The primary election is still a few weeks away, but the race for Illinois’s 13th Congressional District has been going strong for months. Republican Representative Rodney Davis barely eked through the 2012 election, and Democrats are hoping that his seat is one they can gain in the midterm election. The 13th is a true “swing district” with lots to gain (and lose) on both sides of the aisle.

On the Republican side of the primary, things are pretty weird. By now, you’ve probably heard that Erika Harold — a lawyer, former Miss America, and Urbana resident — has made the controversial decision to challenge Davis in the primary, a decision that some Republicans believe will only damage their party in the general election. Harold has both received national attention and has been attacked by certain local members of the GOP for being “not a stereotypical Republican” [read: not white, male, and old].

In comparison, the Democratic primary might seem pretty tame. Ann Callis, a former judge from Madison County, has been challenged by two C-U locals: George Gollin and David Green. Despite this, many already consider the Democratic side of things to be a done deal. Callis has been on the campaign trail since May 2013 and has been keeping pace with Davis in terms of campaign contributions.

So who is Callis, the likely Democratic nominee? She’s an Edwardsville resident and a mother of two. She styles herself as a “tough, anti-crime judge."  She’s been styled by the National Republican Congressional Committee as “the proud head of what has been called the ‘Judicial Hellhole’ of Madison County." In 1996, she (and her two children) went into hiding for four months after a prosecutor was gunned down for his involvement in a divorce and child custody case that Callis ruled against. She’s been described as “moderate,” “middle-of-the-road,” and “mushy” in comparison to the other progressive Democratic contenders. And she agreed to answer some questions by email so we can get to know her better. 

Here's what Callis, Davis's likely challenger, has to say.

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Smile Politely: What kinds of experience would you bring to the job of congresswoman?

Ann Callis: Having been a Judge for 18 years, I have tried thousands of cases. I have years of experience in listening to the facts, weighing both sides of complex issues, then coming to a logical conclusion and implementing the decision. I think those skills are badly needed in Washington. In addition, as Chief Judge I was able to make policy changes in our court system and stand up for those that needed help. I was able to create the first veterans court in our state, helping troubled veterans get back on their feet. I also created a mandatory foreclosure mediation program, getting the banks to come to the table and negotiation, which has resulted in over 130 homes being saved for middle-class families in Madison County. Overall, I feel like we made a lot of positive changes that improved the court system and ensured that everyone who walked through the courthouse doors knew they would get a fair shake. 

SP: What specific moment or event made you decide to run in the 2014 election?

Callis: My children have both dedicated their lives to public service and inspired me to run for Congress. My daughter is a senior at St. Louis University, studying education. I am very proud of her as she just started her first student teaching job in our district this winter. My son chose to serve his country after graduating from Cornell University and enlisted in the Army. While I was contemplating about getting in this race, I was able to see my son be sworn in as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army. As I watched him during that ceremony, I knew he wasn’t afraid to serve his country, so I decided I shouldn’t be afraid to serve as well. And when he called me from training camp the night I announced and told me he was proud of me, I knew I had made the right decision.

SP: What are the main points of your platform?

Callis: My campaign has been focused on protecting the middle class, listening to the needs of the community, and going to Washington to stand up for Illinois families. I know that we need to grow our economy here in Central Illinois. We can start by building strong relationships with our universities and expand on the wonderful research that is being done there. We should be linking universities, local businesses, and our local labor force to expand on apprenticeship programs so that our young people graduate these programs with highly technological skills and are ready to work in the jobs of the 21st Century. I also want to help support current efforts to rebuild blighted neighborhoods, by creating construction jobs and giving people the opportunity to become first time homeowners. Overall, we need investments in our infrastructure, because we know that investing in our community not only bodes well for jobs right now, but allows us to succeed in the future.

SP: How does your political philosophy differ from the other Democratic candidates?

Callis: I believe I bring a proven record of getting things done and standing up for people in our community that needed help. Whether it is starting the veterans’ court or creating the foreclosure mediation program, I have been able to deliver for middle-class families in Illinois. My philosophy of public service is simple — you must keep an open door, listen to what problems exist, and then work incredibly hard to find solutions for the middle class.

SP: If you win the Democratic primary, what would be the starkest difference between your campaign and Rep. Rodney Davis’s?

Callis: I think there are large differences between me and Congressman Davis. I think he has gone to Washington and in his first term become part of the problem, by shutting down our government and putting politics ahead of results. I think we have very different policy positions on issues. I want to increase the minimum wage to give a raise to 634,000 women in Illinois, while he has voted against it. I want to extend long-term unemployment benefits for families that are struggling in this tough economy, while he has called that a distraction. I want to improve access to higher education and strengthen Pell Grants, while he broke a campaign promise and voted for the Ryan Budget that slashes funding to Pell Grants. These are big differences that have large impacts on our community and the future of our nation.

SP: The National Republican Congressional Committee has criticized your judicial record and “legal ability.” How would you respond?

Callis: I am very proud of my record as a Judge for 18 years. I was able to earn widespread support in my community for my work and reforms, gaining over 68% of the vote in my last retention campaign. I was nominated for a federal award for my work on creating our state’s first veterans’ court by Republican Congressman John Shimkus, and won that award. I made tough calls and sometimes got on the wrong side of my party because I knew we had to make some changes and make sure that everyone walking into the courthouse felt they were getting a fair shake. The Republican attacks are more political games that take away from my positive message of public service and my proven record of helping people in my community.

SP: Given your judicial background, what are your views on mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex?

Callis: As a Judge for 18 years, I’ve seen first-hand the insides of our criminal justice system. I was a statewide leader of restorative justice programs, like drug court, mental health court, and veterans’ court. These problem-solving courts work, and we should be expanding their scope across our state. I know it costs $38,000 a year to house someone in the Illinois Department of Corrections, and twice that for a child. That’s why I supported programs that helped adults and children get services and become productive members of our society. Our Redeploy Illinois program helps children get back on the right track. I helped start a faith-based program truancy program that catches kids as they start skipping school. All of this work was designed to help our community get stronger together, and by finding alternatives to incarceration for those who deserve it.

SP: What do you believe is the most urgent issue facing Illinois’s 13th Congressional District, and what would you do to address this issue?

Callis: I know that growing our economy and creating jobs here in our district is the most critical issue. I hear it time and again from families across our district. That is why I have focused my campaign on finding solutions to this problem that allow our district to thrive.

SP: Please comment on how you think the Affordable Care Act has affected Illinois’s 13th District thus far.

Callis: I think we are just starting to see the impacts of the Affordable Care Act in our district. I know middle-class families want a solution that lowers their costs and expands their care options, not more partisan politics. I want to find reforms that fix and improve the Affordable Care Act. Congressman Davis wants to repeal it and go back to putting insurance companies in charge to deny care and raise rates if you get sick. That’s reckless and wrong. We can’t just shut down our government and cost our economy billions of dollars because we disagree with a law. I want to improve the law so all Illinois families have quality, affordable health care. I will work to ensure we cover pre-existing conditions, women are not discriminated against, and we keep the cost of prescription drugs low.

SP: If you had to recommend budget cuts in one area, what would it be and why?

Callis: I think we need to reform our tax code to incentivize job creation in our country. I would end the tax breaks to companies that ship jobs overseas and instead create tax incentives for companies that hire veterans, create jobs in America, and rebuild our manufacturing sector.