She Runs Illinois 2020! — Cheri Bustos, candidate for IL-17 Congressional District
She Votes Illinois is pleased to feature Cheri Bustos, incumbent, running for U.S. House of Representatives — IL-17 Congressional District. Follow our series, She Runs Illinois 2020!, leading up to election day as we showcase and uplift the voices of Illinois women running for public office in the upcoming election.
Tell us about yourself:
I was born and raised in Springfield, IL, and have lived in the Quad Cities for three decades, after moving here as a young investigative reporter. I first won my Congressional seat in 2012, defeating an incumbent who was not prioritizing working families in our district. My decision to run was motivated by my time on East Moline’s City Council, where I represented the Fourth Ward, and a strong belief that I could deliver real results for Illinoisans. I hope I continue to prove that I have done just that.
Tell us about the women in your life:
So many women in my life have made a difference, but let me highlight two in particular. First, my mom, Ann, a preschool teacher and social worker. She taught me that kindness toward all is easy to deliver if you understand how important it is. Second, my Sister, Lynn, who never wavers when it comes to doing the right thing — no matter if that means speaking truth to power or standing up to the powerful who have forgotten where they came from. Finally, I should say I love working with my fellow Congresswomen each and every day. I am inspired by their toughness, intelligence and fearlessness. Their kindness and support have made me better, and I am thankful for it.
What led you into politics? Why are you running for THIS office?
I grew up around men and women who saw the importance of being civic-minded and committing to the communities around them. In my first race for Congress, I told a journalist that public service is an honor. I still deeply believe that is true.
In my first term, it was an honor to fight to close the skills gap, for example, to work to cut government waste and to protect Social Security and Medicare. Since then, I have continued to fight to strengthen working families and grow our middle class. I work every day to be a hard-charging, honest and committed public servant in Washington for the communities of Northwest and Central Illinois.
How will you help ensure equitable access to healthcare for people in Black and Brown communities that are hardest hit by the coronavirus?
Huge structural inequalities exist when it comes to accessing basic health care in Black and brown communities. These inequities have only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, leading to both higher infection and fatality rates in these communities.
I introduced the Social Determinants of Health Accelerator Act A- to begin tackling this and other social factors that have an impact on individuals’ health, such as access to safe housing and fresh and healthy foods.. This bill would create a new council and grant program focused specifically on addressing the root structural issues that lead to health disparities.
In addition, I supported the CARES Act and helped pass the Heroes Act in the U.S. House to bolster funding for contact tracing and testing, particularly for our most impacted communities. I have also worked to increase data reporting and transparency so that we can fully assess the disparate impact this pandemic is having on our communities.
Have you participated in any BLM protests? What influenced your decision?
Sparked by the latest of police violence — specifically, the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — our communities have shown up to fight for the basic human rights and justice. This has led to a ground swell of outreach, advocacy and protest to drive meaningful change. I have been heartened to see people speak out in cities and towns across the district I serve, including the Quad Cities, Rockford, Peoria, Galesburg and beyond. I know folks are working locally to build a strong foundation of groups to keep up the fight against systemic racism.
During the COVID-19 crisis, I have been regularly traveling back and forth from D.C. to Illinois while attempting to limit the possibility that I could be spreading this deadly virus. Still, as safely as I could, I have been regularly engaging my constituents, particularly Black leaders and community members, via socially-distanced meetings, teleconferences and phone calls so that together, we can work for change.
In addition to that engagement, I co-sponsored and helped pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act through the House of Representatives. This legislation would make a number of reforms to law enforcement practices with an aim to offer wide-ranging solutions to increase police accountability and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
But we must not stop there. Our nation has witnessed how systemic racism has harmed Black communities in so many ways — it is every person’s responsibility to work toward change in whichever venue they can have the most impact. For me, that is casting my vote on the House floor.
How will you ensure that women and femmes sitting at intersections of oppression are prioritized for policy that will help their quality of life?
It is not enough for us to fight from one issue to the next, but we must understand that structural and systemic inequities are what lead us to negative outcomes — particularly for women of color. As a member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, I have seen and heard firsthand from loved ones who have lost their spouses, sisters, mothers or friends, simply because our health systems are not designed to meet their needs. We have seen that data clearly indicates women make less than men, but women of color make even less than their white counterparts.
While there are several pieces of legislation I support that aim to tackle elements of this problem, my Social Determinants of Health Accelerator Act is designed to address the challenges that women face in our communities through an intersectional lens. We know that focusing on the outcome itself is not enough — we must understand what led to that outcome and put forward policies to tackle the root causes, not just the symptoms.
This legislation provides key technical assistance and funding to identify a problem in a specific community, understand the underlying factors contributing to negative health outcomes and then put together a comprehensive strategy for tackling those challenges and improving health in our communities. It is not a perfect bill, and we will still need additional resources, but this approach can provide meaningful, localized roadmaps to tackling these problems that have been decades and centuries in the making.
I should conclude by saying that I do not fight these fights alone. I have a staff that includes a powerhouse group of strong and determined women working to amplify and fix constituent concerns. They make me even more optimistic that the next generations will continue to fight for improved quality-of-life for those at the margins of our society.
What do you wish you had known before you decided to run for office?
I have always believed that our government can be a force for good — but before I ran for my first elected office, I hadn’t yet grasped just how impactful local, state and federal office holders can be to help fix the problems that people struggle with day-to-day. Government can — and should — be part of the solution and never part of the problem. Government must work to ensure that all communities have access to the same opportunities and support, and that folks are never left behind. Whether it is rural America or our communities of color, we have to work to fix the systems that do not provide an equitable foundation for all Americans. This is one way of saying that we don’t have to accept the way things are, but we are all in a position, whether an elected official or a community member, to make it the way it should be.
In Congress, I have made it my priority to fight to lower the costs of healthcare and prescription drugs, protect care for people with pre-existing conditions, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, fight for our family farmers and ensure our government works for the people — and I will continue to do just that. I appreciate all those that support this fight and will continue to work to deliver real results for hardworking Illinois families. To those who do support and are reading this, I want to conclude with an ask: between now and November, I hope folks have some time to put in some volunteer hours, from the safety of your home, for my campaign. Let’s bring it home for Northwest and Central Illinois.
If you would like to learn more about Cheri Bustos and her platform or volunteer for her campaign, please check out her website at cheribustos.com. Don’t forget to follow her on Facebook at @CheriBustosForCongress. Reach out today and help make a difference in the upcoming 2020 election.
(The information contained in this post is provided only as general information and does not imply an endorsement by She Votes Illinois.)