URBANA — Congresswoman Robin Kelly is up for re-election in Illinois’ newly redrawn 2nd congressional district, which stretches from the Danville area to Chicago’s South Side. Kelly will face Republican challenger Thomas Lynch, a member of the Iroquois County Board, in the November midterm election.
Lynch spoke with Illinois Newsroom’s Harrison Malkin about his life as well as his stance on abortion rights, gun violence, and more.
Malkin: Thomas Lynch is here with me in the studios at Illinois Public Media in Urbana-Champaign. Thomas, thanks so much for joining us.
Malkin: So first, I want to ask about your political background. I mean, a lot of listeners and viewers and people in the second district might not know you, so just tell us a bit about you.
Lynch: Yeah, as far as politician background, I am a county board member. I have been since 2020. Before that, it’s just been a lot of focusing on politics and kind of dissecting what’s in the news and how things are going in the nation. I really enjoy paying attention to politics and keeping a good grasp on it. So I’ve done that for the last decade. I think it started during the Obama years in a more intensive way, I guess. I had an incident where during his second term, I lost a business that I had started running. I ended up living in a garage. And a lot of that was due to the natural gas policies of the Obama administration.
It was then I started really paying attention and getting more focused on what’s going on in the nation, what’s going on in Washington, and how that can affect the people on the ground. I think in the last two years, a lot of people have the same kind of sentiment, and there’s been a lot more focus, a lot more people involved, and (more people) paying attention. So that’s a big reason why I’m here today.
Malkin: So before we started, you were mentioning that politics, statesmanship should be about service, not about a career. So you’d like to shake things up? Is that a correct assessment?
Lynch: I think that’s a fair assessment. Yeah, I think this job in Congress, whether it’s on the state side, or moving on the federal side, it’s supposed to be public service. You know, you’re not supposed to have a career out of this. I don’t necessarily like the fact that (congress members) get pensions at all. It’s supposed to be service, not a career. And that’s one of the big reasons why I’m jumping in, you know, (to) try and push some of the people that maybe have gotten complacent or lost a little bit of their focus of why they’re really supposed to be there.
Malkin: And so, this is a tough matchup. I mean, you’ve got a long time Congresswoman in Robin Kelly (running against you). How do you see your role in this? And what do you think about this matchup?
Lynch: She’s had a pretty strong seat for a while. And it seems like she still has a pretty strong seat. We’ll see when it comes to November how the people feel. I’ve been in the South Side (of Chicago), and I’ve been in the rural areas, like asking the people what they care about, and honestly, it’s not very much of what they’re doing in Washington.
You know, there’s a lot of issues with contracting in South Side, Chicago. There’s a lot of issues with inflation and gas prices, I’d say everywhere. But especially in the farming community, that’s a huge issue. Our supply chains (are) breaking down and not having a recourse for getting chemicals or natural gas or fuel to these farmers is a huge issue. And I don’t see a lot of effort coming out of Washington on how to fix those issues. So that’s why I’m here (to) try and push the things that the people actually care about, and a lot less of what the ideologies actually care about.
Malkin: This is also a newly redrawn district. So it touches parts of Chicago, and then it stretches down to Danville and other parts of Vermilion County. So what do you think connects the district? And do you think there’s more in common than some people think between the Chicago area and downstate?
Lynch: I do. I think there’s a huge connection. There’s some things I’ve learned in South Side Chicago that surprised me. A lot of people have very similar beliefs on guns, and they want easier legal access to firearms to protect themselves. I think that’s a reasonable ask, and that’s something that people down here, we’ve always cared about the Second Amendment, keeping that sovereign or keeping that safe. Other issues, obviously inflation and fuel prices are huge. It doesn’t matter where you live, as long as you’re not making $200,000 a year, like most of the people in Congress do.
The people on the ground are actually affected by that, you know, like I’ve said, through the primary, I’ve said it through the general, when milk goes up five cents to people in Washington, it doesn’t affect them. They may notice it, like oh, gas went up, or oh, fuel or food went up. But it doesn’t actually hit their pocketbook. It doesn’t affect a person making $200,000 a year when groceries and gas goes up a little bit.
