It was just a little over a year ago, on April 9, 2013, that Robin Kelly was elected to the United States House of Representatives, getting there via a special election held in the 2nd Illinois Congressional district due to the resignation of Jesse Jackson Jr. on Nov. 21, 2012.
Governor Pat Quinn called for a special primary election for both parties to nominate their candidates on Feb. 27, 2013. Kelly is making the rounds of media outlets to discuss her first year in office, discussing her time this morning with WBEZ's Morning Shift with Tony Sarabia.
In discussing her first year in the House, Kelly says that gun legislation having been a focus of her time and energy. However, she told Sarabia she is not defined by "gun control" alone. There are many, many other important issues. Kelly discussed with Sarabia, the continuing fight of her predecessor for an airport in the south suburbs. Sarabia talked about what she’s been able to accomplish on these and others issues since entering office.
Robin Kelly won that Democratic primary by winning a majority of the vote, 52 percent. Kelly's winning campaign was one of the best-run "grassroots" political campaigns in recent memory, garnering national attention on the issue of "gun control" and indelibly branding Kelly as a respected leader on the issue. She defeated a formidable field of 16 candidates that included; two former members of the House of Representatives, a sitting Chicago alderman and an Illinois state senator from the south suburbs. Kelly was the was the "right candidate, with the right message, at the right time."
Due to that victory, the name "Robin Kelly" has become synonymous with "common sense gun laws," as evidenced by this recent piece by NBC News discussing the gun debate in America.
Kelly won the Democratic primary without the support of the "machine" and the political muscle in the party, but won the election the old-fashioned way: one voter at a time, recruiting one volunteer at a time. The "grassroots" campaign was reminiscent of the successful Barack Obama for United States Senate in 2004, which set the stage for Obama's victories for President of the United States in 2008 and 2012. Kelly was involved in those campaigns and has been a personal friend of Obama since the late 1990's.
Kelly received significant early support from Markos "kos" Moulitsas, the founder and publisher of Daily Kos, which was the "grassroots" tipping point in the campaign. Markos raised over $140,000 from more than 6,000 individual donors that went directly to the Kelly campaign. Markos also supplied hundreds of "campaign ground troops" for Kelly, in support of her stance for stiffer gun control and her fight against the NRA.
"We’ve shown that we can make a difference in the voting booth too," NBC News quotes Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, who is leading former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's $50 million dollar charge against the National Rifle Association (NRA). Watts was specifically referring to Kelly's victory last year.
Kelly's victory dealt a strong blow to the NRA and forced them to change their political strategy. Since that election, Kelly has become a strong voice on behalf of stronger gun control, receiving praise from such supporters of "common sense gun laws." During her victory speech many “gun control” advocates, including Nathaniel and Cleopatra Pendleton, the parents of 15-year-old honor student Hadiya Pendleton, surrounded Kelly on stage.
Kelly has proven over the past year that she is more than just about "common sense gun control." Kelly also speaks out on issues important to her and her colleagues through her membership in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), according to Chicago Sun Times columnist Mary Mitchell.
Kelly and 15 of her female CBC colleagues spoke out on a revision by the U.S. Army on regulations that ban certain ethnic hairstyles. A letter was sent to U.S. Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel, encouraging him to "reconsider" the updated regulation that bans braids, dreadlocks, and twists.
Kelly's main priorities for the district is "constituent services" and "jobs" for the district. In other words, a fighter for the people that elected her.
One of Kelly's two main priorities is "constituent services." Kelly has assembled one of the finest Congressional staffs committed to superior service to the district constituency. It is what Kelly demands from her staff. The district offices in Chicago, Matteson and Kankakee have provided thousands of hours of assistance to constituents. It has also helped veterans get the benefits they deserve, assisted homeowners with mortgage modification efforts, and helped seniors with their Medicare and Social Security claims.
A feature on Kelly's government page and government Facebook page is titled "Constituent Spotlight." This popular feature spotlights a constituent in the district that makes a difference in the lives of people. The first to be featured Calumet City resident, Brayden Banske, who was appointed by Kelly to the West Point Military Academy as a freshman cadet on July 1, 2013. Banske is also a story about his family. His older sister Courtney is a 2012 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and currently serves as an officer aboard the USS DeWert.
In another example of extending her reach to all constituents, Kelly recently opened an office in Kankakee to reach out to a long-neglected part of the district. Kelly has spent considerable amount of time in the area reaching out to elected officials, business and community leaders in the district that have responsibility in the Kankakee area.
Kelly has also made several grant announcements impacting the area. For example, Kelly announced with Governor Pat Quinn last April a $21.5 million investment for a major upgrade of the Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency (KRMA) wastewater treatment plant that is creating more than 600 construction jobs in the area. With Governor Quinn at her side Kelly announced the investment in the KRMA wastewater treatment plant.
The project is part of Governor Quinn's $1 billion Illinois Clean Water Initiative in his 2012 State of the State Address to help local governments facing a critical need to overhaul aging drinking water and wastewater treatment plants and distribution and collection systems. The ICWI is funded with annual federal grants, funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and additional principal and interest from loan repayments. No new state tax dollars are used in these projects.
In May of 2013, Senator Dick Durbin and Kelly announced the awarding of a $332,000 federal grant to the Bradley Fire Department in Bradley, Illinois and the awarding of a $362,000 federal grant to the Manteno Community Fire District in Manteno, Illinois. The towns of Bradley and Manteno are located in the county of Kankakee.
During this past year in the House, Kelly has earned the respect of her colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Kelly has also earned the respect of House Democratic leadership. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi sings her praises, as does DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Last May, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer visited the district and was given a personal tour by Kelly.
That brings us to Kelly's other "main priority" for the district: "Jobs."
With the visit of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, his ideas of his pet project, "Making it in America," was highlighted. The program has four elements, which Kelly hopes to implement in the district. Kelly met with manufacturers and innovators to discuss what we can do to help businesses grow and create jobs here in the district. Helping manufacturers produce more goods here in Illinois, and maintaining America’s innovation edge by training a highly skilled workforce is key to the long-term economic growth of our district.
Kelly is committed to "Getting the Second District back to work and committed to helping spur job growth to accomplish this goal."
In October she took matters in her own hands by sponsoring "The 2nd Congressional District Job Fair in South Holland," where over 1,400 residents looking for work with employers looking to hire. Kelly has also helped entrepreneurs, hosting a Small Business Workshop in Riverdale, where over 100 local business owners and leaders get information on accessing capital to grow their businesses, effective marketing strategies, and programs at the Small Business Administration that help businesses prosper. Also, to help local municipalities, churches, and non-profits, Kelly hosted a Grants Workshop on grant opportunities.
Last June, the Illinois House and Senate passed Senate Bill 20 (SB 20), which among other matters, approved the construction of a third airport in Peotone under the authority of the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Kelly said of the third airport, "This is a game-changer for Illinois. I applaud the Governor and General Assembly for breaking the logjam over governance. I’m hopeful that construction of this airport will expand our state’s aviation capacity and make the Southland a vital part of the global economy.”
Kelly added that she "looks forward to working closely with IDOT and local officials to ensure we minimize environmental impacts and maximize economic benefits."
The Illiana Expressway is also inching closer to reality, which is another piece of the third airport puzzle. Overcoming political obstacles, thus far the project is heading toward final approvals, making access to the proposed airport.
Recently, Kelly convened a meeting in Washington between Illinois officials and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Federal Aviation Administration representatives to discuss making the South Suburban Airport a reality by expediting final approval of this important project.
The third airport is expected to become a huge "jobs engine" for the district, which has been long-neglected. The airport as a global transportation hub is expected to create more than 11,000 construction jobs and as many as 14,000 long-term jobs.
This past summer, Kelly coordinated The National Summit on Violence in Urban Communities, where members of Congress from across the country came together with local officials and community stakeholders to address gun violence in cities like Chicago. One of Kelly's principle missions in Congress is to put an end to the stall tactics that have held up national gun reform efforts. Kelly is committed to stopping the gun violence that is destroying communities across Chicago land.
