In the wake of one of the most important and divisive presidential elections in modern history, it is easy to forget about other elections on the ballot. However, because Illinois is such a Democratic state, with virtually no possibility of Trump winning its electoral votes, your vote in state and local elections may actually be more important in our region. Right now, Andrew Chesney, Illinois’ eighty-ninth district representative, is up for reelection. Due to poor publicity in local media, many people are unaware that this race is even contested. John Cook, an independent, is challenging Chesney. I reached out to both campaigns, to see if they would be interested in doing a brief interview. However, after three failed attempts to reach Chesney, I decided to devote this article to John Cook’s campaign and goals, as he was eager to inform more voters about his goals for the region.
Monday morning, I had the privilege to host the brief interview with Cook. The first thing that stuck out to me was that he truly is an independent whose loyalty lies with the region, rather than a political party. Unlike his opponent, Cook has separated himself from federal politics to focus on issues that affect our region of Northwest Illinois. I asked Cook, who is not a politician, why he decided to run, and he replied with, “the people of the eighty-ninth district deserve better representation.” Cook argues that representatives need to stay focused. By overemphasizing national issues, as Chesney does, people lose their voice in government. Cook’s independent nature is just what this region needs; state representatives should focus on issues that people at home deal with, rather than employing Chesney’s method of boasting his NRA rating and defending the president. The fact of the matter is that the people of Illinois’ eighty-ninth district need representatives that address issues most impactful in their communities, and that is exactly what Cook intends to do. Cook seeks to be “everybody’s ally” not a Democratic ally, not a Republican ally, the peoples’ ally.
But where does Cook stand on issues? Since the Sojourn House closed, Cook wants an inpatient treatment center to be opened in the region to help individuals overcome addiction. He will also fight for opening an unemployment office in the district, which will be of great service to our community, especially since the pandemic has increased unemployment. Unlike Chesney, Cook’s philosophy towards the pandemic is to “listen to the experts.” Cook states,“if I want to challenge the experts’ expertise, then I need to have my own expertise.” Contrastingly, Chesney has posted biased polls about the governor’s pandemic response and demands of returning to high school football on his Facebook page. Cook asks, “How about all of the kids in rural areas that don’t have good internet access?” Chesney has chosen to campaign for football instead of the children who are struggling trying to find ways to manage the era of online education. To see a more comprehensive list of Cook’s goals for the region please visit https://johncookforillinois.com/issues/.
I asked Cook what he wishes he could tell voters before they cast their ballots, and he responded with, “I don’t care who you vote for for president, I will represent you regardless.” Cook also discussed how he wants to show local youth that you do not have to be a seasoned politician with party relationships to run for office. Cook himself is a machinist who comes from a humble background. Unlike his opponent, Cook’s campaign is not funded by generous donations from his father. In fact, Just Facts reports that Andrew Chesney’s father, president of Seaga Manufacturing, donated $57,500 to his campaign (nearly 35% of his campaign’s total financing), compared to John Cook who has yet to raise the $5,000 that mandates a campaign financing report. This provides a clear distinction between who each candidate represents. Cook does not receive big corporate dollars because he does not represent the corporations; he represents the individuals of the eighty-ninth district in Northwest Illinois, whereas Chesney’s campaign is characterized by his father’s donations with an additional $7,500 coming from donors that do not even reside in the state of Illinois. To see Andrew Chesney’s full campaign financing report, please visit https://justfacts.votesmart.org/candidate/campaign-finance/177213/andrew-chesney.
Whether you are a conservative Republican or a progressive Democrat, John Cook is running to represent you, not just the members of the community with money. In an age characterized by partisan division, electing independent local leaders will ameliorate such alienation. John Cook wants to address community issues, not feed into the same national debates that state representatives have little control over.
“Farah Tolu-Honary is a graduate of Freeport High School and now studies political science and international relations at Beloit College. Issues most important to her include climate change, income inequality, and foreign affairs.”