The new 16th Congressional District includes parts of Rockford, Dekalb, LaSalle and areas south of Chicago. It's been represented since 1993 by Rockford-area Republican Don Manzullo. His opponent is fellow Republican representative Adam Kinzinger. In a recent interview with WNIJ, Kinzinger touted his accomplishments during his short time in Washington. "I've been in Congress for 13 months. We've changed the conversation since we've been there, myself and the freshman class, from how much more we're going to spend, how much we're going to cut and how we're going to pay for things."
Kinzinger, who's from the Joliet area, was elected in 2010 along with a wave of candidates who received money from Tea Party supporters. The next year Democrats, who control the state Legislature and the Governor's office, took their revenge. They remapped Kinzinger's district, putting it in the 2nd district with many more Democratic voters. Kinzinger faced a choice: He could remain in the 2nd and challenge Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., or run for reelection in a neighboring district. Right next door was the 16th District which, despite the remap, remained conservative. It was represented by a fellow Republican Congressman, Don Manzullo, who wanted another term. Kinzinger insists he and Manzullo are friends, but added "Don Manzullo has been there for 20 years," suggesting that was enough. During his interview with WNIJ, Kinzinger never accused Manzullo of being bad for the district. But he implied a connection between Manzullo and the region's shrinking economy: "Obviously, the 16th is a heavy manufacturing district and unfortunately over the last 10 or 20 years we've seen manufacturing exit at a rapid clip. So I'd love to get some of those jobs back and I'd also love to see new manufacturing."
Manzullo, for his part, touts recent manufacturing successes, such as Chrysler's expansion of its plant in Belvidere. But Manzullo emphasizes the importance of small businesses. During his visit to the WNIJ studios, he talked about "Mom and Pop" businesses and his lifelong connection to them: "My dad had a grocery store and we lived for 6 years above the grocery store. Then he bought the old Rosecranz Children's home in New Milford, converted that into Manzullo's Famous Italian Restaurant with 13 tables and a bar that my dad built because he was a master carpenter." Manzullo says he continued working at the restaurant while putting himself through college and law school. Since entering the House of Representatives, Manzullo served on various subcommittees concerning trade with Asia and the Pacific. He also founded and chairs the House Manufacturing Caucus. But he's quick to highlight his familiarity with another big industry in the district, agriculture. He and his wife raised beef cattle for 30 years. He says it's important to understand farmers and speak their language when addressing their concerns: "It's important for a member of Congress to know what an Amber box is , a Blue box and a Green box for WTO compliance when working on a new Farm Bill."
Compared to Manzullo, Kinzinger has little experience with agriculture. But he has military experience and lists his accomplishments in the U.S. Air Force on his campaign website. Currently, he's a captain in the Air National Guard.
Despite their differences, the candidates sound virtually the same when criticizing President Obama's health care law and his decision to delay construction of the Keystone Oil Pipeline. And they use the same words when it comes to keeping the government, as they put it, out of the way of business. You can hear my complete interviews with Manzullo and Kinzinger elsewhere on this website.