Maybe they can’t go to the club one night a week. But on the ground, people skip meals, you know, people can’t feed their families, and to have a government that thinks it’s reasonable during the highest inflation we’ve seen in 40 years to authorize a trillion dollars in spending and 30 days to do what…combat climate change, help bring renewable energy…that’s (a) bad idea. But it’s the wrong time. We need to be focusing on our inflation issues.
Malkin: You have a fresh perspective. And I’m curious if the national Republican Party has been supportive of your candidacy?
Lynch: Sure, I mean, I don’t think they’ve been unsupportive. I haven’t had a whole lot of contact with them. But they’re busy in a lot of other races. So I’m sure they know where to stick their nose and where they’re needed.
Malkin: Which Republican leaders do align yourself with? I know you retweeted something by Marjorie Taylor Greene and then we also have plenty of local Republican politicians (to associate with).
Lynch: I kind of distance myself from anyone who’s been there for more than 10 years. Not necessarily because I like or dislike their policies, but because I don’t think they should be (there for that long). You know, I think we need term limits.
So maybe that’s why I look at some of the things Marjorie Taylor Greene has said, or some of the things she’s done. There’s a Timcast episode of her where she actually sounds pretty good, which is surprising because in the media, you’d think nothing other than she’s absolutely crazy. But, you know, when I actually listened to what she wants to do and what she’s doing in Congress, some of the things make sense, some of the things I would align myself with.
One thing that she does is she requires a roll call vote on anything she presides over, or not presides over…And I think that’s amazing, you know, we should have accountability for what our Congress is voting for and against, you know. If the liberals have an agenda, and they want to push it through, they can push it through with a voice vote, especially in the House where they had such a high majority.
Well, when you force them to bring that record to the forefront, you force them to actually put their name to paper. Some of those votes actually don’t pass. Because people don’t want their name connected to that…So things like that that she does in Washington I’m very supportive of. I think that’s great. There’s other things, you know, maybe I don’t think are the greatest thing, like drawing Articles of Impeachment every, however often she has done it.
Maybe not the best course of action. It makes a point. I see what she’s trying to do. It’s not affecting anything I would say. Other people…I like Rand Paul, but he’s been there for longer than 10 years, I believe. And yeah, I kind of have my pros and cons with everybody…I’d say the Freedom Caucus is a very supportive group I would push for,
Malkin: Right. That was actually my follow up question: if you’d like to be a part of the Freedom Caucus. So what attracts you to a group like that?
Lynch: They’re backing the constitution, you know, they want to maintain the integrity of the constitution and everything they do is for that purpose. That’s something I can stand up for, you know, that’s something I can stand up along with and learn and give insight when I can…And then you have a group of people that you can discuss with and talk about how that’s going to affect the constitution. That’s a group I can get behind 100%.
Malkin: This is a bit of a transition, but the House Freedom Caucus has tended to be a bit skeptical of the 2020 presidential election. And I’m curious if you think it was a fair and free election? Do you think Joe Biden was the winner?
Lynch: I think the election was certified and beyond that…there is no other recourse after the certification. You know, there is no undoing of a presidential election. He’s the president. That’s the end of it. I don’t think it’s wrong to question presidential elections. I think it’s probably one of the most important things we can do. In 2016, there was a whole group of Democrats that did the same thing with Trump, because of the whole Russia collusion conspiracy. I think the Republicans (are) doing the same thing with Biden, under the way the campaign was ran and how it was looking.
It was so wild that he blew such a lead right at the end. I don’t think that constitutes destroying our nation over it. But I think it’s definitely something we need to ask questions about, and I don’t think the questions they’ve asked or the prying they’ve done is wrong. You know, I mean, we have free speech, right? If you have the apparatus, or the ability to push to make sure you have all of the answers 100%, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Malkin: Do you think you would have voted to certify the election results?
Lynch: I mean, coming from Illinois, yeah.
Malkin: On economic issues, you were speaking a bit before about how inflation is taking such a toll on friends, neighbors, etc. (And) wages as well aren’t keeping up. What would you do in Congress to really change the course (of things)?
