BLOOMINGTON — The newest entrant into the increasingly crowded 13th Congressional District race says he's running more against the tea party than against incumbent Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville.
Bill Byrnes, a 66-year-old school bus driver from Bloomington, said Thursday that "you have an existing congressman who is a tea party sympathizer. I'm not going to get personal or anything like that. I'm not blasting him, but I'm blasting the leaders of the tea party."
"I think he's a pretty good guy," Byrnes said of Davis. "It's just that he's hitched his horse to the wrong wagon. And that's why I decided after this last episode with the government shutdown, I just said, 'OK, that's it.' That was all the motivation I needed, which wasn't much. I was already 60 or 70 percent of the way decided to run."
Byrnes joins a field of candidates that includes Republicans Davis and Urbana attorney Erika Harold, plus Democrats Ann Callis of Edwardsville, and George Gollin and David Green of Champaign.
The 13th District, which covers a swath of central Illinois from Champaign-Urbana on the northeast to Edwardsville and Collinsville on the southwest, is almost evenly matched politically. Davis won election last year with 46.5 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
"I just hope that whoever wins, there isn't a third party running. That's what did it for Rodney Davis," Byrnes said. "I think the voters are going to have a great choice."
Byrnes said he hasn't run for office before. Born in Chicago, a graduate of Ohio State, he said he had worked in broadcasting, public relation and sales, before becoming a truck driver for 28 years. He and his wife moved to Bloomington in 2010 after he worked as a trucker in the Rockford area.
Byrnes said he hopes to capitalize on anti-Washington sentiment.
"I'm certainly not part of the youth movement. I'm not going to be a career politician. Not at 66. What are they going to do, throw me out so I can go back to retirement and driving a school bus?" he said. "The problem is that when push comes to shove, when you're a career politician, the political party is just like a boss. If you don't do what they want you to do, they'll just primary you out. How can you adequately serve your constituency when you're afraid of losing your job because you don't vote along party lines?"
In a brief speech to a group of McLean County Democrats on Thursday, Byrnes noted that a recent Gallup Poll found that Congress had a 9 percent approval rating.
"What does that tell you? Maybe you ought to send somebody different to Congress this time. Try me," he said.