The first African-American woman to represent Champaign-Urbana in Springfield is now considering a run against U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis in 2018.
State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, announced at the Women’s March in Springfield on Tuesday that she is forming an exploratory committee and launching a “listening tour” in preparation for a possible run for the 13th District, which includes part of Madison County.
Ammons stopped short of declaring that she would run, but said she has been asked to run and wants to hear more from the constituents. “If I run for Congress, it will be because I know what it’s like to grow up in a neighborhood that’s choked from economic opportunity and left out on the margins of society based on race, gender and class,” she said. “If I run, it will be because I know what quality education can do to lift you out of poverty.”
Davis spokeswoman Ashley Phelps said Davis looks forward to the campaign. “Congressman Davis welcomes a healthy debate on the issues and looks forward to debating whomever the Democratic Party chooses, but we’re roughly 18 months from the next general election, and he’s focused on governing,” she said. “I would hope Rep. Ammons would do the same and work with statehouse Republicans to get a budget passed.”
Ammons was an alderwoman and a Champaign County board member when she challenged Democrat Sam Rosenberg in the primary for the state legislature. Rosenberg was a candidate with much better funding and the backing of House Speaker Michael Madigan in 2014; he had raised itemized contributions of $185,000 compared to Ammons’ $16,000, according to news reports
“As a working-class woman of color, I’ve had my fair share of people who told me I couldn’t do it, that I didn’t have enough money, enough education, to be here with you today,” Ammons said in her speech before the statue of Abraham Lincoln on Tuesday. “Some of you have heard that, too, haven’t you? ... Fortunately for Illinois and for this country, we don’t let that stop us.”
Ammons won the primary, then easily defeated a Republican candidate to win her seat in the state legislature. She is now in her second term, having been unopposed in 2016. Her district is primarily in the Champaign-Urbana community, including the University of Illinois campus. Her current committee assignments include education appropriations, higher education, the environment, personnel and pensions, small business empowerment and human services, among others.
“In all those years of service, I’ve always longed for women to be treated with the respect, recognition and dignity that we deserve,” Ammons said. “Today I stand before you with great pride, with sincere feelings of optimism and hope.”
Before running for office, Ammons grew up in Joliet and worked as a grassroots community organizer, working for groups such as the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, Boys & Girls Club, Salvation Army Food Pantry and University YMCA.
Ammons, who supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in his presidential run last year, said she was concerned about military spending, infrastructure, education, defending collective bargaining rights, protecting the environment and poverty, among other issues.
“We must stand together to lift historically marginalized communities out of poverty,” Ammons said. “We must stand together, even though it is not easy for us to do.”
Ammons had strong words for President Donald Trump and for Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. “It has been the most tumultuous, terrifying and regressive three months of any presidency in the history of this country,” she said. “We are fighting battles that we thought we had already won. We are fighting not just in the nation, but in Illinois with a governor who also wants to give tax breaks to the wealthy while telling hardworking women that he will not sign a bill to protect our right to choose.”
She also had criticisms for Davis. “Unfortunately in the 13th Congressional District, we have a congressional representative that insists on repealing the Affordable Care Act and denying healthcare to 35,000 people in the 13th District,” she said. “We demand that our representative meet with his constituents — don’t be afraid. ... If we don’t have a representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, maybe it’s time for us to get a new congressman. Maybe it’s time to make the 13th Congressional District a Democratic seat. And maybe it’s time that we make a congresswoman and not a congressman.”
Ammons said she planned to tour the district from Edwardsville to Decatur, to meet with people from both parties on a listening tour because “the 13th deserves better, Illinois deserves better, our nation deserves better.”