Ten years ago this month, Kathy Salvi was traveling throughout Illinois alongside her husband, then-State Representative Al Salvi, challenging Lt. Governor Bob Kustra for the chance to be the GOP nominee against U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.
During those travels, Kathy Salvi won the hearts of conservative thinkers with her plainspoken charm and soul-stirring enthusiasm. Many credited Salvi as being instrumental in her husband’s primary victory as for the first time in modern Illinois history, pro-family values voters banded together to shake the state Republican Party establishment.
Now in 2006, the Mrs. is running for office herself. She is one of seven Republican candidates – five male and two female – who are vying to regain Congressman Phil Crane’s 8th District seat back from Democrat Melissa Bean.
But the Mrs. may have run into an unexpected obstacle – that being the challenge of convincing her pro-family allies that being an effective congresswoman will not make her an ineffective mother. She’s surprised to find that leaders of pro-family groups are not so eager to endorse her candidacy, as they were her husband’s.
“They question whether I can be a good mother and serve my district in Congress,” Salvi said in a recent interview with IR held in her Waukegan campaign office.
But Salvi is undeterred by the criticism, citing her family’s unique structure, her own family history and her husband Al’s full support and active participation in her bid for Congress.
“There is no question that we can maintain a healthy family setting while I serve in Congress,” she said. “If I thought in anyway that our marriage or our children’s best interests would be endangered, I wouldn’t run for dog catcher.”
A "family woman," a litigator and a conservative Republican
Kathy and Al Salvi have been married for 18 years. The two met when Kathy was hired as an associate with Al’s brother Pat’s law firm. Before joining the practice, Kathy earned a law degree from Chicago-Kent Law School, worked for 2nd District Appellate Court Judge Harry D. Strouse and gained trial experience as a Lake County public defender.
While working for Pat Salvi, Kathy was given the assignment of training her future husband as a litigator. “I thought that would end our relationship,” Kathy said, “but a year later, we were married and have been happily ever since.”
The Salvis, residents of Mundelein, are now co-owners in the Salvi, Roskam and Maher law practice. When Al was elected to the Illinois House in 1992, Kathy managed the firm while she continued to practice law -- sometimes fulltime, sometimes part-time – as the Salvi household grew.
Kathy proudly speaks of cases in which she actively advocated pro-life and pro-family stances. Among her clients have been women injured during botched abortions and a nurse accused of malpractice during a homebirth. She also filed an amicus brief in a U.S. Supreme case to promote the free speech rights of pro-lifers.
“A lot of people talk about being pro-life, but I took action to defend life,” she said.
Kathy has an impressive trial win record, but her expertise in litigation causes her to face criticism from within the Republican ranks. Her position on tort reform is not as strong as some would like it to be. Tort reform has become a top concern among Illinois Republican-leaning business leaders who write big checks.
Salvi attempts to assuage those concerns by emphasizing she "supports substantial and meaningful tort reform including caps on punitive damage awards, laws shielding doctors' personal assets from seizure and measures to limit venue shopping and frivolous lawsuits.”
But she’s also against caps on non-economic damages, which she believes would “undercut the civil justice system.” These policy decisions should be made at the state, not federal, levels, her official position statement says.
Winning back the 8th District
But the focus for Republicans is to beat Melissa Bean and win back Crane’s seat. The race was very close in 2004, and polls say a woman challenging another woman could improve the GOP’s chance of gaining the seat by 5 to 8 percent.
Salvi’s name recognition, her financial resources and presumed backing of pro-family leaders who helped her husband during his U.S. Senate run in 1996 and his Secretary of State run in 1998 would appear to make her a top contender in the seven-way race to win the GOP nomination on March 21, Salvi’s first hurdle.
She’s run into a problem winning the expected conservative grassroots support because an opponent in the GOP primary, Barrington investor David McSweeney, began nailing down those endorsements immediately after Crane’s loss to Bean in 2004. Salvi points to McSweeney’s lack of support for Crane in 2004 and his 1998 primary challenge of Crane as reasons McSweeney should not be supported in 2006.
