STERLING – Democrat Joan Padilla announced her candidacy for 71st District state representative Thursday at Propheter Park, next to a statue of the nation’s first Republican president.
For Padilla, the executive director at Home of Hope Cancer Wellness Center in Dixon, the setting was perfect.
“Partisan labels break down the lines of communication, and that’s a big part of why nothing is getting done in Springfield,” Padilla said, a statue of Abraham Lincoln looking over her shoulder. “Everyone has to be willing to sit down, talk and find common ground.”
Her main reason for choosing the park, however, had nothing to do with politics.
“My husband and I bought our first house a block away from the park, and I have so many wonderful memories of our kids playing here.”
Padilla, 53, told an enthusiastic group of about 60 supporters that government in Springfield and Washington has bred much mistrust that challenges everyone running for public office in Illinois.
“Politician” is another label that she tries to distance herself from.
“I am not a politician – I am a wife, mother, sister and friend who loves her community and wants to help the people in it.”
Padilla’s first foray into politics came 5 years ago, when she made an unsuccessful run for Whiteside County recorder. As the leader of a nonprofit social services organization, state government’s dysfunction has moved her to action.
“The budget impasse had a huge impact on social services safety nets and education,” Padilla said. “I’ve served my community, and this is the next step – it’s time for me to jump in and make a difference.
Padilla believes voters are hungry for candidates who can bring a fresh message, regardless of party.
“Nothing is getting done in Springfield, and people are scratching their heads and wondering what should be done,” Padilla said. “We need fresh eyes in there, and I feel a wave of excitement building in the Democratic process.”
With her family by her side, the mother of four said she is still fine-tuning her platform, but housing, education and job creation will be prominently featured.
“We want to keep people in our community, and to do that, you have to provide stability and opportunity, and that means great schools, job opportunities and affordable housing,” Padilla said.
Lowell Jacobs, Whiteside County Democratic Central Committee vice chairman, on hand for the announcement, said he’s encouraged by the number of Democrats jumping into the fray.
“I feel good about all of the candidates who are running,” said Jacobs, who first served on the committee in 1999.
With parties at the state and national levels strategically targeting certain races and throwing a high percentage of the cash in those directions, more candidates are counting on a grass-roots approach to gain voters’ attention.
When facing incumbents with party support, candidates look to the local party leadership to help them connect with their constituency. They help set up town halls and other events that can create buzz locally and put them on the radar for party money.
“We don’t support any particular candidate, we just try to help everyone from the party,” Jacobs said. “Then we just let the primaries play out and set what happens.”
Padilla is the third Democrat to announce in the 71st District, following Sean Sanders of Rock Falls and Joe Bright, an Erie native who now lives in Sterling.
The Democrats will face off in the March 20 primary for a shot at the seat held by Savanna Republican Tony McCombie. It’s widely assumed that McCombie will run again, but she hasn’t formally announced her intentions.
Bright has a meet-and-greet at The Factory Pub-n-Grub, 103 W. Third St., Sterling, from 3 to 5 p.m. Oct. 8.
Race: 71st District state representative
Education: Studied dental hygiene at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; Western Illinois University, bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences
Political experience: Unsuccessfully ran for Whiteside County recorder in 2013, Sauk Valley Community College Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2011
Profession: Executive director at Hope of Hope Cancer Wellness Center in Dixon
Family: Husband, Tom; four children, Christian, Leo, Rachel, Vincent; granddaughter, Iris