Metro-East News

‘This isn’t a movie, this is the real deal,’ Shimkus says

In front of nearly 25,000 people Thursday at the Congressional Baseball Game, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, pitched one inning. He struck out two batters with his curveball.

But Shimkus, who has played in the Congressional Baseball Game 21 years in a row, had his roommate on his mind when he was on the field.

“I can’t play the game without thinking about Steve (Scalise),” Shimkus said at his Maryville office Friday. “This isn’t a movie, this is the real deal. He’s a teammate, who is in intensive care, while you’re playing the game.”

Shimkus took the field Thursday at Nationals Park as part of the annual Congressional Baseball Game, which went on one day after an attack by Belleville native James T. Hodgkinson at the GOP team practice in Alexandria, Va.

The attack left Rep. Scalise, the Republican majority whip, in critical condition after he was shot in the hip. He required multiple surgeries.

Hodgkinson was killed by Capitol Police.

Scalise, of Louisiana, and Shimkus share a townhouse along with Republican Reps. Kevin Brady, of Texas, and Erik Paulson, of Minnesota.

Scalise has roomed with Shimkus for eight years.

“When you live together, you can chill out after a tough vote and visit,” Shimkus said. “I would consider him close, like a brother.”

What is tough for Shimkus to think about is that Scalise’s injuries are worse than first thought.

“What shook a lot of us, I think people thought it was not as damaging of a wound at first than what it is,” Shimkus said. “He’s got a long haul.”

Shimkus said after Sept. 11, he thought seriously about security at his office and his Collinsville home.

“It’s nothing extravagant. We’ve got a dog, we’ve got a fenced-in yard. Nothing out of the ordinary,” Shimkus said.

As for threats at any of his offices, Shimkus said his staff contacts local law enforcement or the Capitol Police to make them aware. His staff also kept him up to date on people who might be dangerous.

“You just can’t have protection of 435 members of Congress from morning to night,” Shimkus said. “We live in a free and open society. We shouldn’t have to assume this is a risk of the job, but in today’s day and age, it’s a risk of the job.”

Shimkus did say when he has appearances around the district, he lets local officials know he’s coming and lets them make security decisions.

“When I go and do my meetings throughout the 33 counties I represent, we usually tell folks we’re coming,” Shimkus said. “Sometimes we do stuff at city halls, and we never ask for coverage, but sometimes the local sheriff will be there, or police officer, and they will do that. My guess is they’ll want to know we’re coming, and they’ll want to be around. And they do that on their own. It’s nothing we’ve asked them to do.”

Shimkus said he has always preferred individual meetings with constituents, and never has town hall meetings, even though there has been a recent push for them.

“I think the whole discourse is going to change. People demanding things. That is part of this extreme negative political anger that I think ended up in someone taking direct physical action against a member of Congress,” he said. “I would hope the vitriol voices calm down. You can’t ask for anything better than to have a one-on-one meeting across the table with your member of Congress.”

He also questioned the motivation of people who push for town hall meetings instead of one-on-one meetings.

“When people say that’s not good enough, then what do they want? What is the agenda?” Shimkus said. “The agenda to me doesn’t mean that we want to discuss public policy, the agenda is we want to have a show of force, a forum, we want to rev up people. I’m not sure revving up people, emotionally charged, will be in vogue for a while.”

He said he doesn’t see a lot of vitriol and hatred between members of Congress.

“Where’s the vitriol coming from? But I will say, it won’t take long before we’re fighting about values and issues. These are things we believe in,” Shimkus said. “What we need to do is get to the middle ground, compromise. That’s where the extremes are hurting the debate. They are rejecting compromise.”

Shimkus wasn’t at the practice where Scalise and three other people were wounded. He took the practice off in order to stay in good shape for Thursday’s game. He also had a speaking engagement Wednesday morning.

At the game, Shimkus, along with U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, wore Cobra jerseys representing Parkland Community College, which is in the Champaign area.

Republicans wore LSU hats in honor of Scalise.

Shimkus said the game helps members of Congress bond and see each other off Capitol Hill.

“To see us bungling around and having fun and laughing at each other is very healthy,” Shimkus said. “I think it helps the discourse. We get to know the members well.”

Shimkus said those in attendance probably didn’t expect to see good baseball.

“It was to show sympathy and respect for Steve, but also it was a statement for unity,” Shimkus said. “We really need to get back to being able to disagree, without being disagreeable.”

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter