"When I talk to people I still think you can make a difference. I know that people are jaded about our political process, but you can't change anything until you join it."
TROY — Ann Callis, who resigned last week as chief judge in Madison County, says she isn't running for Congress for the money.
In fact, if elected she'd take a pay cut from the $181,479 a year she made as judge to the $174,000 a year salary as a member of Congress.
"Maybe I'll be questioning myself, but I truly am motivated by public service," said the 48-year-old Democrat from rural Troy, who hopes to unseat U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, in the November 2014 election. "When I talk to people I still think you can make a difference. I know that people are jaded about our political process, but you can't change anything until you join it."
Callis officially announced her candidacy in Illinois' 13th Congressional District on Tuesday, a day after submitting her resignation as a Madison County judge, a position she had held since 1999. Before that she had been an associate judge since 1994.
She said she was not aware of any other sitting judge who had left a similar position to run for an elective office where there was no guarantee of victory. The 13th District is considered marginally Democratic, although Davis won last year by 1,002 votes.
"It's like jumping off a cliff and not knowing if the parachute is going to open," she said.
In a prepared statement announcing her candidacy, Callis said that she is "frustrated right now that Washington is not listening, and it's not delivering for the middle class."
But in neither her written statement nor in a separate interview did Callis offer specific criticism of Davis, who has been in office about four months.
"The main reason I'm challenging him is that he is part of the establishment stagnation that is going on there," she said. "I frankly believe that my record of public service and being results-oriented can truly make a difference, and that I'm the better choice."
As chief judge in Madison County, Callis said, she established the first veterans' court in Illinois and started a foreclosure mediation service that "saved dozens of residents in our area their homes."
In her first day as candidate, Callis took individual calls from reporters but did not hold a general press conference or a campaign event. She said she planned to schedule a tour of the 14-county congressional district but didn't know when.
"This is all new. I'm starting to put a (campaign) team together," she said. "I have some people that I have hired that have come down just for this launch. It's a very, very new process and it's in he works."
As of Tuesday afternoon, Callis had not formed a campaign committee, according to the Federal Elections Commission website. But she had a campaign website that contained a brief biography and a link for campaign contributions.
She said she would call herself as "a moderate independent Democrat."
Asked what issues she would emphasize as a candidate, Callis responded, "The conversations I have are that people are hurting, they feel disenfranchised. It's the economy. They want jobs. They want infrastructure. I think that would be what I would focus on."
Asked why she is running for Congress instead of the Legislature or a higher judicial office, she said, "Congress seems like a place ... I know a lot of people call them a convener in chief so it was very, very attractive to me that I would be able to, through constituent services, to really make a difference. I think that would be a role that would fit."
In a statement emailed to reporters Tuesday, the National Republican Campaign Committee tried to tie Callis to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying that "Nancy Pelosi has succeeded in convincing her to run for Congress."
When informed of the statement, Callis laughed and said, "Did they really? Well no, my motivation is public service."
But she did admit she met Pelosi "when I was in D.C. briefly" in January.
Callis is married to James Halloran, a partner in the St. Louis law firm Halloran White Schwartz & Gaertner. She has two children, Elliot, a graduate of Cornell University who recently completed the U.S. Army's officer candidate school, and Caroline, a junior at St. Louis University.
Although Callis' home outside of Troy is not in the 13th District, she said she already has signed a lease for a house in Edwardsville, which is in the district, and will move in next month.