Lynch: Something that worked really well in rising wages was Trump’s tax cuts. You know, people like to say trickle down economics doesn’t work, right? I don’t think it’s a works or doesn’t work issue. It’s how you lay the groundwork (like) the way Trump did…because wages were rising at the highest rate they ever had right before the pandemic. And I attribute a lot of that to Trump’s push, and giving money, or not giving money, but not taking money, I should say, away from maybe not the mega corporations as much as the small business owners who, in effect, are all kind of lumped into the same group…
But people see a million dollars and they think, you know, (it’s a) Walmart level corporation. And that’s not the case. So I think that’s a good way to help raise wages during inflation: cutting taxes…I’ve read a handful of things about how that can be counterproductive. But one thing we can definitely do to help ease inflation is, I wouldn’t say pressure, but at least make our voices known that the Fed is not doing enough. And they have to know that they’ve been raising interest rates 75 basis points for, I believe, the third month in a row, (it) might be four. I can’t remember when it went from 50 to 75.
But we just got another report (that) inflation is still going up. It’s not topped out, and we just raised (it) another 75. Well, obviously, we know that’s not enough. We need to turn the curve and bring this back down. You know, we’re (at) two years of inflation topping out at 14%. And when you add it (up), because it’s a year over a year, not month over month, and that number is not helping things and the Fed is not helping things by, I guess, dragging their feet.
They know that raising interest rates at a higher level is going to extremely, negatively affect the economy. But at this point, dragging our feet and not doing it is hurting the people on the bottom more. You know, it’s almost like a band-aid situation now, where we’re going into. We’re in a recession…(but) now we’re going to go into a more severe recession, if things don’t get turned around.
We just need to turn the curve. And the Fed is not doing that. Another thing we can do with inflation is kind of stop spending money. We don’t need to spend, you know, I mentioned the trillion dollars in spending authorized in August for the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS bill. The CHIPS bill, to me, is almost a zero sum game, because we just announced to the world that we’re going to invest $56 billion in manufacturing in the states. That gives China three years before we actually get that rolling, because things move slow here.
So (you) give them three years to come up with a factory. They built massive hospitals, maybe not to our standards, but they built massive hospitals in weeks, months, during COVID. They can get a chip manufacturing thing done real quick and totally undercut all the money we were about to spend on the Inflation Reduction Act bill, which does nothing to lower inflation. (It) pushes huge sums of money into renewable energy. Again, not a bad thing, just not the right time, and maybe not the way they did it. So it’s again, seems like the people in Washington are disconnected from the people on the ground. And what they’re doing is counterproductive to what is going to…help the people that need it the most.
Malkin: What would (like to do in order to) attract industry to the state and to other areas of the country, and also (to) just benefit individuals. (Like) when you look across the district, what are some areas that you’d like to focus on economically?
Lynch: Regulation? I think bureaucracies have way too much power. And they kind of need to be reigned in a little bit. Right now. I’m a meat and poultry inspector…through the USDA and the Illinois Department of Agriculture. I see a lot of regulation come through and how it affects the business owner(s)…And it makes it very hard for a small plant to operate. And I don’t think there’s a lot of attention taken to that toll. So regulation is a huge one, I think that needs to be addressed (and) that would help everyone from the north side to the south side of this district.
I think getting inflation under control and trying to help get fuel prices reigned in would help this entire district. And I think just having a fresh face in Washington, who isn’t just going to run the motions with their party and is actually going to try and help the people of their district…I think if more people in Washington were representatives and not politicians, they would be able to get a lot more done…
Malkin: You just said that you’re a meat and poultry inspector. Would you say (that work) is foundational to your understanding of rural and farming issues? And maybe, you know, what are some (other) issues that you see in the farming community?
Lynch: I wouldn’t say it’s foundational. I was actually raised in a farming community. I raised livestock when I was younger. We always lived in town, but there’s farmers outside of town that let us keep our animals there and stuff. But I think (some) big issues on the farming side is the fuel prices. Energy prices going up is huge. You know, people don’t think about the amount of electricity that a farm goes through.
