A lot of important things happened to Brendan Kelly at Wolf Branch Elementary School in Swansea.
He met his wife in sixth grade there. He proposed to his wife in the hallway there. His two sons went to school there. He served on the school board.
On Wednesday, Kelly sat in his former sixth grade classroom and told the Belleville News-Democrat during an interview he would run for Congress’ in Illinois’ 12th District.
“Wolf Branch is where I went to elementary school when my mom and dad first moved here when we were stationed at Scott Air Force Base over 30 years ago,” Kelly said. “This is where I started school as a young kid. This is where I started to think about my role in the community and my life in public service and figuring out who I was as a person. It’s where I first met my wife. It’s where I first started to fall in love with the people of Southern Illinois.”
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Kelly, 41, said he decided to run because he felt many people in Southern Illinois are hurting and Congress wasn’t listening.
“Election after election, the people keep saying we want a country that works for everyone. And now, it just keeps getting worse,” Kelly said.
Kelly, a Democrat, said while he respected U.S. Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) as a man and a father, he disagreed with some of his actions. Kelly talked about the American Health Care Act that he said would cut 38,000 Southern Illinoisans from coverage, including 7,000 veterans. He also talked about opioid epidemic and reduction in mental health and addiction treatment. And the failing trust in institutions such as the media, religion and the government.
“I love this country. The United States has done more good than any other nation in history, but you can feel it in your gut, you can feel it in your hearts, things are deeply, deeply wrong,” Kelly said.
Kelly said he was approached to run for Congress by friends, family and even strangers.
“I believe in public service. I think people know that I believe in public service as seen with my time with the Navy or my time as a prosecutor here in St. Clair County, trying to protect public safety. People have been coming up to me — friends, family, strangers — and saying they think I can help. And if you can help your country, I think you have a duty to come forward and step up and serve where you think you might be able to help.”
Kelly sued the pharmaceutical companies, alleging that they maximized profits by minimizing the dangers of opioids, including addiction, overdose and conversion to heroin. He also filed suit against financial institutions he alleged bundled mortgages to avoid paying recording fees and make them harder to track.
“I’m not afraid to take on tough fights,” Kelly said. “The needs of the people are being ignored because politicians are controlled by powerful special interests, big banks and pharmaceutical companies at the expense of regular taxpayers and the small business.
“It’s up to us, each generation to reinforce trust and faith in those institutions,” Kelly said. “Democracy works when people participate, step up and show courage.”
Kelly has served as St. Clair County State’s Attorney since 2010 when he was appointed to replace Robert Haida, who became a circuit judge. Before his appointment, he served as St. Clair County circuit clerk. He worked as an assistant prosecutor under Haida. Kelly graduated from Notre Dame University and Saint Louis University School of Law.
The Democratic National Committee has targeted the 12th District to wrench out of Republican control. Republican Bost defeated Bill Enyart, who won the seat in 2014. Prior to Enyart, powerful Democrat Jerry Costello held the seat for more than 25 years.
Kelly said he has sought counsel from Costello, but declined to say what advice the longtime congressman from Belleville offered him.
Though he has been elected to public office, Kelly hasn’t been part of the legislative process.
“You gotta take the heat. You gotta take the heat from both sides. You have to be willing to make a decision and hopefully do right by people,” Kelly said. “You have to listen to people. I think that is something that is very important. It’s something that has been lost by people serving in Congress. They are not listening. They are not hearing people. So I know it’s contentious. I know it’s a difficult job. I know that you are going to have to make tough decisions.”
So far, four other people have formally announced their candidacies: Dean Pruitt, of Millstadt; David Bequette, of Columbia; Pat McMahan, a city council member in Mascoutah; and Adam King, of Alton. Nathan Colombo, of Carbondale, has filed paperwork to run for the Democratic nomination but has yet to formally announce his candidacy. Chris Miller, a Roxana native, is raising money to run in the 12th.
George O’Connor, Bost’s spokesperson, said they would let the Democrats sort out their “unsettled nominating process” before engaging any candidates.
“Regardless of who they select, their nominee will have a difficult time justifying lockstep support for Nancy Pelosi’s extreme agenda in Washington,” O’Connor said. “Rural, blue collar voters have rejected these out-of-touch liberals time and again in special elections across the country this year. That’s not a good sign for whomever we face.”
For fellow Democrat McMahan, however, all that matters is bringing a Democrat back into the House. He said he’s never met Kelly, but has heard good things about him.
“I just hope people remember we’re all on the same team,” McMahan said. “If he’s the one that (takes the House back), all the power to him.”
Colombo declined to comment. Bequette, King and Miller could not be reached for comment.
At a glance
Brendan Kelly’s social media accounts: