CHAMPAIGN — Eric Thorsland, a rural Mahomet Democrat, said Thursday that he hopes to take on U.S. Rep. John Shimkus and his $860,000 campaign fund in next year's general election.
Thorsland said he would run in the heavily Republican 15th Congressional District, which covers 33 of Illinois' 102 counties and runs from Hoopeston on the northeast south to the Ohio River and west to Shimkus' hometown of Collinsville.
In East Central Illinois, the 15th District includes much of Champaign County outside of Champaign-Urbana, a portion of Ford County including Paxton, and all of Vermilion, Douglas, Coles, Edgar, Shelby and Moultrie counties.
"He is certainly welcoming as much money as possible," Thorsland said of Shimkus, who has been in Congress since 1997. "I understand completely that I'll be going up against a huge war chest with my teeny little squirt gun of funds, but we will do our best to make sure that everyone in Illinois 15 knows who I am, what I'm about and we'll see what we get from there."
While Shimkus had $860,000 on hand on June 30, he raised more than $2.1 million in the last two-year election cycle and spent more than $2.3 million, almost a million dollars of which went to other Republican candidates.
Before Thorsland takes on Shimkus, though, he'll have to get through the Democratic Party primary in which Angela Michael, an anti-abortion activist from Highland, already has said she intends to run.
"I think that she has very strong beliefs and she is interested in this race because of those beliefs. I think she wants to push that particular issue and that is agreeable to me. I understand her passion," Thorsland said.
He said he disagreed with Michael on the issue of abortion.
"I find it interesting that very conservative people are very pro-personal freedom until it comes to certain issues. I believe in personal freedom as well, and I think that at some point that is between a woman and her family, a woman and herself, and a woman and her doctor," Thorsland said. "Now there are qualifiers to all of that, but Miss Michael has a one-step approach and that is none."
Thorsland, meanwhile, hit Shimkus for abandoning his pledge to limit himself to six terms in the House, and for rigidly following the House Republican agenda.
"He made a promise when he started, to limit himself to six terms. And despite his repeated trips and his endless experience, he has a reputation as no more than a mediocre politician," Thorsland said. "He seems very comfortable to wade in the shallow end of the pool, not making waves, not rocking the boat. And more than 90 percent of the time he votes with his caucus."
Thorsland called for "tweaking" of two-year House terms — something that would require a Constitutional amendment — and "some limiting of terms after that."
"I think the two-year cycle itself is too short. You begin to fundraise for the next campaign the day after your party, and it goes on from there," Thorsland said.
The 52-year-old married father of three has run unsuccessfully three times as a Democrat for the Champaign County Board in a heavily Republican district. He said planned to win the congressional seat by meeting as many voters as possible. Shimkus won last year with 68.6 percent of the vote.
"You go and meet the people. I will make the time to do that," said Thorsland, who said he travels exclusively by motorcycle. "I've already met a lot of people in the district. I've been to seven of the 33 counties and will touch all of them long before (the election filing period ends on Dec. 2)."
He said he favors President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, opposes food stamp cuts approved by the Republican House and approves of the way the Obama administration has handled the situation in Syria.
"Obamacare was passed in the democratic process. There were almost 200 amendments made by Republicans. The democratic process has continued. They had an opportunity to come to the table and work on it.
"Instead they decide to just protest it," he said. "It needs, perhaps, some work and that can be done. But it's the law of the land now."
He called the proposed $40 billion in food stamps cuts over the next 10 years "a poor decision" that is "led more by politics than by the reality of the situation."
And he said the U.S. did "exactly what we should have done there" in Syria, that he "would prefer not to" use force to rid the country of chemical weapons, "but it is good to have that in the back pocket."
And as a motorcycle rider, he said he would support federal legislation to ban texting while driving.
"We have the equivalent of half our population drunk on the roads right now," he said of motorists who text. "I think it is technologically feasible to make the phone not text, receive or send, when it's in motion."