You know, we’ve heard rumors that there’s going to be rolling blackouts right? What that could do to a farm is untold…When our energy production and our fuel prices start spiking, it affects everything. And it’s going to continue to affect everything until it starts to go back down.
Malkin: The idea of rolling blackouts is also something I’ve heard being on the camp campaign trail. How would you prevent that? What do you do?
Lynch: I mean, I don’t think it’s so much something we can prevent…No matter where you force it, it’s going to it’s going to hurt somebody, but it’s a big indicator of the neglect that our career politicians have placed on infrastructure needs that are pretty important. You know, I mean, we’re pushing very hard (to beb) producing an electric car. But at the same time, we don’t have an electric grid that can handle it. You know, just in my town, we’ve installed a handful…(of) Tesla chargers…And, you know, that’s a huge toll on (an) electric system that’s not necessarily ready for it.
Malkin: Something we hear a lot about in Central Illinois is ethanol. Are you supportive of that industry? And perhaps (of) the blends that do occur in ethanol?
Lynch: Yeah, I think ethanol is great for the farmers. It gives them almost a new commodity to be able to sell that otherwise just got tilled into the ground…and what it does for fuel prices is nice as well.
Malkin: Before, you sounded both supportive of climate change measures, but skeptical of if this is the right time. How would you describe the impact of climate change on us? And why don’t you think now is not the right time to act?
Lynch: Yeah, so I’m not a a doomsday scenario kind of guy. I think (it’s) pretty obvious, to me, at least, that green renewable energy is the future. You know, whether we’re there or not yet is the question…I think there’s time to fix what we have done. I don’t think what we have done is necessarily a zero sum game. You know, I feel like the left is trying to push us to do these things now. Because if we don’t do it now, everything’s going to collapse in 10 years. And if you look back on climate policy, that’s kind of the sentiment every 10 years, you know.
Al Gore said the exact same thing when he was running for president…You five years ago, I looked at doing solar on my roof (and it) didn’t make sense. The panels weren’t as good…In the last year and a half, there’s been incredible advancements in solar technology that have made it to where solar is there. It’s potentially a game changer for energy production.
Wind power, not quite, (but) it’s getting there. It gets better every year. You know, that’s kind of how I think we need to approach these things. put some money into them, try and push them for innovation…I would say push for innovation instead of implementation. And keep that going until there are cost effective ways to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we’re using…Why use fossil fuels if we have an alternative that is just as good? But that’s the problem. They’re just not as good right now. And that’s kind of my thing. That’s one reason why I don’t think now’s the time…
Malkin: I think another part of this (current) crisis for a lot of people is gun violence. And it does seem like you are in support of the second amendment…(but) how do you reconcile those two issues? I mean, we have gun violence…
Lynch: I think when you look at the numbers, the gun problem isn’t a problem. You have a small amount of homicides that are not even equating to the amount of people that are killed with a rock or tripping down the road. You know, you have the amount of deaths by complete accident, or what was it by rock, I believe. It was a blunt object that far outweighs the amount of gun violence. I think personally, if you opened up some of these rules…these laws they’ve tried to pass, you know, since the Parkland massacre. We’ve done bump stock bans, we’ve done trigger assembly bans, we’ve done ammo capacity bans, we’ve opened up more areas to be gun free.
So many things that we’ve done to limit what a normal person can buy, because some of those things I had, you know. I don’t anymore, but I had a bump stock. I had a trigger crank. They’re fun. They’re not accurate. In all reality, a semi automatic weapon is way more accurate than (an) automatic weapon anyways. That’s why the military gives out semi automatic weapons to marksmen.
Malkin: But there’s been over 300 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. That’s not a concern for you?
Lynch: No, no, because if you look at those numbers, most of that’s gang violence…
Malkin: (Just) gang violence? I mean, lives are important.
Lynch: Absolutely. Well, when I say that, I’m not saying that gang violence is excused. I’m saying that gang violence doesn’t matter for the gun debate. Gang violence is going to happen whether we have zero guns or not, they’re going to get guns somehow, you know. Criminals don’t pay attention to your gun laws. They never have, they’re not going to start now…You know, in Chicago, we have a massive gun violence problem. And I don’t think it’s as much a problem with the guns, as it is the laws that make it so hard for the everyday citizen to get a hold of one…You hear every once in a while a guy with a gun stopping either a mass shooter attempt or a crime in progress. But it’s not the gun’s problem. It’s the people, you know.
