Disclaimer: This article is sponsored solely by its student author. Illinois Institute of Technology and TechNews do not participate in political campaigns on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for public office.
Dillon Clark is staking his claim for state representative of Illinois’ 95th District as a “cowboy democrat” - being fiercely pro-labor but staunchly supporting 2nd Amendment Rights. He stresses his election bid as an individual endeavor to help others and his community, not a matter of party allegiance or shifting Springfield politics. The candidate is the embodiment of humility. Clark has strong words about both his local opposition and his party’s ill-fated 2016 candidate, but discontent is understandable for a demographic that’s been failed by state and federal policies time and time again. He’s running, first and foremost, to fix this.
Clark walked into the interview at 8 p.m. in a dusty Cardinal’s baseball cap and a campaign-branded quarter zip. Our table at the Huddle House breakfast chain overlooked the truck-stop lights of a quiet interstate sleeper town - the town I grew up in - as they shone dimly through the windows. Those lamps gave the vague impression of constantly fading, but never seemed to go out.
In a neck-to-neck battle against an incumbent, Clark stands to win one of the 118 seats in Illinois’ House of Representatives. Each district represents just over 100,000 citizens, the 95th’s 100,000 residing in Montgomery, Christian, Macoupin, and Madison counties. For those unfamiliar, the 95th lies nestled just between St. Louis and Springfield on Interstate-55, about two-thirds of the way down from the state’s northern border. To those totally unacquainted with non-Chicago geography, it covers a stretch of farming communities and interstate towns about three or four hours from the city.
After graduating with a psychology degree from Illinois College, Clark got involved in politics with the goal of helping people. When his days on this earth are done, he wants his heavenly Father to be able to tell him “you helped people” and did good by others. He aims to do this through politics and policies that help his constituents - the rural working-class. His wife is a kindergarten teacher at a public school in Litchfield, Illinois, the same town he grew up in, so he believes in the importance of well-funded public employees. His grandfather laid asphalt in a union, a great many of his constituents are government-employees or union-affiliated, and Clark believes fair pay for union employees will drive up overall wages and help the economy.
For Governor Bruce Rauner’s almost absolute rejection of organized labor, grinding budget progress to a halt, Clark stands opposed to the Grand Old Party (GOP) and is running on a blue ticket. However, the inked (D) next to his name on the ballot box is going to be the only time he strongly ties himself to a political party during the race. In fact, he was once a registered Republican and definitely would not be opposed to running on a red ticket if the political climate were different. Clark represents his constituents and their interests first, politics second.
Representing a socially conservative district, though on a blue ticket, Clark could not categorically support pro-LGBTQIA+ legislation. He would need to “see the bill” first. He implied that the Democrats ought to move away from identity-politics and towards a politics of “everybody” and the working class, a common sentiment even among blue voters in the 95th. Clark also believes that the jobs crisis and America’s opioid epidemic cannot be easily separated and that sympathy is needed with nonviolent offenders. Far from a total leftist denouncement of the prison-industrial complex, a step in acknowledging the faults in the War on Drugs is a good point-of-relief, especially for a beleaguered middle-class struggling with a problem best viewed as a disease or epidemic, not by shaming the afflicted.
Clark opposed tax credits for private schools with selective admissions, on the ground that state funds should not support non-open institutions. Private schools which accept everybody, though, would be less-so contested. For the sake of transparency, this line of thinking stands in opposition with my selective-admissions state-funded magnet school, the one that gave me a better education than my home district would have offered, but I did not ask for clarification on my situation and did not press the subject. I’m left regretting this, as I’m not sure if the man I’m going to vote for is going to vote against the place I called home for three years.
Clark noted his support and admiration for Pope Francis. Conversely, he kept his comments on figures like Rauner and J.B. Pritzker to a polite, apolitical minimum. He repeated a maxim, a good one, of representing his district first and party second, not being afraid to break party lines on a vote.
As a closing remark, he wished that people from Chicago could understand how people from downstate Illinois feel. The 95th feels like it’s been getting the scraps of the state for too long, like it’s been thought of as an afterthought, an accessory, to Chicago. If true on a demographic level, being told “you’re not important” can be damaging to the morale of a district. Financially, non-minimum wage jobs are fleeing, and opportunities for advancement are getting fewer.
I interviewed Clark after witnessing the Facebook advertisement of him shooting clay pigeons in a cornfield. While I braced to find a reactionary behind the gun, some basic candidate research showed a man on a blue ticket expressing relatability with rural voters.
As one of the novel stories of post-2016 politics, Clark races on a blue ticket in a red district to represent a community that’s been forgotten in the shadows of the City of Broad Shoulders.
Photo courtesy of Dillon Clark (He/him)