State Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, returned home last Monday after spending a sometimes-anxious week in Israel.
Frerichs was a guest of Project Interchange, a mission of the American Jewish Committee, which brings government leaders and others to Israel for a week of travel and education. He was with a group of 10 other elected officials from around the United States.
After a few days of relative peace, the group was in Tel Aviv on its way to Sderot on the Gaza border when it learned that a Hamas military leader had been killed in an Israeli airstrike.
"We were actually in a meeting with a (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu spokesman who said that 'about 20 minutes ago we took out the military head of Hamas,'" Frerichs related. "And we all looked at each other and he said, 'I understand that tomorrow you're supposed to go down to Sderot. You might want to re-evaluate your plans because we anticipate reprisals.' So it was an exciting time."
Frerichs said he "never felt like I was in danger, but I definitely heard air raid sirens or rocket sirens."
During the hostilities between the Palestinians and Israel, Frerichs said, there was some talk of cutting the group's trip short by a few days.
"But their Iron Dome (air defense) system is very effective. They shot down several of the missiles that were headed anywhere dangerous and the rest just landed in the Mediterranean or in unpopulated areas. So we did not cut it short," he said. "We changed our plans a little bit. There was not a lot of free time to go off and do things, but we got to go to the Sea of Galilee and we stopped off at Nazareth, went by the Church of the Loaves and Fishes. We were in Jerusalem at the Western Wall, went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and so it was just a very impactful and meaningful trip."
It was the first visit to Israel for Frerichs, who estimates he has been to 40 countries since he was an undergraduate at Yale.
"After my sophomore year, I won a scholarship to go study the East German school system and how it changed after unification. Then I bought a Eurail pass and traveled through several countries and caught the bug," he said. "I found that by spending time in other countries it helps me question and learn a lot about my own country, and gives me a greater appreciation for where I'm from."
He denied that his trip to Israel had anything to do with a newfound interest in running for Congress.
"I've told you before and I'll tell you again that I am not interested in federal offices. I am not going because I'm looking to run for a federal office and talk about Israel. I just have never been there before. They offered it to me, offered me an opportunity to see several holy sites and that's why I went," he said.
Frerichs goes back to Springfield this week for the two-week fall veto override session. He isn't expecting much to happen, except a possible attempt at overriding Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of a gambling expansion bill that included a casino for Danville.
"There are still negotiations going on. My hope is that we can reach an agreement. If not, I would like to push for an override of the governor's veto in the veto session," he said.
Fixing the state's woeful pension system will take more work, he said.
"I would hope that while we're all in Springfield, the governor would gather a bunch of leaders to engage in some negotiations to solve our pension problem, and would do something more than issue press releases and marketing campaigns. That's what I hope happens," he said. "I realize it's going to take a while to reach an agreement, but we should start to engage in meaningful negotiations."
Davis' seniority. It doesn't make much difference now, but if Rodney Davis spends many years in Congress he'll thank his lucky stars his last name is Davis, and not Weber or Williams or Yoho. That's because freshman seniority is determined by the first letter of the last name. So out of the 435 members of Congress, Davis already ranks No. 372, not No. 435 like newly elected Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida.
If retiring Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, had stayed in Congress and had been re-elected this month, he'd already be No. 134 on the House seniority list. Of Illinois' 18 congressmen, the most senior members are Reps. Luis Gutierrez (No. 56) and Bobby Rush (No. 66), both Chicago Democrats who started their service in Congress in January 1993.
One-third of Illinois' representatives are freshmen, but Davis said he doesn't think that will hurt the state's clout in Congress.
"Effectiveness is not just based on seniority. It's based on how your individual member works with the senior members and the non-senior members," Davis said last week. "I don't think that's going to hurt Illinois adversely because we have some pretty good senior members of Congress, including one here in Champaign County, Congressman John Shimkus. He's now the senior member of the Republican delegation, somebody who I've known well over the years and who I look forward to partnering with to make sure that we move solutions for Champaign County forward."
The most senior member of the House — by far — is Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who was sworn in on Dec. 12, 1955 — six years before President Obama was born, and 15 years before Congressman-elect Davis' birth.
Highest turnout in Champaign County. The best turnout among the 118 precincts in Champaign County on Election Day was in City of Champaign 21, which votes at the St. Peter's United Church of Christ, 905 S. Russell St., C. Nearly 85 percent of the 579 registered voters in the precinct cast ballots on Nov. 6.
The lowest turnout in the county was in City of Champaign 4, a University of Illinois student precinct that votes at the University YMCA. Turnout there was just 39.6 percent. It was the only precinct where turnout was less than 40 percent. Overall Champaign County had a 69.9 percent turnout on Election Day, the best turnout for a presidential election here since 84 percent in 1992.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.