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Koehler, Anderson make their cases for representing the new 46th State Senate District

Democratic State Sen. Dave Koehler, left, and Republican challenger Desi Anderson
Joe Deacon
Democratic State Sen. Dave Koehler, left, and Republican challenger Desi Anderson

The race for the Illinois state Senate seat representing large parts of Peoria and Bloomington-Normal is heating up.

Democratic incumbent Dave Koehler of Peoria has held the seat since 2006, while Republican challenger Desi Anderson of Carlock is seeking elected office for the first time. Both ran unopposed in the June primary, and both received a little more than 11,000 votes.

The redrawn district now covers portions of Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and McLean counties along the Interstate 74 corridor – a notable change from the constituency that elected Koehler with almost 54% of the vote in 2020.

“Bloomington-Normal is now part of the district, so that's quite exciting. So I'm getting a chance to meet folks over there,” said Koehler, 73, an assistant Senate majority leader seeking his sixth term in the office. “I feel like I'm still very productive, and in a position of leadership within the Senate now that I can get things done that I couldn't do when I was a freshman there in that body. There's a lot of challenges still ahead for the state of Illinois, and I choose to be a part of it.”

Anderson, a former Congressional intern for U.S Rep. Rodney Davis, runs a venue for weddings with her husband, Nick, at their property north of Heyworth. The couple has a young son, and Anderson says being a mother shapes her perspective on the role of government.

“I'm frustrated, like so many others, (with) our current climate of how things are going,” she said. “Really that is my main motivation: how can we provide better services for our families, our kids, small businesses.”

Anderson said one of the first things she wants to do if elected is work toward repealing the criminal justice reform legislation commonly known as the SAFE-T Act.

“The number one thing is the no-cash bail. What you're doing is you're removing the rights for victims to have a voice,” said Anderson. “There is frustration where you see repeat offenders just being let out, right? If you get attacked on the street, you would want to know that that attacker is doesn't have the ability to come out and reoffend again – right? – for your safety for your family safety, and for the safety of the community.”

Acknowledging the SAFE-T Act “is not perfect,” Koehler said the intention of the no-cash bail provision is more about bringing equity to the justice system.

“No-cash bail doesn't mean that we just let everybody out; no-cash bail means that there has to be a reason for keeping somebody in jail other than money, and it really gives a lot of discretion to the judges,” said Koehler. “Let me give you an example. There's two situations: there's domestic violence that occurs in two families, so both husbands in this case are locked up and kept in jail overnight. Well, one gets out. Why? Because they had the money to post bail. So shouldn't that decision be made as to whether they're a threat to their spouse or to themselves or to the community, rather than ‘how much money do you have?’ That's the purpose of this, to put some common sense into how we're doing this.”

Koehler says Illinois’ fiscal outlook has improved under Gov. JB Pritzker and the Democratic leadership in the General Assembly, pointing to a state debt of $16 billion before Pritzker took office.

“We were able to not only give $1.8 billion back to taxpayers this year, but we put $1 billion into a rainy day fund, which we have neglected for many years,” he said. “We paid off almost $1 billion dollars in back medical debts that the state incurred. And we were able to increase education funding. We were able to do all the things that that are really priorities.”

But Anderson said high taxes and fees have made Illinois unfriendly for businesses.

“We need less regulation. I can tell you as a small business owner what we're paying, and it's crazy,” she said. “If we’re going the route the way we're going, I will not be able to pass my business down to my son. You're seeing generations, especially after COVID with a shutdowns, businesses that were around for 50 years, mom and pop shops are closed brick and mortars that you'll never see up and running again. Why? Because it's not sustainable.

“This is why you don't see a lot of young families investing in small businesses opportunities, because it's not there. You've got corporations like (Caterpillar) that just announced recently they're not investing in Illinois, right? If corporations can't be viable, how is small business supposed to be viable?”

Koehler said state leaders anticipated the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that overturned the landmark Roe V. Wade decision protecting access to abortions. Koehler said he would need to hear more specifics about Pritzker’s plans for a possible special legislative session to strengthen abortion protections, but he supports taking action to fortify individual rights.

“Given the recent decision, Illinois is going to be a state that is going to be able to help women – really from all across the country, but mostly our own citizens – if they choose to have an abortion, to have one safely in a clinic with a doctor that knows what they're doing,” said Koehler. “I am old enough to remember what happened prior to Roe V. Wade back in the ’70s, and it's not that women didn't have abortions. It’s that they had them in the back alley and many of them died because people didn't know what they were doing, and that's what we want to prevent.

“This is the first time now, with the recent decision knocking out with the way Roe V. Wade, (that) we've had a diminishment of our freedoms. You know, that's kind of scary, and I think that there's other issues like gay marriage which may be affected. We have to stand firm in Illinois to say, ‘This is a state which is going to protect individual rights.’”

Anderson said she thinks a decision on how what direction the state takes on abortion rights should be up to the citizens.

“That's the beauty of having a democracy like this: Voters get to turn out and vote on amendments they want, and you've got individuals that are running that should hopefully represent what their constituents want. That is up to the voters and whatever voters decide and whatever way that goes, and so be it,” she said.

“We are historically (an) abortion state; I do not support taxpayer abortions. For me, as I'm knocking on these doors, that question – you'd be surprised – never comes up. You know, what question I get?: How can I get baby formula for my child? How can I pay my gas (when) I can't even get to work? This is the stuff that's facing folks. If we’re not understanding the core kitchen table issues that are facing families, we've got a problem.”

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Koehler, Anderson make their cases for representing the new 46th State Senate District

Joe Deacon is a reporter at WCBU.
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