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Rodney Davis set to exit after a decade in Congress

US Rep. Rodney Davis
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Illinois)

Rodney Davis is set to leave office after a decade of representing central Illinois in Congress. In June, the Taylorville Republican lost in the GOP primary to fellow incumbent Mary Miller.

One of Davis’ final acts in Congress was to help pass the a bill that formalizes same-sex and interracial marriage protections. President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law last week.

Davis was one of 39 House Republicans, and the only one from Illinois, to join Democrats in backing the measure.

Typically, Davis said he supports state’s rights, but he made an exception in this case.

“I just didn’t think it was fair that couples were told that they could legally be married in many states across the nation and to have the possibility of that being taken away if a court decided to rule differently, I just didn’t think that was right,” Davis said in an interview on WGLT’s Sound Ideas.

Davis, whose district includes parts of Bloomington-Normal, said he doesn’t see a comparison between same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Davis has supported abortion restrictions.

Democrats in Congress proposed the Respect for Marriage Act after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in the Dobbs decision that returned abortion laws to the states that same sex marriage and other rights could be ripe for reconsideration.

Primary defeat

Davis said former president Donald Trump’s endorsement likely made the difference in his re-election bid. Trump backed Miller days before the June primary.

“I gotta give the former president and his team a lot of credit. They came in the last weekend, they changed the turnout model that we didn’t expect,” Davis said. “We saw low turnout in the area where I ran strong and high turnout in areas where I didn’t.”

Davis said Illinois Democrats also seemed to target him by putting him in a heavily conservative district. He said that left him vulnerable for a primary challenge that came from a fellow incumbent who lived just outside the district.

Illinois lost one seat in Congress due to population loss following the 2020 census.

GOP future

Davis said the Republican party missed a golden opportunity to make major gains in the November midterm election, especially in the race for governor, where state Sen. Darren Bailey failed in his bid to defeat Gov. JB Pritzker.

“Candidate quality matters. Darren Bailey was an abject failure as a candidate for governor. He failed to raise the resources. He failed to rally Republican support,” Davis said.

The narrow Republican majority in the U.S. House reflects a divided America, he said, adding much of the debate in Congress doesn’t reflect how many Americans are near the political center.

House speaker

Davis won’t be in Washington when the new Congress is sworn in in January, but he thinks House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy will be the next speaker, and that the few Republican holdouts will get behind McCarthy.

“Are they going to be able to withstand the pressure that’s going to come their way for holding up Republicans from being able to do what Republican voters nationwide wanted, which is to have a Republican speaker of the House and Republican committee chairs,” Davis said.

Davis said if those holdouts want to investigate issues such as Hunter Biden’s laptop, they won’t be able to do so without swearing in a speaker.

Some Republicans accuse the president’s son of influence peddling. The White House has called the investigation a conspiracy theory.

Looking back and looking ahead

Davis said he enjoyed helping constituents during his 10 years in office, and that helping pass two farm bills and a student loan tax benefit program were among his top accomplishments in Washington.

Davis, who previously served as a top aide to now-retired U.S. Rep. John Shimkus for 16 years, said he won’t miss all the travel, or the increased polarization of Washington.

Davis said he hasn’t decided what he will do next.

“I’ll figure it out,” he replied to the question.

Shortly after his primary loss, Davis publicly declared he would never run for to elected office again, but has since backtracked after some of his most ardent supports urged him to reconsider.

“Because they asked, I will never say never,” Davis said.

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Illinois Public Radio

Illinois Newsroom gets stories from public radio stations from across the state, including WBEZ-Chicago, WCBU-Peoria, WGLT-Normal, WVIK-Rock Island, WIUM-Macomb, WNIJ-DeKalb, WSIU-Carbondale, WUIS-Springfield, and St. Louis Public Radio.

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