Mike Bost pulled off what arguably was unthinkable in 2014: A Republican winning an election to Congress from Illinois’ 12th District.
Bost upset incumbent Democrat Bill Enyart to take the district out of Democrats’ hands for the first time in the better part of 30 years. The district was represented by Jerry Costello from 1988 until he retired in 2012, when Enyart won.
Bost’s life in public service stretches back many years, beginning with his decision to serve in the military while recovering from an accident. He was on a motorcycle when a drunk driver hit him.
“I was laying at home watching TV when the Iran hostage crisis happened,” Bost said. U.S. diplomats and citizens had been taken hostage in late 1979 and weren’t freed until early 1981. “At 18 years old, you think you can save the world, so I joined the Marine Corps to save the Iran hostage situation.”
He served for three years as a radar repair specialist before returning home to run Bost Truck Service.
“I came home and it was during that first year I saw something happen at the local government level I was not happy about. I got to griping about it and my wife said ‘Shut up or get involved,’” he said. He won election to the Jackson County Board.
Later, following a stint as Murphysboro’s city treasurer, Bost lost a race for Illinois General Assembly in 1992 and became a full-time firefighter for two years before running for the Legislature again in 1994. That time, he won the seat he would hold for 20 years.
Flipping the 12th
In 2011, while still in the Illinois General Assembly, a longtime friend of Bost’s told him voting trends in the 12th Congressional District appeared to be shifting. “He said ‘You know, the numbers look like you could probably pull this off. You ought to run,’” Bost said. “I got my wife, my pastor and several friends and we prayed and we prayed...and we prayed. Everybody else said I had to run. But I didn’t feel like God was calling me in 2012 to make that step.”
Two years later, Bost said more people approached him about running.
“I weighed it out, I prayed it out, and I sat down my family and said, ‘What do you think?’” he said. “They said ‘We told you you should run last time.’ We made the decision to run.”
He won, handily defeating incumbent Enyart, a Belleville Democrat, and the Green Party’s Bradshaw.
Where he stands
Coal and steel are atop many a voter’s mind this year in the district, and Bost’s stances on those issues reflect how intertwined they are.
He passed legislation last year to put tariffs on steel products from China and other countries. The practice by nations of subsidizing their domestic steel production and then selling in the American market flooded the U.S. with products that could be bought more cheaply than it would cost to make here.
He also passed legislation making it faster and easier for steel companies to petition the government when the dumping of foreign steel into the domestic market adversely affects American businesses. Previously, trade laws stated American plants had to close before they could complain about steel dumping. After the complaint was filed, the process to right the ship took years.
“They way I describe it to people, because remember, I’m a firefighter: Before, you couldn’t call the fire department until your house had burned down,” Bost said. “ Now, you see smoke, guess what? You call the fire department.”
Those changes to the law have been effective, Bost says, but he said had the language been adopted three years ago, U.S. Steel would never have shuttered its Granite City works.
Bost also supports Illinois’ coal industry, which recently has suffered from company bankruptcies and massive layoffs at mines. New proposed federal rules to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants add additional pressure as energy companies try to keep coal plants competitive against plants that burn natural gas, which is cheaper.
Bost supports Republicans’ ongoing efforts to block those rules in court.
“I’m for clean energy. I’m for all renewables. But we’re not there yet,” Bost said. He said 40 percent of Illinois’ electricity comes from coal plants. He said shutting coal plants down too quickly without immediately being able to replace them with green energy sources will create a shortage of power, raise electricity prices and put people out of work.
“What happens to that little old lady who’s on a set income trying to make ends meet when her electricity bill doubles, quadruples, because we can’t provide the energy?” he said. “I want clean air as much as anybody else. I want a clean environment. I want it to be handed down to my grandkids. But if you starve my grandkids to death, the environment is the least of my worries.”
I’m for clean energy. I’m for all renewables. But we’re not there yet. What happens to that little old lady who’s on a set income trying to make ends meet when her electricity bill doubles, quadruples, because we can’t provide the energy?
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost
In a response to a questionnaire, Bost vowed to oppose any cuts to military spending. He wrote that the continued funding of military installations such as Scott Air Force Base ensure they won’t be in danger of closing.
He also supports the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.
“We must replace the law with patient-centered reforms that increase access to affordable care by allowing insurers to compete across state lines, expanding health savings accounts, implementing tort reform, and maintaining coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions. When considering these sensible objectives individually, it’s hard to see how both parties can’t find common ground,” he wrote.
Bost acknowledges Social Security and Medicare are headed toward insolvency, and believes the programs should be amended for future beneficiaries.
“It’s the same thing that happened with the pension system in Illinois. We have to deal with that issue. That issue can be dealt with, still meeting the requirements of the people on the verge of receiving it,” Bost said. But to keep the programs running, he said newer employees may need to have more withheld from their paychecks. After all, he said, the programs were created when life expectancies were lower than they are now. More people are living longer, and Americans are having fewer children — the workers necessary to pay into the system to keep it afloat.
Desire to help
Baricevic’s campaign has hammered Bost over Bost’s continued support of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Other Illinois politicians rescinded their endorsements of Trump in October after a video emerged where Trump is heard describing kissing and groping women without their consent.
“I don’t support all of the things (Donald Trump) says,” Bost said. “But do I support him over Hillary? Yes. Simple as I can say it.”
Not pulling his support from Trump has upset some voters, but Bost has a reputation for listening to and coming to agreements with lots of different stakeholders with competing interests in the 12th. Evidence of this comes by way of endorsements: While Bost enjoys the backing of business interests typically supportive of Republicans, he’s also nabbed union endorsements from the Illinois Education Association and the United Mine Workers.
“I watch many of my colleagues that don’t want to govern, they want to gripe. It’s a big difference,” Bost said, adding that there actually are lawmakers of all stripes in Washington who favor working for the common good. “There’s a group on both sides of the aisle that are willing to do that. It’s not as partisan as you think. But there are other groups who try to drive the news.”
Bost doesn’t want to drive national news. He just wants to help his district.
“As the congressman, my job is to keep in touch with the district, to fight for it and be aggressive on issues in Washington, D.C. I want people to continue to elect me so I can continue to serve in that manner,” he said. “The list goes on and on and on of things that we work on for the people. I will continue to do that.”