The race for the 13th Congressional District is heating up.
Republican incumbent Rep. Rodney Davis was already facing 2020 competition from Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, who he defeated by 2,000 votes in 2018. But now Londrigan could face a challenge herself—from fellow Democrat Stefanie Smith.
Smith, 36, of Urbana, is a paid intern at Cunningham Township working on poverty, homelessness, and sexual violence issues, as well as a human and labor rights advocate. She grew up in poverty and, as a teenager, experienced homelessness and turned to underage survival sex work to make ends meet. She uses that background to inform her current activism.
“A lot of my work has been around issues of agency, autonomy, sexual violence, and really taking a survivor-led and trauma-informed approach to these issues because I feel our social services lack that and can actually be more traumatic for the populations affected by the sexual violence that accompanies poverty,” Smith said.
Smith said she is running for Congress because she does not see the current candidates reflecting the issues constituents care about.
“We have such high levels of poverty, housing insecurity, food insecurity, low wages, health insurance is such a huge problem—these are life-and-death issues for working-class people and I’m not seeing other candidates talk about them in ways that I find reassuring,” Smith said.
The 13th Congressional District includes parts of Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, and Springfield, stretching to far southern Illinois. Smith was born in Normal and raised in LeRoy.
Smith criticized Davis over his support of President Trump in the impeachment inquiry, his work on the farm bill, and what she described as a lack of transparency and willingness to meet with his constituents about the issues. Davis’ office has pushed back on this criticism, claiming he’s hosted over 60 “open office hours” and public “open government nights,” including a recent one alongside state Rep. Dan Caulkins.
“Our elected officials are there to represent us, and I believe that (Davis) is failing at that task.”
Smith said she wants to take a holistic approach to the issues, saying that something like climate and housing are connected in that lower-income people tend to live in more polluted areas. She said she won’t kowtow to those in charge and will be a politician for those who have been marginalized.
Smith also criticized Londrigan, the 2018 Democratic nominee in the 13th District, on her flagship issue: health care.
“When I hear people talk about affordable health care, ‘affordable’ is an amorphous term,” Smith said. “I currently am in a position in which I have ‘affordable health care’ and it’s not affordable … I don’t think Betsy understands what’s affordable for the people in our district … I stand firmly in the idea that health care is a human right and we need access to health care.”
Smith said she wants to fight for single-payer health care. (Londrigan supports the more limited Medicare public option idea.) Smith said she believes health care prices are being jacked up by pharmaceutical companies. She said the road to single-payer is ending the corruption of the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries.
She also has big ideas on issues concerning the environment.
“I think the Green New Deal is important. I also support policies like the Homes Guarantee that has components of energy efficiency and addressing environmental pollution built in. I feel like we need to address the environment at every intersection,” she said.
She said companies and politicians putting the environmental issues on the consumer—like switching plastic cups to Mason jars—is something that displeases her.
“I think that really obfuscates the most people doing damage to our world have a great amount of power and they’re not being held accountable when we shift the burdens to individualisms.”
Smith said her ethos is to not do anything that violates someone else’s human rights.
“I’m looking at this as an opportunity to demonstrate to the people of my district that I want to serve them, that I would be honored to represent them, and that they have the right to make an empowered choice when it comes to choosing their representation.”
Should Smith and Londrigan both make it onto the ballot, the primary election would be in March.