Far too many homeowners in the 2nd District are struggling to maintain their mortgages. To address this issue, Kelly held the 2nd Congressional District Housing Expo in Matteson, where she and her staff assisted hundreds of district residents who’d fallen behind on their mortgages, were in danger of foreclosure, or who were looking to buy a home for the first time. Home ownership and access to affordable housing are the foundation for financial security for families and Kelly is committed to increasing housing options in the district.
Just this past week, Kelly hosted the 2nd Congressional District Health & Wellness Resource Fair at Corliss Early College STEM High School in Chicago. The fair offered participants’ health-related resources and screenings, access to social service program information, as well as fitness, nutrition, and stress management sessions. Kelly is committed to promoting preventive health care and early detection, and to encouraging residents of the 2nd District to live healthier and more active lives.
The first bills introduced by Kelly were two gun safety bills - H.R. 2464, The Improving Gun Safety Standards Act and H.R. 2465 – The Recognizing Gun Violence as A Public Health Emergency Act. H.R. 2464 amends the Consumer Product Safety Act to allow for stricter safety standards on guns and ammunition to help reduce gun-related deaths. H.R. 2465 requires the U.S. Surgeon General to submit to Congress an annual report on the effects of gun violence on the public’s health in order to develop informed strategies on how best to protect our communities from gun violence.
Kelly (D-IL) participated in the "SNAP Challenge" last year during the debate with House Republicans about food stamps. Republicans favored deep cuts in the program. The purpose was to shine a light on the choices low-income Americans go through every single day for themselves and to support working families. Many Americans and American families are forced to make these food-shopping choices on a limited budget, and the "SNAP Challenge" helped Kelly feel the difficulties in avoiding hunger, affording nutritious foods, and staying healthy with too few resources.
The "SNAP Challenge" gives participants a view of what life can be like for millions of low-income Americans. Most participants take the Challenge for one week, living on about $5 per day worth of food – the average benefit. The SNAP program is virtually intact in spite of the Republican opposition, and due to the light shined on the issue by Democrats like Kelly.
Kelly introduced H.R. 3328, the American Opportunity Act, which helps to reduce unemployment by extending the Work Opportunity Tax Credit for businesses that hire long-term unemployed workers and other groups at risk for high unemployment.
To assist servicemen and servicewomen who’ve returned home and are looking for work, Kelly introduced H.R. 3327: The Veterans Opportunity Act. This bill puts veterans back to work by giving employers a tax incentive to hire them. This bill is a win-win that helps our veterans, our businesses, and our economy.
Kelly also introduced H.R. 3956, the Community Investment & Empowerment Act. This bill authorizes the Small Business Administration to make grants available to economically underserved communities, and incentivizes businesses, like grocery stores, retail chains, and restaurants, to locate in areas that have struggled to recruit and retain businesses to meet residents’ needs.
Another proud achievement is the introduction of H.R. 3929, the Pullman National Historical Park Act, which designates the Pullman historic district as a National Park. Designating Pullman a National Park "will create a wonderful tourist attraction in the area that will be a local job creator as well as a boon for the national economy," says Kelly.
Kelly has also formed the 2nd Congressional District STEM Council. The council consists of key innovators, educators, and business leaders in our community who are committed to working with me to find effective ways to promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to train the workforce of tomorrow.
As an extension of this goal, Kelly formed the 2nd District STEM Academy for local students. The academy offers STEM boot camps to help expose kids to STEM careers and to encourage them to pursue STEM educations. The key to America’s global competitiveness is propelling our students to the top of the pack in science and math achievement. Providing local students with access to creative STEM curriculum taught by leaders in STEM fields is a big step in the right direction and is the core mission of my STEM Academy, says Kelly.
As part of Kelly's efforts to increase educational opportunities for young people, Kelly started a book donation program in her office. Through the Library of Congress Surplus Books Program Kelly has given over 1,000 books to schools in the 2nd District since the start of the school year. Kelly says that "It’s imperative that our students have access to the resources they need to succeed in school and I am committed to helping connect them with those resources."
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