjoyed being on the campaign trail and as an Illinois (native), when I want to be able to continue to support my family here and stay here and live in a thriving community. And I think that that’s a message I want to take to voters across the district. I’m looking to be a representative that listens to them, that meets them…I’m going to represent all Illinoisans. So knowing we have maybe a difference of thought, but we want to be able to work towards good outcomes.
And so I intend to dedicate myself to that, you know. On the campaign trail, we’re trying to meet as many people as we can. I want to be able to bring in voters that, like I said earlier, may not necessarily be politically active, but have compassionate issues that they’re concerned about. For example, inflation or education, you know, crime in their communities, and know that we are working for change. I mean, we want to be able to bring people together and find those commonalities that can create incredible opportunities in our communities and a strong America.
Malkin: Thank you so much for joining me.
Deering: Thank you, Harrison.
Harrison Malkin is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him @HarrisonMalkin