ST. CHARLES – Hundreds gathered at a rally in support of 14th Congressional District candidate Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, attended by Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker and Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, at Mt. St. Mary Park in St. Charles on May 23.
Underwood seeks to unseat U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, in November.
In the crowd was Laura Miller Hill of St. Charles, who said she believes Underwood would be an excellent representative.
"I'm in Rep. Randy Hultgren's district; I'm not happy with the decisions he's making and [his] votes," Miller Hill said, characterizing them as anti-women and anti-American.
Underwood told the crowd she decided to run after attending Hultgren's 2017 public forum, his only one, at the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, where he promised to protect the right of people with pre-existing medical conditions to access health insurance. The issue is personal, she said, citing her own well-managed heart condition. She said she believed his promise, but then he voted for the American Health Care Act and to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
"He turned his back on us – it's on, I'm running," she recalled saying. "We will keep fighting until November. … Health care is a right, not a privilege for the wealthy."
Among her goals for the district, which straddles seven counties, is working to help people "afford to stay in the beautiful communities we call home," she said.
A graduate of the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University, Underwood is a registered nurse and was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as a senior adviser at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. During that time, she helped communities across the country prevent, prepare for and respond to disasters, bioterror threats and public health emergencies, according to her website.
"To see this outpouring of Democrats in Kane County is historic," said Corinne Pierog of St. Charles, who chairs the Kane County Democratic Women of Illinois. "It's a tribute to the hard work the Kane County Democrats have done for so many years. People are coming to work together … to help each other."
She said she is pleased that Kane County Democratic Women, a six-month-old organization, already numbers more than 60.
Mark Guethle, chairman of the Kane County Democrats, told the crowd he hasn't seen this much excitement about an upcoming election since Obama was campaigning in Kane County, and carried Kane in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
Pritzker addressed a high school activist in the crowd and told him to spread the word to fellow graduating seniors to register to vote.
"Everything we care about is under siege," Pritzker said, condemning the misogyny, xenophobia and racism he said he sees in Washington, D.C., and about which he said Gov. Bruce Rauner remains silent.
Pritzker said Rauner is trying to break unions that are critical to protecting workers and building the middle class. He called for health care for all, more jobs and a higher minimum wage.
He cited his success in creating thousands of jobs through his small business tech incubator and said his goal would be adding hundreds of thousands of jobs in Illinois, saying it has the best educated workforce in the nation.
"I'm betting on that talent," he said.
Pritzker introduced Perez, who served as secretary of labor in the Obama administration, saying that as a former assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice, Perez stood up for people of color, LGBTQ issues and equal pay for women.
"Our democracy is on fire," Perez said, citing the danger of setting group against group.
He asked whether people are being taught that blowing out a neighbor's candle will make their own burn brighter.
"That's not who we are as a nation," he said, noting the fall election is an opportunity to send a message about unity.
He said the Democratic National Committee is investing in races in every state and praised the large numbers of women who have become politically active to fight for their values.
Perez said organizers of the recent Women's Leadership Forum gala asked people to speak who are going to be superstars, noting Underwood was one of them.
"She knocked it out of the park," he said.
Perez said Hultgren has earned an A grade from the National Rifle Association.
"We can't be the gun violence and mass murder capital of the world," he said. "We can do better."
Perez said the most frequent source of bankruptcies is a health care catastrophe, noting that Pritzker and Underwood believe health care is a right for all. With 167 days until the Nov. 6 election, he said many will have to give up their weekends to knock on doors.
He said unity doesn't mean unanimity.
"What unites us far outweighs what our differences are," Perez said. "The party of Lincoln has died, replaced by the party of Trump. It doesn't reflect the values of America."
He said that Underwood understands that moral leadership is about helping those at the dawn of life, those in the twilight of life and those in the shadows of life.