Q&A: State Sen. Koehler discusses his re-election, and the new shape of the 46th legislative district
Peoria Democrat Dave Koehler is returning to the Illinois State Senate for a sixth time, where he'll be representing some new constituents.
Redistricting shifted the 46th District boundaries to the east, adding parts of Bloomington-Normal to include two urban centers in one district.
In an interview with reporter Joe Deacon, Koehler says he sees great potential in the area, and that he's fortunate and humbled by his victory over Republican challenger Desi Anderson.
Joe Deacon: What does it mean to be heading back to the General Assembly for a sixth term?
State Sen. Dave Koehler: It’s a privilege, really, to be able to represent the 46th District. I enjoy the work I do. I think that, you know, my staff, we try to prioritize constituent service and I think we do that very well. So it's just always very, very pleasing and very humbling.
How much did the redrawn district play into your re-election, especially since the district is now shifted east and includes Bloomington-Normal?
Koehler: It certainly gave me the opportunity to get to know a whole new community. I mean, Bloomington-Normal is a wonderful place, and the people have been very welcoming over there. I've gotten to know a lot of the people of that community who make a difference in that community, students and the university (Illinois State) of course there, and Illinois Wesleyan. It's just a nice community to know, and I think it really shows me that there's a lot of strength in central Illinois if we can really get more collaboration. I'd like to see kind of an I-74 collaborative effort go on so that we can bring in Peoria, Bloomington-Normal, even Champaign and start to do more development work together and just kind of create synergy for central Illinois.
How was this campaign different from your previous campaigns?
Koehler: It's different than that I had two urban areas to work in. So I did spend a lot of time in Bloomington-Normal, just because I had not run there before. Fortunately, it's the same media market, so a lot of people did recognize who I was. But the conversations we had, it's a community that really has a lot to be proud of. They've done some tremendous things over there, and I wanted to know how I can help in their aspirations. So I think we kind of hit it off pretty well; I got to know the mayors of both the communities and a lot of the businesses, so I look forward to it. But it took a lot of time, and I got to know that drive pretty well between Peoria and Bloomington-Normal. As soon as all the orange cones are gone, it'll be an even quicker drive. But it's really a nice–I think it's a nice fit, to have the two communities really within one district. It just makes sense.
Serving Peoria for as many years as you have now, what does this community still mean to you?
Koehler: Well, this is my home. This is where I've raised my family. I always tell the story that people recognize me out in the community, and in one situation somebody turned around (and) pointed at me and they said, “You’re Lily's dad.” I said, “Yeah, I'm Lily's dad.” So people know my kids; their kids have gone to school with my kids. It's really a family, and that means a lot to me, that this is a good place to raise a family, to work in, to live in. I'm a Peorian by choice. I grew up in South Dakota, but I choose to live in Peoria, and this is where I'll live the rest of my life.
If you had to pick one, was there a single key issue or deciding factor that drove this re-election campaign?
Koehler: No, I think to me, most of politics is relationships, and how I tried to present myself is just how I do it in Peoria. I've been in elected office here 16 years in the Senate, before that on the city council and the county board. It's about relationships; it's about the people you meet and how you treat one another. The fact that you care about people and you try to do your best every day, I think that's what matters. People may not always agree with you on every issue, but at least I want them to understand that I believe in what I do. Am I always right? No, I'm not always right. But I believe in what I do, and I always try to do the best.
What are your goals or hopes for the next year, next term?
Koehler: Well, I think we need to look at some of the issues that are really plaguing our state, our communities. We've got high inflation, we've got the economy, which is hurting a lot of families, high utility bills. We've got issues on crime we've got to resolve. I think that the one thing we've done so well is that we have taken, from where we were four years ago – $16 billion in debt, two years without a budget – to where now we're stable, we're predictable. We have had six credit upgrades. People, businesses need to have a stable, predictable Illinois as a state, and we’ve done that. We still have a lot of other issues we've got to address and we've got to do that together.
As you go back to Springfield, what are your hopes for cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly going forward?
Koehler: Well, you know, most of what we do is bipartisan. People I tell them (and) they're kind of amazed, I say, “95% of what we do is bipartisan.” What you hear about is the 5% that's not – and sometimes those are the bigger issues, I understand that. But I value my relationships with my Republican colleagues very much, and we work together well. I look forward to being able to get back to Springfield and to solidify those friendships and those relationships and to do some good things for the people of Illinois.