NEW LENOX -- When asked why he’s running in Illinois’ 11th CD Republican primary to fill the seat Congressman Jerry Weller’s is vacating, New Lenox mayor Tim Baldermann answered, “I believe in duty and answering the call when you’re needed.”
Baldermann’s answer was expected from a guy whose last twenty years he's spent in law enforcement, on a local school board and as of eight months ago, as mayor of New Lenox, a town located in one of America’s fastest-growing communities.
When the Will County GOP asked him to run for Congress, Baldermann, 41, says he saw it as another chance to serve and bring along an array of life experiences that he believes have prepared him to serve in Congress.
As a law enforcement officer and now police chief in southwest suburban Chicago Ridge, Baldermann's had first hand experience implementing federal Homeland Security regulations and working within federal immigration parameters. His current jurisdiction was a center of controversy in the days immediately following 9-11, as angry protests erupted outside one of the Chicago area’s largest mosques, located in Chicago Ridge.
“I had just started as Chicago Ridge’s police chief shortly before Sept 11, 2001. When local law enforcement came together to map out plans for dealing with the situation, they all turned to me to take charge,” Baldermann said. “Communication between the FBI and local law enforcement has improved greatly since then, but I learned the problems firsthand. My time in FBI training gave me some great contacts to tap into and that made things easier.”
But more needs to be done locally to improve Homeland Security, Baldermann said. With only two of the nation's 435 Congressman with law enforcement experience, his expertise would be helpful as Homeland Security and immigration policies are considered.
The challenge of enforcing immigration laws at the local level in such a diverse area as Chicago Ridge has strengthened Baldermann’s resolve to encourage federal and local law enforcement agencies’ co-operation.
“We have ‘people of interest’ brought to our attention often,” he said. “The security threat remains. People tend to forget and become apathetic. Thankfully, everything’s been okay, but we must always be on guard as to dangerous people entering our communities.”
“We need to stop the influx of illegals and secure our borders,” he said. “But we should also be aware of what’s impractical to enforce at the local level. We need to know who’s coming in.” His immigration proposal opposes amnesty and supports updating the immigration application process.
Baldermann said he didn’t join fellow police chiefs who supported Illinois giving drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants. He wants to keep guns out of criminals’ hands, but defends law-abiding citizens’ right to bear arms. “We need to enforce the laws on the books, and punish the criminals,” he said.
That commitment to keeping his community safe sometimes causes him to put his own life on the line, Baldermann said. “As a police chief, I don’t sit behind this desk and ask someone else to put his life on the line. I am always the first guy into a drug bust. I’d rather it be me than some 20-year-old on the force who’s got a six month old baby at home.”
Those are the kind of on-hand experiences Baldermann says he wants to remember if he is elected to Congress. Too often, he said, D.C.-based officials lose touch with the people back home.
When asked if he thought that may have happened with current Congressman Weller, he only nodded his head and said, “If you don’t come home and talk to the people of the district, how can you know how to represent them?”
He’s talked to his wife and kids, and the Baldermanns will not move to D.C. if he's elected. Mrs. Baldermann in a local school principal and his five kids, aged 5 through 19 years, aren’t interested in re-establishing roots away from New Lenox, he said. “I’ll be home every weekend.”
That “home” is located in exploding Will County’s New Lenox, where Baldermann was elected mayor last April. As mayor of a city near the newly-opened I-355, Baldermann is well aware of the transportation needs throughout the district and how federal laws affect local municipalities. Unfunded federal mandates rile him.
And because of the diversity of the 11th CD, which runs south of the Chicago suburbs from the Indiana border west to Bureau County, he’s getting a crash course on agricultural issues, Baldermann said.
“I’ll be turning to the farmers in this district to help me know best how federal policies will affect them. A few months ago, I didn’t have a clue about the price of corn and soybeans. I’ve learned a lot since then and will look to farmer for advice.”
Baldermann’s first hand experience as a school board member with school superintendent certification, along with his school-principal wife, helped form strong opinions about George W. Bush’s federal No Child Left Behind education program.
“It’s a great concept, but it needs to be tweaked in order to be more workable,” Baldermann said, and referring once again to the problem of unfunded mandates. He's convinced the education system should give the choice to parents, and supports private school scholarships and upholds parents’ option to home school.
Baldermann says he is pro-life, and holds abortion exceptions only for the life of the mother. [IR Correction: Balderman also holds the rape and incest exceptions.] The only candidate in the race endorsed by the Illinois Federation for Right to Life’s Federal PAC, he supports parental notification and opposes the federal funding of abortions.
When he received the Chicago Tribune’s endorsement last week, he was happy that the 11th Congressional District GOP primary was finally on the media’s radar. “It’s tough to get the word out on races like this, and this will be an important one.”
On Friday of last week, the Democratic National Congressional Committee announced Democratic candidate in the 11th CD Debbie Halvorson as being one of their top priorities for fund-raising. The DNCC sees the 11th as a possible pickup to strengthen U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s majority in 2008.
“Halvorson’s support from Nancy Pelosi and Emily’s List is not in line with the district,” Baldermann said. “We’re not taking anything for granted, but look at who she is and what she stands for. Look at the baggage she carries. We’re feeling pretty confident we can keep this seat Republican in 2008.”
Baldermann is opposed on the February 5 GOP ballot by former White House staffer Jimmy Lee, who lives in Utica and airplane pilot Terry Heenan of New Lenox.