U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos talks women in Congress, 2016 election


Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

Cheri Bustos, U.S. representative for Illinois’ 17th District, talks to students about her journalism background and her political career at a Monday event with Medill Prof. Peter Slevin’s class. Bustos, who is running for reelection in 2016, discussed being a woman in politics and how her investigative reporting background informs her work in Congress.

Madeline Fox, Campus Editor

Women in politics approach government differently, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) told students Monday night.

Bustos, who was elected to represent Illinois’ 17th district — which covers a large part of western Illinois — in 2012, spoke to about 20 people in a Q&A session for journalism Prof. Peter Slevin’s political reporting class where she covered her experience as a reporter, her tenure in communications for a healthcare company and her political career.

Bustos touched on the Illinois budget stalemate while discussing women in political office, suggesting that a female governor may have pushed for a different outcome than Illinois’ current fiscal deadlock.

“I really do wonder if a female governor would sit back and be watching women go to a domestic violence shelter and be turned away (because of stalled state funding),” Bustos said. “I can’t see a woman governor putting up with that.”

Bustos also discussed the demographics of Congress in terms of racial and socioeconomic representation, as well as gender differences and how she thinks that influences public policy.

“I think things like … the Violence Against Women Act, equal pay for equal work, having earned sick leave, raising the minimum wage — I think those are issues that we would have a better shot of getting through if Congress truly reflected the makeup of America,” she said.

Bustos, who is up for reelection in 2016, addressed the 2016 congressional and presidential races as well. She expressed her hope for an “all-women ticket” led by Hillary Clinton, who she officially endorsed for president, and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Bustos’ current political experience as well as her journalism background made her an ideal speaker for this class, a graduate level course that also sent students to cover the Iowa caucuses, Slevin said.

“What’s so great about her is not only is she in Congress at this time of incredible polarization, but she spent several years as a journalist, so she’s seen it from both sides,” he said.

Bustos said the experience she gained in her journalism career — which began in 1985 in Springfield, Illinois, where she covered the state legislature before moving to the Quad City Times in Moline, Illinois — has served her well in her political career. She cited her effort to improve wait times at a Veterans Affairs clinic, one of seven in her district, as rooted in her investigative background.

“I have never in my life had a greater appreciation for what veterans do because I see this up close and I see things that happen that shouldn’t be happening,” Bustos said. “So when there’s a VA clinic that should be caring for veterans that need care, and I see wait times that are terrible, my former investigative journalism background means I’m going to find out why.”

Her account of this effort particularly struck Mike Bacas, a Medill graduate student who served in the U.S. Navy from 2003 to 2008.

“It’s very motivating as a vet that she’s willing to help cut down the wait times because that’s a big problem for us in the veteran community,” he said. “It’s awesome to hear that she’s going out of her way to make sure veterans’ issues are resolved.”

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