In part, it was her son's military service that motivated former Madison County chief judge Ann Callis to run for Congress.
Callis, 48, resigned Friday after 18 years as a judge of the Third Judicial Circuit, seven of those years as chief judge. She announced Monday she intends to challenge freshman Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, for the 13th Congressional District in 2014.
Callis' son, 2nd Lt. Elliot Corey, is a graduate of Cornell University and recently completed officer candidate school in the U.S. Army. Corey will undergo training as an Army Ranger this summer.
"He was part of the motivating factor," Callis said. "He's making this huge sacrifice to serve his country. ... I owed the same, to expand my public service."
Callis was required to resign because the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct did not allow her to remain on the bench while running for a non-judicial office. That was a difficult decision, she said; she had been approached in the past about running for Congress, but turned it down, stating that it wasn't the right time.
But now she is ready for a change, Callis said. "It was a long decision-making process, but it was the right time and the right decision," she said.
Callis' home in Troy is technically within the 15th Congressional District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville. While a candidate is not required to live within a district in order to represent it, Callis said she plans to move to Edwardsville in June.
Then she has the daunting task of introducing herself to the 14 counties of the 13th Congressional District, stretching from Edwardsville halfway across the state to Champaign and beyond.
"Like many of my friends and neighbors, I'm frustrated right now that Washington is not listening, and it's not delivering for the middle class," Callis said. "As chief judge, I've delivered reforms when Washington didn't, and I'm running to deliver solutions for middle-class families who are looking for good-paying jobs and someone to protect Medicare and Social Security."
Callis said she intends to campaign the old-fashioned way, by going out across the district and meeting people face-to-face. She said she wants to hear directly from constituents what their concerns and priorities are. "I feel very blessed that my passion is public service," she said. "I very much enjoy the policy aspect. ... I hope they know that my genuine resolve is to help them."
Callis said her top priority is the economy and job creation. "People are really hurting, they feel disenfranchised and frustrated with the stagnation in Washington," she said. "People want work and they want the economy to grow."
Another top priority is veterans' issues, she said. As chief judge, Callis created Illinois' first veterans court, steering veterans with minor charges toward services, job training and assistance. It's an issue that Callis says is "near to my heart" because of her son's service.
Also a high priority is education, Callis said, with daughter Caroline Rongey studying to be a middle-school teacher at St. Louis University. Callis also expects to work on health care access and issues for farmers, with a district that is largely rural.
As chief judge, Callis helped create a juvenile diversion program and a program for the mentally ill caught in the system, to try to put them together with service providers. She mentioned a foreclosure mediation program and cited the reforms she enacted in what had been termed by some special interest groups as a "judicial hellhole."
"That was a challenging time,' she said, "but I think we made a difference in the perception of our bench."
More recently, Callis said, she put together a task force of stakeholders in mental health -- law enforcement, service providers and others -- to find better solutions for the mentally ill caught up in the system. That program will go on without her, Callis said. "I know that will come to fruition, but I won't be there to be a part of it," she said.
Callis was sworn in as an associate judge in 1995, named a circuit judge in 1999 and chief judge in 2006. Divorced, she is a lifelong Madison County resident.
Serving in Congress would involve a slight pay cut; as chief judge, Callis earned $181,479 a year. A member of Congress earns $174,000.
Davis is still in the first few months of his first term as a member of Congress. A long-time Shimkus staffer, he narrowly defeated Dr. David Gill for the 13th District seat in 2012.
"This is a true 50-50 district, so it's no surprise that the Washington Democrats have been attempting to recruit candidates from the moment Congressman Davis was elected last fall," said Andrew Flach, spokesman for the Davis campaign. "Congressman Davis looks forward to debating the issues with his eventual opponent, whoever that may be, at the appropriate time. In the meantime, he will focus on governing and working with Republicans, Democrats and independents on ways to move our country forward."
The 13th U.S. House District covers parts of Madison County and includes part of Collinsville, Maryville and Edwardsville, runs eastward to Champaign County and includes 12 other counties.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2507.