Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Former Illinois congresswoman Cheri Bustos reflects on her career in Morton-Kenney lecture 

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Former Illinois congresswoman Cheri Bustos spoke about her childhood, politics and journalism Monday night as a guest speaker of the Paul Simon Institute at the John C. Guyon Auditorium in Morris Library.  

Bustos spoke about her upbringing and the political environment that she was surrounded by even as a young child. 

“We’d have people like [late Illinois Senator] Paul Simon, and just wonderful people over at our house growing up. And what was so great about our household, is never, not once in my entire childhood did my dad ever say ‘go away a little girl, this is an adult conversation,’ so I can sit there and listen to just these amazing stories and these amazing conversations until it is time to go to bed,” she said. “So, it was politics, sports, family/beer, but that was the Callahan household.” 

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Bustos touched on her first career as a journalist and the challenges she faced early on. Even through her toughest jobs, Bustos said she finds she was able to gain experiences that helped her throughout her career and would continue to shape her outlook as she went into politics later in life.  

“I feel I could always stand up for myself, which I think in politics is really important. In journalism, that’s really important. And it was something…my parents instilled in us, that we’re no better than anybody, but we’re also no worse than anybody. And I think that’s a really good lesson to carry through life.” 

Bustos spent time as a health care executive between journalism and politics.

“This kind of leads to what happens in life. You know, if you say yes to interesting things…I’m Vice President of [a multibillion dollar, multi state health system], which allowed me then to get involved in politics. Because as a journalist, as you probably know, you can’t do anything in politics…you can’t contribute, you can’t go door to door. The only thing you can do as a journalist is vote.” 

The conversation turned fully to Bustos’ career in politics as host John Shaw asked what her theory was on becoming an influential, important lawmaker.  

Initially, when she was doing her first campaign for city council, Bustos said she decided, “‘I’m just going to knock on every door.’ Because my view was this, my view was ‘if I win, I’m not going to just represent the Democrats. I’m not going to just represent the people who are registered voters, I’m going to represent all 3,000 of these people.’” 

As a former journalist, Bustos found she was easily able to talk to people from diverse backgrounds, and she continues to utilize her knowledge of reporting and making connections to find the policies the public most wants to see changed. This included job-shadowing about 120 different people in the community during her term in the House to see what challenges they faced economically and socially on a daily basis.  

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“You’d have these intimate conversations with people, and you’d learn a lot about the people who you represent. And when you’re a member of Congress…you picture those stories, and you think about am I doing right by the people that I’m representing.,” she said.

Bustos emphasized how important it is to find an internal reason for providing service to the country. She shared how she found hers and the process she experienced as she transitioned fully to politics around 2007 when she ran for the East Moline City Council while her brother was battling health issues.

“While the costs [of healthcare] were going up, the outcomes for patients were not. So, how do we, as a nation, get to a better place where costs don’t keep going up and where patient results can improve? That was happening on a national stage, I understood healthcare on a personal level.”  

This became Bustos’ personal motivation. 

“I understood health care, knew what my brother and his family go through. And really didn’t appreciate this guy [the Republican who was running for the seat in 2010] representing all of us. So, I decided to run against him.” 

“Knowing your why is really, really important, right. Because people are gonna ask you why are you running for Congress? Why are you running for president of the United States?”  

 A recording of the full lecture along with the Q&A will be posted on SIU Paul Simon Public Policy Institute website. It will also be able to be found on their YouTube channel.

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