Congressman LaHood’s recent announcement that he would not seek re-election next year came as a surprise to most of us. In each of his campaigns since being elected to the U.S. House in 1994, he’s never received less than 60 percent of the vote; in 1998 and 2002, he ran unopposed. Even last year, in an election colored by public corruption and marked by discontent with the war in Iraq, he received 67 percent of the vote.
We’ve grown used to the former social studies teacher representing us in Washington. Unlike many politicians, he has managed to stay accessible to his constituents and keep his finger on the pulse of the local community. His hard work and dedication have been instrumental in just about every initiative our area has seen over the last decade and a half. He was respected on either side of the widening partisan divide. The “mayoral” approach he took to his office was comforting to us, and, as such, we never really planned for a post-LaHood future.
In fact, LaHood and his predecessor and mentor, the Honorable Bob Michel, have, between them, represented the 18th District for more than half a century. It’s no wonder that his announcement caught us somewhat flatfooted—we’re simply not used to competitive elections for this seat. It’s practically uncharted territory. Not only that, there is no handpicked successor. Instead, we have a wide-open race with numerous candidates of both major parties lining up to gauge their chances for a shot at the seat.
The ripple effect of his announcement could actually be a tsunami. At this writing, the names of at least ten potential contenders were being publicly floated. Depending on who ends up tossing their hats into the ring, we may see a domino effect of change coming to the area.
We may as well embrace it. For most of our readers, these days are not business as usual. In an age of unprecedented, rapid change, there is no certainty; there are no guarantees. Whether it’s fallout from the budget debacle in Springfield, the uncertainty of funding for major projects like the Peoria Riverfront Museum or Woodford County’s recent split from the EDC and TransPORT, life doesn’t always go according to plan. Still, we pick up the ball and play on.
For all of our challenges, we need more optimism, creativity and hard work. While we will miss Congressman LaHood’s experience and clout, we respect his decision and his graceful exit from the political stage. We’re happy for him—that he will finally be able to catch his breath and spend more time with his family. And for once, “spending time with family” is not a mere ploy to mask a departure forced by public malfeasance. We trust that his successor, whoever that may be, continues in the tradition of moderation and civility that has marked this seat in Congress. IBI