Oberweis eyeing 14th Congressional run against Underwood
In 2004, a U.S. Senate campaign commercial featuring dairy magnate Jim Oberweis flying over Soldier Field with a warning that, "Illegal aliens are coming here to take American workers' jobs," was a doomed introduction to the national political stage. Fifteen years later, a modified version of that message may help propel him into Congress.
In an interview, Oberweis confirmed reports he'll seek the 14th Congressional District seat represented by newly-elected Democrat Lauren Underwood in the next cycle. And he said he's learned a lot about politics and cooperating across the aisle since 2004.
Much of that education stems from his service as an Illinois state senator from Sugar Grove since 2013.
He pointed to his support for legalizing medical marijuana and successfully raising some speed limits to 70 mph as examples of where he's listened to both sides of an issue.
Oberweis also sponsored legislation to raise the state's minimum wage. His bill would have raised it gradually to $10 per hour, in what he believes was a more realistic increase. He sees Illinois' new plan to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 as a threat to the number of available jobs and the motivation for upward mobility.
"A $15 minimum wage is going to create problems for people wanting to enter the workforce," Oberweis said. "Minimum wage jobs are designed to teach people how to work and how to secure employment. They are not meant to be the end of the line, feed-my-family-of-four kind of job."
Oberweis said that's a policy view much more in line with the 14th District than what Underwood offers. He views her victory as an anomaly stemming from Democrats riding the coattails of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the millions he put into the election cycle to bring Democrats to the polls. Pritzker won't be on the ballot in 2020. But President Donald Trump will.
That may be the ideal time for a successful businessman with tough-on-immigration views that have been altered somewhat.
"I still feel immigration is a significant problem with a potentially significant cost," Oberweis said. "On the other hand, those kids who were brought here by their parents and only know this country? We don't blame kids for the mistakes of their parent. I'm much more inclined to talk about a path to citizenship for those kids than their parents who broke laws."
Oberweis said he also doesn't believe in family separation. So the compromise is a nonimmigrant visa for those parents. That visa would allow them to remain in the country but not become citizens or be eligible for government benefits.
The path to the Republican nomination won't be easy. Matt Quigley, a former naval officer from Naperville, has filed paperwork to run as a Republican in the contest.
An active supporter of Trump and building a border wall, he's been critical of Underwood as a "puppet" of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. State Rep. Allen Skillicorn has been less definitive about his interest, but he said Tuesday he's "been asked to run by several local leaders. At this point, I am still weighing my options."
It may be Underwood's own party that's already making Oberweis the GOP front-runner.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a statement Tuesday attacking Oberweis for being a "perennial loser."
"Northern Illinoisans don't need a perennial wannabe politician like Jim Oberweis representing them in Congress," said DCCC spokesman Mike Gwin. "They need someone like Lauren Underwood who's working every day in Washington to put more money in the pockets of middle-class families."