The more politically observant Knox students may know that Galesburg has recently been put into the odd situation of being split between two separate Illinois State Senate districts as a result of redistricting.
As a result, the part of Galesburg south of Main Street, including Knox College, is now in Illinois’s 47th Senate District, the largest in Illinois. The district is represented by Sen. John Sullivan, who was brought to campus this past Monday by the Knox College Democrats to speak to students.
He gave a talk that was less of a traditional political pitch on where he stood on issues than a collection of stories and anecdotes about where he came from and his experience in Illinois government.
Sullivan began by describing his strange path into politics, which included time spent selling insurance and work in agricultural loans before settling into a career as an auctioneer.
Eventually, though, a love of politics that dated back to campaigning door to door for a family friend when he was ten made him decide to run for state office.
His campaign was uphill from the start, as he ran as a Democrat in a district that was 60 percent Republican and was represented by a 20-year incumbent. Surprising nearly all observers, he squeaked out a victory. Two years later, he had to face down a serious attempt to reclaim the district for the Republican Party that included being outspent by over $400,000.
Sullivan credited a strong grass-roots approach for overcoming his well-moneyed opponents.
“Running a successful campaign is like putting a puzzle together,” he said, with personal touches such as knocking on doors and visiting pancake breakfasts being important pieces.
He spoke at length about the importance of bipartisanship, noting how his party affiliation makes his situation somewhat unusual.
“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or a Republican … if you are willing to come to the table then I’m willing to work with you,” he said.
It was not all funny anecdotes, though. When asked what legislation he was most proud of, he described a bill that allowed National Guard members to have more time to take advantage of tuition benefits after deployment, introduced after meeting with a constituent who was unable to afford college even after serving in the Guard.
During the question session, he mentioned that although he is a Democrat, he is a conservative one, being pro-life and a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights.
“There is a place in the party for all of us,” he said.
Despite these beliefs, he remains a strong Democrat, “The reason I’m a Democrat is to be a voice for the working class of this country and to be the voice of those who don’t have their own.”
Student response to the event was positive. Knox College Democrats Treasurer and freshman Josh Fishman described him as “very articulate. He knew what he was talking about.”
“I liked him,” freshman Rachel Jackson said. “He seemed pretty down-to-earth, honest and open to new ideas.” Jackson, along with two other Knox students, will be interning with Sen. Sullivan’s campaign.