Smile Politely

Getting to know David Palmer, a C-U candidate for Congress

As two parents sitting across the desk from each other, David Palmer and I were both a bit dazed from our respective restless nights processing the events of the previous day: the horrific mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Palmer is a father of two young children who also has a background in youth development programming. When he and his wife first moved to Champaign (she was raised here), he began working at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, and during the time we spoke, he often returned to the subjects of youth, of education, of the need for support for children and parents and addressing the root causes of violence in communities. These are seeds that were planted by his parents, while growing up in Nashville.

“We have this huge park in Nashville, Centennial Park. My dad would take as many kids as would fit in his car, and we would go there and spend the day…it’s a great place for kids to play. I remember we were going to buy a new car. My dad goes ‘I think we need an Expedition.’ Basically, he wanted the capacity to take more kids, to able to haul more kids and do more things and have a little bit more of an impact, and he was willing to take on the financial burden of that. We didn’t have a lot of money, but that didn’t really matter. It was still important to him. I kind of tucked that away.

My mom had a daycare in our home growing up, and her big thing was she’d only charge $20 a day. She always said ‘I don’t do it for the money. I just know that there’s a lot of parents who going from $1200 to $400 dollars a month in childcare is huge for them.’ I kind of tucked that away too. Those are the things that I learned growing up. Not that were hammered into my head, but things I learned about who my parents were. They weren’t perfect or anything, but they were really good people and they did a lot of things for our community growing up, and that stuck with me.”

Palmer has lived away from home since he was 17, having played basketball at Oak Hill Academy as a high school senior, then at Seton Hall and University of Iowa (he initially committed to University of Illinois). He went on to play professionally overseas, traveling all over the world. “It really gives you an awesome worldview. I think one of the things I enjoyed the most about it was being able to go somewhere as a stranger, and by the time I left feeling like that place was home.” He spoke about the challenges of living abroad  different languages, different infrastructure, new people. “It’s on you to really go out and integrate yourself in the community. I think that’s why I’ve been able to do that here…for a long time my home was wherever my bag was…when you get out of your comfort zone, out of your state, out of your country, you really get to experience new things.”

In fact, he was the one that convinced his wife they should settle here in C-U. They considered many locations, mostly larger cities, but he wanted the pace and welcome of this community. He feels a strong sense of community here. “I could walk around an Illinois tailgate, in full Iowa gear, and people are still tossing you beers and being nice to you.”

Palmer is currently a financial representative with Country Financial, obviously a bit of a shift from basketball and the Boys and Girls Club. The career move was born out of a need to support his family  unfortunately youth development programs aren’t as lucrative as they should be — but he finds his work to be flexible enough that he can continue to be out and about in the community, as well as spend time with his family. As Palmer describes his work, he emphasizes the service aspect. “This industry is really about helping people…doing those day to day things to make people’s lives easier.” 

So why get involved with politics? Palmer spoke of lack of resources in the areas of the community that he is most passionate about: education and youth development. “I was tired of all these proposed solutions to violent crime. More police, more guns, more surveillance.” He goes back to gaps in education and youth development programming as a root cause of kids getting caught up in violence. “We need to have real plans that are going to address the violent crime now, but we [also] have to have a plan for going forward.” He wants to be an advocate for parents, for youth, and for educators, and sees himself as a different sort of candidate. 

“We keep running the same kind of candidates and wondering why we keep losing. We need different representation here. Rodney Davis never cared about Champaign, because he couldn’t get any votes here. When we have a congressman that’s from the area, we’re going to get better service, better results, better outcomes.” 

To learn more about Palmer and his Democratic opponent Nikki Budzinkski, and where they stand on issues, check out their recent debate with Illinois Public Media and WAND, or read our recap.

Top photo by Julie McClure.

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