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Q&A: Sen. Dave Koehler On His Plans For Serving Bloomington-Normal

State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria
State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, says he intends to listen to community leaders and citizens in determining what Bloomington-Normal's biggest needs are. The new 46th State Senate district encompasses parts of Bloomington-Normal and Peoria.

The new redistricting maps for state House and Senate seats in Illinois make some significant changes to the boundaries of some legislative districts. Bloomington-Normal and Peoria have not been spared.

Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, has served since 2006 in the State Senate, where he serves as assistant majority leader. The new State Senate map means he would also represent parts of Bloomington-Normal.

All State Senate seats come up for election in years following redistricting. The winner of next year's election for the 46th State Senate district would serve in that position for the next four years.

WGLT spoke with Koehler about how he'd bring Bloomington-Normal and Peoria together as part of his work.

Q: How does Bloomington-Normal differ from Peoria?

Koehler: Well, there's a lot of similarities. It's a university town: Peoria has Bradley University as a large university, and of course the community college system is both in Bloomington-Normal and in Peoria. You've got (Illinois) Wesleyan University, you've got ISU. So I think there's a lot of similarities in that. They're urban areas within a, you know, otherwise rural downstate community of Illinois. So I think there's a lot of back and forth, I think just with cultural events. You know, people all the time are going from one community to the other, whether it's a sporting event, or whether it's a concert or what have you. I think there's a lot of interaction already that takes place between our two communities.

How do you think that sort of relationship is going to affect how you handle your work?

I think it'd be very exciting because, again, the two communities have a lot of similarities in terms of the the demographics of, you know, who makes up the communities, the fact again that they are cultural centers within, you know, the region that they're situated in. So, I think probably the only thing that will cause me some concern is when when Bradley plays ISU in the basketball.

So how do you think your experience so far as a state senator would carry over into this expanded district?

I'll let the voters decide, but I think pretty well. I think that, you know, I've been involved in local politics in Peoria for quite some time. I was on the county board for six years. I was on the city council in Peoria for eight years. So I understand the local government. You know, I don't know the current mayor of Bloomington. I've not met him yet. But I know the past mayor of Bloomington and I know the mayor of Normal. So, you know, those relationships exist already. A lot of the unions that I work with overlap with Bloomington-Normal, they have large territories. And so I think out of the 17 building trades unions, probably 10 or 11 cover both Peoria and Bloomington-Normal.

Assuming you do get elected in 2022, what do you think the biggest obstacles ahead would be?

The biggest obstacles we have really are more with the state. How do we, especially downstate communities, how do we begin, after a pandemic of a year and a half, to revitalize small business and our economy? So I think those are the challenges we have. I don't see any particular challenges with the district per se, I think it's more of an issue of looking at, general things that that are going to affect Illinois.

What do you think Bloomington-Normal's biggest needs are?

I guess I intend to find that out, and I think I want to listen and, you know, carefully pay attention to what the leaders, what ordinary citizens feel about their community. So when election time comes, you know, I'll be spending a lot of time on the ground, having those discussions. I don't want to presume that I know anything before I really talk and listen.

How do you think your representation would build the Democratic Party up in Bloomington-Normal in particular?

I think that there's probably a chance to have more interaction with people from both communities. You know, I have been very involved in Peoria County Democratic Party. I'm the treasurer of the party organization right now. I tend to be able to meet, I know quite a few of the people that are in the McLean County Democratic Party. So a lot of that is just a matter of making sure that I make contact with them and have discussions with them. I've done some of that already, but there'll be more to come.

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Christine Hatfield, a graduate student in University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program, is WGLT and WCBU's PAR intern for the first half of 2021.