URBANA — U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, hasn't formally announced that he's running for re-election, but here's a pretty good hint: He's rented a two-bedroom apartment in the center of his new congressional district.
"I'm going to be living in an apartment in downtown Litchfield so I can take day trips to Carlinville and Edwardsville and Springfield and all that," said the six-term congressman, who has been moved out of his old 15th Congressional District into the 13th District that arcs from Champaign-Urbana through central Illinois to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.
"To do this right you've got to be a hands-on person, and that's what I'm going to do," he said. "It's like going from riding a bike to going back and using three wheels. It will be interesting."
Johnson said Monday that he was busy visiting a host of communities in the new district: Blue Mound, Taylorville, Raymond, Stonington, Carlinville, White Hall, Carrollton, Roodhouse.
"We're going to be doing this for the next several months," he said. "We're even working to put together a field hearing in western Illinois for my ag subcommittee (on rural development, research, biotechnology, and foreign agriculture), so it combines politics and business.
A bill approved by the Legislature last month moves Johnson out of the 15th District, which snakes down the eastern side of the state to Gallatin County.
His new district includes not only Champaign-Urbana, Decatur, Springfield and much of Bloomington-Normal, but also extends west to the Mississippi River and south into Madison County. Although it is believed to be a Republican district, the new 13th isn't nearly as conservative as Johnson's current 15th District.
"I've said before that the (redistricting) process was flawed, that it wasn't transparent and, frankly, it's kind of an embarrassment to the Legislature and to good government. But nonetheless I'm not going to go to somebody in Bond County and say, 'I think this is a flawed process and I hate it but I want you to vote for me.' The reality is this is the district. We're going to file a lawsuit but it's not going to succeed, so you've just got to go forward with the way it is. Life's not always fair but frankly, I love this part of the world. This is where I can put on my (St. Louis) Cardinals hat with an 85 percent approval rating. And I am. I'm wearing my Cardinals hat and my Illini shirt today."
After he returns to Washington, D.C., today, Johnson said, he'll fly back to Illinois on Friday, "drive to Litchfield and establish my apartment and basically I'll be there all weekend."
He said he expects to attend county fairs, church fairs and other community events.
"I'll be there very, very regularly," he said. "I want the people down there to know who I am and what my style is.
"I'm not going to neglect Champaign-Urbana and Monticello and Clinton and Bloomington and Decatur. But the reality is that most people there know me already. My job is to get acquainted with new people in a new area."