A longtime congressional aide, an emergency room doctor and a Madison County businessman are vying to take the seat being vacated by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson in a three-way race that has drawn a heavy dose of attention from outside the district.
The race for the 13th Congressional District seat was thrown sideways shortly after the March primary. Johnson easily defeated two challengers in the Republican primary, then announced his retirement three weeks later, leaving the GOP without a candidate. Republican leaders in the counties of the new 13th District then selected Rodney Davis of Taylorville.
Meanwhile, Democrat Dr. David Gill of Bloomington defeated primary opponent Matt Goetten by 156 votes, though Goetten would not concede the race for a month after the election. Then independent John Hartman of Edwardsville successfully petitioned to join the race.
The new 13th District extends from Madison County to Champaign, including Edwardsville, Glen Carbon, Maryville and parts of Collinsville.
More than $2 million in outside money has sponsored advertising for and against the candidates, including $500,000 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against Gill and $10,747 from the Service Employees International Union against Davis, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars from the national party organizations.
The flurry has gotten so ugly that the retiring Johnson held a news conference recently to chastise both candidates for “a cesspool for negativity.”
Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville
Rodney Davis found out he would be the Republican candidate for Congress while standing on the sidelines of a youth football game.
Davis, 42, has been a youth football coach for many years while raising his children in his hometown of Taylorville. When the text came confirming that he had been selected to replace Johnson on the ticket — the text read “Winner” — he was elated. Calls came in a flood, congratulating and advising him — but he still had a game to coach, he said.
Now he ranks that day right up there with the day he married his wife, Shannon, and the days their daughter and twin sons were born.
Davis’ family moved to Taylorville when he was 7. His father owned a restaurant, and Davis grew up working in the family business. “It taught me the value of hard work,” he said. “And they taught me that the decisions made in Washington affect us all.”
Like many kids in a small town, Davis couldn’t wait to get out … then came right back home after college to marry his high school sweetheart.
Davis got his degree in political science at Millikin University, and after a series of government fellowships he began working for U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.
From Shimkus, Davis said he learned the value of service. His job was constituent assistance, helping residents of Shimkus’ district deal with government agencies.
“You can make a real difference in people’s lives just by helping them through the red tape and bureaucracy,” Davis said. He saw his job as citizen advocacy, making the bureaucracy work for people.
And he said he wants a bipartisan approach if he is elected to Congress.
Dr. David Gill, D-Bloomington
Dr. David Gill can’t remember exactly when he decided to be a doctor, but he knows he made the decision by the time he was 6 years old.
“There was no one moment that comes to mind,” he said. “I just wanted to do good things for people … It’s really the same passion that drove me into medicine that drives me toward Washington; I want to help my fellow man and woman.”
His choice was made long before his father got sick, dying when Gill was 13. He washed dishes to help pay the family bills, working at a number of menial jobs to get through college and medical school.
At first Gill started a family practice, but eventually turned to urgent care and then emergency medicine for the past 13 years. That experience and his first wife’s battle with cancer have made health care his primary focus, advocating stronger health care reform than the Affordable Care Act enacted in 2010.
In some of his statements, Gill has referred to receiving a $17,000 bill for an emergency helicopter that carried his late wife, Polly, to the hospital. His insurance had refused to pay it, and he received the bill as he was planning Polly’s funeral.
“We were married two weeks shy of 20 years, and she was sick for 13 months before she passed away,” Gill said. “The cancer took over her body. But she encouraged me to go on. I went on, and shocked myself by meeting and falling in love with a wonderful woman. … I’ve been very lucky in love twice.”
Gill is now married to Elaine, and between them they have six children. He has run for Congress twice before, both times defeated by Johnson. Then and now, he said he runs because he is “sick and tired of seeing ordinary men and women disrespected.”
“I see the suffering and the dying taking place because of decisions made in Washington D.C.,” Gill said. It goes beyond the emergency room, he said: people who can’t find work or worrying about their children’s education.
“All of it is because (Congress) is looking out for drug and insurance companies and Wall Street banks,” he said. “As a doctor, I know you can get brain damage from banging your head against a wall … (but in the new district) it’s not a handicap to be a Democrat. It was a rough primary, but I’m very proud of our work and I’m proud of what we’re achieving here.”
Gill states that his campaign has not run any negative ads. While the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee runs attack ads, he said his campaign does not coordinate efforts with DCCC. Gill also said he has refused to take donations from Wall Street or corporate political action committees.
“The two biggest falsehoods that I’ve heard bandied about … are that I want to do away with Medicare and raise people’s taxes,” Gill said. “I’ve been a doctor for 24 years, I’ve seen their lives saved with Medicare and will always work avidly to expand and improve Medicare. And I have no interest in raising taxes on people making a quarter-million dollars or less.”
And Gill is still working a few shifts in the emergency room as the campaign enters its final stretch. “Well, I’ve weaned back shifts,” he said. “We’ve tightened our belts in the Gill household; they don’t pay me to run for Congress.”
John Hartman, I-Edwardsville
John Hartman has worked in several different careers: business management, the stock exchange, property management, teaching and biotechnology. Now he wants a new title: congressman.
Hartman, 56, was born and raised in Edwardsville, calling his childhood there “ideal.” He got his college degree from Washington University and then worked in management positions for BF Goodrich here and in West Virginia.
Then came the Pacific Stock Exchange in San Francisco in the 1980s, before he moved to the East Coast and worked in property management at the Watergate. Hartman’s roommate was a clerk for Associate Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun.
While in Washington, Hartman worked part-time for former U.S. Rep. Albert Bustamante, D-Texas, which let him explore his interest in politics.
“I have always cared a lot about this country and been very interested in public policy and economics,” Hartman said. It was a fascinating time to be in Washington, he said; from 1985 to the mid-90s as the world was changing, the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union fell.
While Hartman was not close to Bustamante and had stopped working for him long before the hammer fell, he was surprised by Bustamante’s conviction on fraud and racketeering charges in 1993.
“I felt sorry for him and at the same time disgusted with him,” Hartman said. “I would not say I believed in him.”
When Hartman decided to run for Congress, he thought it would be dishonest to run as a Republican or Democrat when he had been an independent for 30 years.
“The public doesn’t want phonies,” Hartman said. “People are fed up and have had it with politics; they’re being hammered with television commercials. A lot of them aren’t going to vote … I was called a criminal and a crook and sworn at just for being a politician. That’s the kind of environment we’re in.”
So Hartman stood on sidewalks outside post offices and farmers markets in the effort to get 8,000 signatures to get on the ballot. He doesn’t have funding for television commercials, and is relying on shoe-leather politics for the election.
“I think the feeling among the people is that they are more than happy to have an independent choice,” he said.