“McSweeney began seeking support for himself during the 2004 race,” Salvi said. “I was always loyal to Congressman Crane. Phil lost by a mere 2 percent, while McSweeney was already organizing his campaign to run for the 8th Congressional district. It makes one wonder who really is accountable for that loss?”
It was after studying the 2006 race, looking at the candidates who stepped forward and discussing whether her husband Al or she should run, that she decided to throw her hat in because, "The district was in trouble."
“We need to return this district to the red column," Salvi said. "If Bean is re-elected to a second term, there is a likelihood she will become firmly entrenched and a formerly solid Republican seat will remain in the hands of Democrats. That can't happen."
Early polling indicated husband Al would do well in the race, but it was Kathy, not her husband, who had the “fire in the belly” for the campaign. The Salvis have committed $1 million to the race and Al has actively been fundraising on Kathy's behalf. Salvi recently visited with D.C. political observers who confirmed that a strong female candidate challenging Bean would make the race winnable.
“We need more conservative Republican women’s voices leading in Congress,” she said. "I will argue on behalf of women and the unborn, not just be a good vote.”
Will conservatives send the Mrs. to Washington?
Which brings Salvi back to the issue at hand – getting conservatives to feel comfortable with promoting a woman with six children, ages 17 to 8, still at home. How can one campaign as a conservative, traditional values candidate and leave children at home to go to D.C.?
“I will face the same challenges anyone with children at home faces in balancing responsibilities,” Salvi said. “Life is a balance. For me, it’s God, family, others . . . and self is not a part of the solution.”
Salvi says she looks forward to a “vigorous and active campaign,” with six other candidates in the days ahead. She insists she is the only one in the race who can take back the district from the Democrats in ’06, and that the challenges she faces are not uncommon in today’s culture.
“I represent many women who are in dual income marriages, balancing professional work and the traditional family setting,” she said. “My mother’s example of teaching dance at the local park district for years while raising nine children is one that encourages me to do everything humanly possible to balance family and serve my district well in Congress.”
While Salvi denies she feels betrayed by the same people who encouraged her husband ten years ago to go to the U.S. Senate, a debate is clearly going on in the minds of conservatives who are withholding support.
Recently, negative comments from traditional family values’ activists have become more personal. When asked about conservative columnist Tom Roeser's description of Salvi as “a woman burning with self-consuming ego,” Salvi did not hesitate to respond.
“That was a rather odd statement,” she said. “Although I was a student of his in college, I’ve only spoken to him a couple of times and have known him from a distance. I don’t know what made him make such a value judgment about me.”
Salvi has won the support of key conservative leaders former GOP State Representatives Penny Pullen and Cal Skinner and is actively pursuing conservative group endorsements although many have already committed to McSweeney.
“At the very least, the groups should co-endorse now that they know whose names are on the ballot. I understand they’ve made commitments, but they did before they knew who all would be in the race.”
Salvi said she is a strong advocate of the Second Amendment, supports the President's position on the war in Iraq, wants stronger enforcement of immigration laws and intends to get federal funds back home to expand roads and highways in her district, where traffic has become a major frustration to motorists moving into the far suburban areas.
While McSweeney has limited himself to three terms of office, Salvi believes term limits should apply to all lawmakers and not be self-imposed, costing the districts crucial clout acquired in the current seniority-based system.
But it is clear that women’s and family issues is where her passion lies.
“We cannot let the voice of women and the American family be hung under the anti-family banner,” Salvi stressed. “We need someone who will be a tax fighter, a spending cutter and a family defender in Congress. That’s what I’m in this race to be.”
Republican voters in the 8th District will make their choice on March 21.
More information about the Salvi campaign may be found at: www.kathysalvi2006.com.