Keith Sommer, the incumbent with 21 years of experience representing the 88th District in the Illinois State House of Representatives as a Republican, has two challengers in the upcoming election.
Both political newbies, Karla Bailey-Smith is a Bloomington resident running as a Democrat, and Ken Allison is an East Peoria resident running as a Libertarian. Both say they decided to run because they are dissatisfied with the job Sommer is doing. The incumbent, meanwhile, cites pride in his fiscally conservative record.
Here’s information about each of the candidates in the district that includes Washington, Morton, Mackinaw and part of McLean County.
"My ah-ha moment was when I attended a legislative breakfast about a year ago," said Bailey-Smith during a recent phone interview. "I was listening to all these guys, and they are all - at least in McClean County - they are all white Republican men. Then I looked up Keith Sommer’s voting record, and that was the clincher. ... His voting record is really terrible on basic human rights and the environment, just everything that I care about. He votes no on everything I care about."
Bailey-Smith, a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and the University of Illinois, is an artist who spent most of her career painting sets in New York City and London. After returning to Bloomington in 2010 with her son, she started Artistic Answers, where she does both interior painting and more creative endeavors like murals.
"I am a self employed painter and artist," said Bailey-Smith. "I have experience in collaboration and project management, and I am a creative problem solver."
The issues at the top of Bailey-Smith’s list include workers’ rights and local jobs for local people.
"I want to make sure to uphold the standards that our unions set, and that we get more essential workers being paid a living wage," she said.
Healthcare and childcare are also important. She wants to find more ways to support families who are struggling. Bailey-Smith also supports LGBTQ and women’s rights, criminal justice reform, and the need to not criminalize and demoralize people who are seeking reform.
Ken Allison decided to run when he was unable to reach Rep. Sommer during the COVID-19 shutdown. As a small business owner, Allison was growing concerned as the shutdown dragged on.
"I wanted to find out what his stance is, what he wanted to do. I reached out and called both of his offices in Springfield and Morton and both of his inboxes were full," said Allison during a recent phone interview.
Allison’s first thought was to run as a Republican, but he missed the primary. Then a friend suggested the Libertarian Party, which ended up being a good fit for him.
"My messaging has to be incredibly authentic and transparent, and I need to talk about subjects that most people are afraid to talk about," said Allison, who went on to explain how he overcame a difficult childhood to become a successful businessman.
An Illinois native, Allison was born in Iroquiois County, spent his childhood in Geneseo, and graduated from high school in Rock Island County. He enlisted in the military on his 18th birthday, doing three combat tours in Afghanistan during more than 27 years of service. With a bachelor’s degree in accounting, Allison opened Allison Tax & Consulting PC in 2012. Allison owns Mack’s Bar in the Peoria Warehouse District, Throttle Bar+Grill in East Peoria, and CARSTAR, a body shop on Pioneer.
"I’m a buyer of distressed businesses because I firmly believe that the health of our economy rests squarely on the backs of small business," said Allison.
Issues Allison wants to address include transferring the decision-making power about future pandemic shutdowns to local municipalities, improving transparency and combating corruption in state government, and the abolition of the state Firearm Owner’s Identification card.
In the 21 years Sommer has represented the 88th District he is most proud of being fiscally responsible.
"I’m proud of being a financially responsible person, not voting for bloated budgets, overspending and borrowing, and trying to protect the rights of citizens and the free-enterprise system," he said.
When it comes to specific legislation, Sommer is most proud of the work he has done to make adoption easier in Illinois.
"I’m an adoptive parent myself, and the strides Illinois has made making adoptions easier and affordable, both domestically and internationally, I’m really proud of," said Sommer. "When you are able to help individuals, that’s the most rewarding part of the job."
A life-long Morton resident, Sommer has served in many public offices. He was on the Morton Village Board from 1977-1986, served as Tri-County Regional Planning Commissioner from 1977-1982, was the Tazewell County Recorder from 1984-1988, and on the Tazewell County Board from 1994-1998. He is a 1964 graduate of Morton High School and owns Keith Sommer Realty in Morton.
While Sommer sees the pandemic as a serious issue that was properly addressed by the lockdown in March, he is dismayed with how small business in his community is faring through the continued economic turmoil.
"On my street in Morton most of the shops were closed because they were small and deemed non-essential. Yet the big box stores were open… they could sell jewelry, while the gentleman down the street that I deal with for jewelry was closed. That was wrong, and it’s going to have major implications for some of the small business in our community," he said.
If re-elected Sommer wants to continue working on the major issues that have been ailing the state for years.
"There is plenty to do in the year ahead, in ethics reform, spending, and pension reform. We just can’t kick that down the road anymore."
Leslie Renken can be reached at 270-8503 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.