Malkin: To your point, basically in Chicago, for example, if it was easier to get a gun, ‘a good guy’ with a gun could stop some of those mass shootings or gang related incidents that you were describing?
Lynch: Not necessarily to the point. But that is a possibility, that could happen…because we pass a law about capacity magazines, that stuff does absolutely nothing to stop gun crime. And only makes it harder for law abiding citizens to get a hold of weapons to protect themselves and their family.
Malkin: Would you support any gun control measures? Red flag laws, for instance?
Lynch: Red flag laws are tricky. So this kind of gets into the constitutional side of it. You know, I like it in premise, you know. I understand that there are people in our communities that we see, and we’re just like, man, that guy should not have a gun. And that’s for the police to try and figure out and work that out. When we give the citizens the ability to turn someone in, and then have the government…without a recourse, without a trial, without any crime being committed. That kind of breaks the constitution a little bit, you know, it’s technically an unlawful search and seizure. So if we’re allowing that, I have a problem with that. You know, it’s a slippery slope. There needs to be something. You need to find a way to protect people. But that’s not something that I’m okay with in the way they’re written currently.
Malkin: One last thing I do want to talk about before I let you go is abortion and abortion rights. Would you be supportive of Senator Lindsey Graham’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks?
Lynch: Absolutely not. That’s ridiculous. I’m not a huge Lindsey Graham supporter. I never have been. I think he is the definition of a career politician who needs to give it up. And I make that point to him, because he’s a Republican…I think it’s on both sides that we need to start pulling some of these career politicians out.
Malkin: So do you feel you have a libertarian type of stance on abortion?
Lynch: Not necessarily. I’m not a huge fan of it. I’m never gonna get one right? I wouldn’t enjoy if a woman I was with wanted one. It’s not something I support. But the Supreme Court was pretty clear: this is for the people to decide in their home states. And to me, that gives the most voting power to each individual citizen. And to me, that’s more important than what I think.
Malkin: So that felt like a constitutional evaluation from the Supreme Court when Roe v. Wade was overturned?
Lynch: Yeah, I don’t know if it was a constitutional evaluation. But their ruling itself was enough for me to say, okay, this is for the states to decide. And I’m not going to stand in the way of that. And I again, I think that’s the best course of action, because, again, it gives the people the most voting power.
Malkin: One thing I’ve asked some other candidates is: are you worried that there will be medical emergencies because of the strictness of abortion laws in certain states?
Lynch: So I see abortion as an ebb and flow. You know, we initially saw a lot of your liberal states pushing things like full all the way to term abortions…and I think those things kind of started happening in other states…and then you saw the opposite way in (right-leaning) states and extreme bans, right?
And now the Supreme Court has stepped in and opened up the conversation a little more. I feel like eventually, they’re going to fall on a common ground somewhere in the middle. 12-16 weeks, some exemptions, medical exemptions, stuff like that. I think that’s where the conversation is going to go. I think that’s the right course. You know, I think there needs to be exemptions. The government should never have full stop authority over (people)…and it doesn’t matter whether you’re opposed to it or whether you support it, they need to be fleshed out and you need to kind of be human and see where some of these issues could arise. You know, medical exemptions is probably the biggest one. Rape…heartbeat bills make it so hard to, you know, some people don’t even know they’re pregnant. I think those are things that need to be discussed. And I think they will be.
Malkin: I want to close with your elevator pitch to voters in the 2nd district. Why should they vote for you?
Lynch: I’m just a regular guy. I decided to run for Congress because the people in Washington quit listening to the regular American. It’s evident in their policy. It’s evident in what they’ve done during one of the biggest economic crises we’ve ever seen happening right before our eyes. I’m here trying to get your vote because regular people need to start representing Washington. Because Washington quit listening to regular people a long time ago.
Malkin: Thomas, thank you so much for sitting down with me.
Harrison Malkin is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him @HarrisonMalkin