DIXON – Tom Demmer is no stranger to campaigning.
For the past couple election cycles, he’s spent hours in his car, traversing northwestern Illinois meeting with voters, organizing volunteers and distributing signs.
But until this past year, it usually was on behalf of someone else.
Now, Demmer is campaigning for himself.
The 25-year-old Lee County Board member is running against three other Republican candidates in the 90th State House District.
They include Liandro “Li” Arellano of Dixon, Chet Olson of Rochelle and Dan Sidmore of DeKalb.
There is no incumbent in the district, which includes Lee and Ogle counties. State Rep. Jerry Mitchell, R-Sterling, is not running for re-election.
“My entire life I’ve been interested in politics,” Demmer said. “I took the approach in college of going more toward communication. I was really interested in not just developing a political ideology or political philosophy, but in bringing more people into that.”
Demmer’s parents were very active in the community, he said.
His father, Dan, was a teacher with Dixon Public Schools and coached various sports, including at Newman High School, where Tom and his siblings went.
Dan died from brain cancer when Tom was 14 years old.
That inspired Demmer’s mother, Mary Farrell, to open the Home of Hope Cancer Wellness Center.
Neither of his parents were very political, though. There rarely were any political signs in their yard. Iif there were, it was because Demmer had put them there.
Demmer graduated from the University of Dayton in Ohio with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in political science.
While there, he had a “very casual” radio show, on which he and his friends would talk about politics and sports.
The show was aired from a glass studio overlooking a busy part of campus.
“There was no script at all,” he said. “I’d do no preparation for it. We’d just go in there, and I’d flag down a couple of friends, and we’d have a random conversation about something.”
Not all of Demmer’s political undertakings were as spontaneous.
He spent a semester working in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, focusing mainly on research.
“He was soft-spoken, but he was also a stickler for details,” Demmer said of Cheney. “That translated through the whole staff there. You knew you better be right, and if you were going to make a statement, you better be right.”
That summer his old T-ball coach, former Lee County Sheriff Tim Bivins, was running for state Senate after being appointed to the position in 2008.
“I was still at school, but I emailed him, ‘Hey, that’s great. Congratulations. If there’s anything I can do, let me know,’ Demmer said. “Well, he let me know. He said, ‘You want to be campaign manager?’”
From Bivins’ campaign, Demmer moved on to state Sen. Bill Brady’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. He was Brady’s regional coordinator for 15 counties in northwestern Illinois.
“It’s a huge advantage to have those relationships developed, so there’s some advantage that comes from having gone through something like that before,” he said.
Demmer juggled his political volunteering with his summer jobs at KSB Hospital.
He started working at KSB in 2003, spending three summers in the medical records department before exploring different areas. He is now the hospital’s director of strategic planning.
In 2009, he decided to start his own political career.
Demmer had registered to run for the Lee County Board when Norris Tucker resigned. Because he was the only declared candidate, he was appointed to the spot.
“It’s been a real asset to me to have been able to go through a couple years of local budget planning on the finance committee,” he said.
“I’ve been through all those budget hearings where every single department has gone line-by-line through budgets, defending their budgets and providing some of the details for that.”
Party affiliation: Republican
Resides in: Dixon
Office seeking: State representative for the 90th District
Length of term: 2 years
State representative salary: $65,353
Employment: Director of strategic planning for KSB Hospital in Dixon. Also serves on the Lee County Board.
Education: Graduated from University of Dayton in Ohio with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in political science.
Family: Mother, Mary Lynn Farrell; stepfather, Skip Farrell; brother, Brian Demmer; and sisters, Erin Evans and Molly Demmer