The unstoppable Aaron Schock
Story and photo by Norm Winick
The Zephyr, Galesburg
August 20, 2009
The career of Aaron Schock reminds some Illinois political junkies of that of Barack Obama. Despite being political opposites, they both possess a seemingly unstoppable momentum with no ceiling too high.
As the youngest Congressman in Washington — and the youngest one ever according to some sources — Aaron Schock could be the future of the Republican Party. He was granted a speaking role at the Republican National Convention as a State representative and candidate for Congress. He explained how he put together a coalition that included his Republican base plus African Americans and young voters to win his state house seat in a Democratic district — constituencies the Republicans cannot generally attract.
For now, at age 27, he’s too young to run for Illinois’ open U.S. Senate seat (and he hints he sure would be considering it if it weren’t for that pesky constitution). He is running for reëlection from the Peoria-centered 18th District which includes much of eastern Knox County. I caught up with Schock after he read to a group of children at the Williamsfield Public Library last Friday.
He’s a freshman Congressman and in the minority, just as he was a few years ago in the Illinois legislature. I asked him how they compare. “Illinois is much more congenial. You are on the floor with members of both parties on the days you are in session. There are 118 members instead of 435 so you get to know them sooner and better. Besides the larger numbers, in Congress there are multiple things going on at the same time. I’m on three committees and they all meet at 10am. I look at what’s on the agenda or whether there’s a recorded vote planned to decide what I’ll attend that day. I go where the action is but I miss a lot of meetings, too.” “Another big difference is that when I was in Springfield, I’d drive home every night. In Washington, I have an apartment and get home a lot less frequently. It’s much harder to keep in touch with your constituents as a Congressman than a State Representative.”
Schock says that he has found a few members, of both parties, particularly helpful. “I’ve gotten to know Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) pretty well. I’ve got a good working relationship with some rank and file members from across the country, too.” “I’ve been working with Senator [Dick] Durbin to get a new flying mission for the 183rd Air Guard in Springfield. I work with [Congressman] Phil Hare on Transportation issues and with [Congressman] Mark Kirk on environmental issues; he’s a real clean water guy.”
He had some relationships with political leaders in Springfield, too. “I really wasn’t caught by surprise when [former Illinois Governor] Rod Blagojevich was arrested. I had heard stories from people in my district who were being shaken down for money and were the victims of games being played over state contracts and bids. If it was happening in Peoria, it had to be happening on steroids in Chicago.“
“Rod was always nice to me — but also a real goof. He’d often come up to me and no matter what we were debating or the crisis we were facing, he’d just want to chat about his newest running shoes or Elvis.“
Schock is assumed to be a party-line conservative because he’s anti-abortion and pro-gun but he indicated to me that he’s not that easy to categorize. “I have broken with my party leaders on several key issues in Washington. I know because I hear from them loudly. When I agree with the President, I’ll support him; when I don’t, I won’t.” Schock voted for credit card reform, the AIG bonus repeal and mortgage reform, all supported by President Obama and against the wishes of Republican party leadership.
He also says that he supports reforming the health care system. “I had several Town Hall meetings back in May, when they were civil, and I heard from all sides. I’m not planning any more at this time. I am having meetings with small groups who want to discuss the issue. With premiums rising at double the rate of inflation, we need to bring costs down. You should be able to buy health insurance like you buy car insurance. We need regulatory reform and tort reform. We need to curb fraud, waste and abuse in the system. My view on health insurance is that instead of the government taking it over which would limit access and choices, it ought to be consumer-driven. Now it’s employer-driven and we need to change that.”
“Competition will bring down prices. So will other reforms like electronic medical records, better measurement and evaluation of outcomes of procedures and medications, and more emphasis on prevention.”
“If people had more information, they would be able to see how their decisions affect their health costs.“
“We also need to address people with pre-existing conditions. It might mean that we need to create a large pool so they can get insurance.”
Aaron Schock has been honored by pundits on both sides of the spectrum. Readers of the liberal HuffingtonPost.com voted him the “hottest freshman” in Congress and Schock responded by thanking them for the distinction. TMZ aired a photo of him shirtless, sitting poolside in a chaise lounge, and displaying the “six-pack abs” that made Stephen Colbert jealous. He says he even had a brief encounter with First Lady Michelle Obama where they both praised each other’s physiques. While he admits these discussions can be distractions, “there are a lot worse things they could be saying about me.” He has made a few perceived missteps.
“I was rushing to a vote in Washington and this guy comes up to me on the Capitol steps and aims a video camera in my face and asks if I thought President Obama was a citizen. I was totally unaware of the whole ‘birther’ thing and I never doubted the President’s qualifications but I mumbled something about ‘as far as I know, he’s a citizen.’ They took it as if I was waffling on the issue and it aired all over. I had to straighten things out a few days later.”
He took flack in East Peoria for awarding a grant to a police department resulting from a bill he had voted against.
Schock voted against the huge federal economic stimulus bill yet has touted some of the government money flowing into his district. “It’s not hypocritical at all. I may object to the overall size of the expenditures or some of the specific ones but I still support programs that bring money and jobs into my district and Illinois.”
His opponents may think Aaron Schock is a cookie-cutter Republican, but if he can keep from making a serious mistake, his boyish charm and engaging personality might help him quickly rise to the top of the Republican field.
Even though he’s only been in office for six months, the early Illinois primary means that he’s already running for reëlection. “I think I’ve shown an ability to be effective at my job. I really like what I’m doing right now.”