ROCK ISLAND – In 2011, the Democrats drew the new 17th Congressional District, which includes Whiteside County, with the purpose of electing a Democrat.
That strategy worked last year when Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, beat incumbent Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, who was elected in 2010.
Still, Schilling, who announced last month that he was running again in 2014, said he believes he can take back the seat, especially in an off-year election.
In 2012, Schilling said, President Barack Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney by 50,000 votes in the 17th District, but "we were able to flip 32,000 over to us."
Also, in the currently drawn district, 25,000 more voters cast their ballots for the Republican congressional candidate over the Democat in 2010, Schilling said.
In a telephone interview with Sauk Valley Media on Monday, the former congressman took aim at his successor, saying she is focused on politics at the expense of her constituents.
"We're supposed to be the servants of the people," Schilling said. "When we had our flooding [in the Quad Cities] going on, she did a photo op with Gov. [Pat] Quinn, then flew to Portland, Ore., for fundraising."
On April 19, Bustos and other Quad Cities officials attended a Quinn news conference in front of a flooding Rock River. An online search showed that Bustos visited Portland, Ore., about 2 weeks later, on May 2, when she went with U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., on a factory tour.
A news release indicated a "packed schedule of events" in Portland for the two congressmen that day, but listed no fundraiser, although politicians often decline to publicize their quest for campaign cash.
In a statement Monday, Bustos' office said she has spent every day putting her constituents' best interests first.
"Congresswoman Bustos and our office were quick to react and worked closely with FEMA in response to the floods earlier this year, and we continue to work cases for flood victims," the statement read.
After Schilling announced his intentions in July, her office released a statement in response to Schilling's candidacy, saying she was focused on creating jobs and protecting Social Security and Medicare, not an election more than a year away.
Last month, when Obama visited Galesburg, which is in the 17th Congressional District, Bustos attended his event. Schilling said he had no problem with her doing so, but said she should have returned to Washington to vote on a defense appropriations bill later that day.
He acknowledged that the bill passed by a big margin – 315-109 – but added that Bustos should realize defense is important in the 17th District.
"We have 9,500 people working at Rock Island Arsenal. That's the livelihood of the Illinois Quad Cities. She chose to campaign with the president rather than vote," Schilling said. "If I was in Congress and a Republican came into the district, I would have flown out to Washington and made sure my vote counted."
Bustos' office said she "capitalized on an unparalleled opportunity to advocate for the hardworking people of Illinois and their incredible manufacturing skills when the president visited Galesburg."
Schilling plans to run in the Republican primary in March. His only GOP opponent so far is Rock Island attorney Eric Reyes.
Here are some of former Rep. Bobby Schilling's positions on the issues:
– Immigration: Would vote no on the Senate's version of immigration reform, which calls for a pathway to citizenship and includes guarantees for greater border security. "Do we need immigration reform? You're darn right we do," Schilling said. But he said he fears that President Obama will do what he has done with health care reform, picking only certain provisions to enforce. The president, he said, may well pull border security out of the bill and in 10 or 15 years, "we'll be right back where we are now."
– Farm bill: Said he would need to research the issue more before saying whether he would have voted for the farm bill. The Republican-led House recently passed the farm bill without the food stamp funding that is usually included. He said he wants to make sure food stamps are there for people "truly in need," but to cut out abuses in the program. As for farm subsidies, he said, people must be qualified for them and that the government should not "throw them to anyone who signs on."
– Taxes: Before he left office in early January, Schilling voted against raising taxes on wealthier taxpayers. "It was a tax increase with no cuts. This is what frustrates me about Cheri Bustos and the president. A balanced approach can't be raising taxes on top earners with no cuts. To get the economy growing, you can't just keep increasing the size of government."