CHAMPAIGN — Kristin Williamson, the latest Republican seeking to break an 11-year Democratic stranglehold on Champaign-Urbana's Illinois House district, Tuesday promised "forward-thinking leadership" and "effective representation" in Springfield.
And in the moderately liberal 103rd House District, that includes support for same-sex marriage, a position that would put Williamson at odds with all but two of the current 47 Republicans in the Illinois House.
"I believe this country was built on a foundation of individual freedoms and liberties, and as a representative of this community, I would advocate for rights and not to take rights away," said Williamson, a 32-year-old single mother who Tuesday announced her candidacy for the seat being given up by Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana.
A bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois passed the state Senate earlier this year but is still pending in the House.
On most other issues, though, Williamson is a fairly orthodox Republican.
"The Republican Party is really the party of limited government and being in a position where you have as much control over your life without government interference," she said. "That had always appealed to me and that's where I found myself. I think it was reinforced even more when 9/11 happened. That was really when I became active in the Republican Party."
She said she saw the GOP "as the party that took the lead in keeping our country safe. That was what was a high priority on my list at that time."
Williamson will try to turn the political tables in a district where Jakobsson won six consecutive elections with 53, 62, 59, 72, 63 and 69 percent of the vote over various GOP contenders.
It's unclear who Democrats will run for the seat in 2014 — a number of contenders say they're thinking about it — but it's clear who many local Republicans favor. A number of them, including party Chairman Habeeb Habeeb, state Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington, state Rep. Adam Brown of Champaign and County Auditor John Farney, attended Williamson's announcement Tuesday and said they would support her. Champaign City Council member Will Kyles said last week that he is still considering seeking the Republican nomination in the district that takes in almost all of Champaign-Urbana.
"She shares the values of the community that she lives in and she is the best person to represent those values in our state government," said Barickman. He called Williamson, who is the vice chair of the local Republican Party, "a perfect fit for this job because the voters here are willing to vote for effectiveness rather than partisanship."
In her remarks to supporters, Williamson said that she had faced "many economic challenges and personal roadblocks" in her life, including dropping out of high school and becoming a single mother after "a painful divorce."
Overcoming those obstacles will make her a better state representative, even as a member of the heavily outnumbered Republican caucus in the House, she said.
"I think I have life experience that has helped me be able to work with people and identify ways to overcome challenges. I want to go to Springfield and apply that life experience and that understanding to get things done," said the Effingham native who now lives in Urbana and works at Benefit Planning Consultants in Champaign. "I understand the political environment that's there, but what if all of us said, We don't want to try? I want to go there and try to make a difference."
Williamson said she dropped out of Effingham High School in her junior year.
"My family was undergoing some pretty severe financial times and I worked for 40 hours a week when I was in high school until the point where I finally just spent my time working. And it took quite a long time," she said. "I worked in fast food. I worked in a printing factory. It wasn't until I was about 18 that I got myself into a position to where I sat down and told my family that I want to do everything I can to get myself into college. I started taking night classes on the side and I got a job with AT&T in Effingham. Then they had an opening in Champaign and they had some efforts where they could assist with my education. And I made my way up here."
With the help of supportive friends, she said, she attended Parkland College, graduated from the University of Illinois and got jobs that helped her provide for her 9-year-old son, Evan.
On issues, Williamson said:
— She had no position on any particular pension reform measure. "The first thing I would need to do is sit down and talk to all parties and understand where the concerns are and how we can get it to where we fund the pensions first and how we reform it to how it can be sustainable."
— She would not support a progressive income tax. "Our state doesn't so much have a revenue problem as it has a spending problem," she said.
— She would "make every effort to not extend" the Illinois income tax, now 5 percent, that is supposed to drop to 3.75 percent in 2015.
"I know what it was like when that 5 percent tax increase hit our family's first paycheck and how we lost two weeks' worth of wages, and I want to make every effort to return that money back to taxpayers in this community," she said.
— She is "open to" gambling expansion in Illinois, including a casino in Danville. "But I don't think we want to have a gambling mecca here in central Illinois, because of some of the downsides," she said.
— She supports the concealed-carry gun law that legislators passed this spring. "I support the licensing and training," she said, "but I do have concerns about the underfunding of human services and mental health services. We have to make sure that guns don't fall into the hands of people who could harm themselves or others."
— She considers herself "pro-life," but "I don't believe that abortion is a black-and-white issue for women, and having been a young mom and having gone through that experience, I don't know that I could make that decision for someone else."