By Joe Kaiser -
In 20 years in management at Caterpillar Inc., Chris Balkema gained a background that he said makes him fit to lead. He first entered public service by winning a seat on the Minooka District 111 School Board in 2009, before becoming part of the Grundy County Board in 2010.
It was this summer, though, that he decided to take a big step forward when, with the support of his wife and two sons, he decided to run for congress in the 11th Congressional District, challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Foster.
“The current congress is short of leadership,” Balkema said. “There is a huge vacuum of leadership. I have the gift and the ability to develop a strategy and be able to execute that strategy.”
Balkema is running a campaign centered on fiscal discipline and financial responsibility. He not only pointed to his manufacturing background as a strength, which he noted is not very widespread in the current congress, but also his experience stressing financial discipline as a county board member.
When Balkema was elected to the Grundy County Board in 2010, he said the board members were paying themselves twice the IRS limit per mile to travel to board meetings and had “Cadillac” insurance plans. Wanting to deliver on campaign promises to get the county’s financial house in order, Balkema said it required both Republicans and Democrats to sit down together, make reforms and also pass a budget that was good for the county.
“If we can (come together to solve problems) at the local level, we can do it at the federal level,” Balkema said.
Part of coming together, for Balkema, would be to introduce direct legislation aimed at eliminating regulations he thinks both sides could support. He also said the GOP could get more accomplished if it focused its message on making America competitive, a strategy he said would have helped in the recent struggle to defund Obamacare. In keeping with the emphasis to make America competitive and avoid a financial crisis, he said he would not have voted to raise the debt ceiling had he been in office during the current term.
Getting into office, however, will be a battle and Balkema acknowledged both the primary and general election races will be highly competitive. In the primary, Balkema faces challenges from both State Rep. Darlene Senger and conservative radio personality Ian Bayne. While Senger holds more legislative experience than Balkema, he said he cannot get behind her candidacy because of her record serving on the state’s pension committee.
“(The pension committee) hasn't done squat,” Balkema said. “The fact that she is front and center in the spot where (the committee is) supposed to be fixing it, and they’re not doing their job – I can’t get behind her. We have to do one job before we can get to the next job, and she is not performing.”
Balkema would also have to face the incumbent, Foster, if he wins the primary. Foster was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2008 when he defeated Republican Jim Oberweis in a special election for the 14th congressional district. Foster defeated Oberweis again that November by 16 points, but lost to then-state senator Republican Randy Hultgren in 2010.
With redistricting, however, Foster was able to run for Congress again in 2012, this time in the newly gerrymandered 11th Congressional District. Foster grabbed 58 percent of the vote and defeated incumbent Republican Judy Biggert in a district that now stands at D+5.
Balkema said he believes Foster’s record, which includes a vote for Obamacare and several tax increases, is “180 degrees from where we need to be from a financial perspective.” Balkema is confident that because of this, and the hope that the GOP can articulate a message that stresses competition and fiscal responsibility, he can overcome the district’s Democrat favorability and win the seat next November.
“Whether a person is a Republican, an independent or a Democrat, the consensus that I found among all three groups is that almost everybody wants to have a job, almost everybody wants to be able to go to their kids' and grandkids' soccer games and baseball games, almost everybody wants to be able to raise their family and see their extended family flourish inside the American dream,” Balkema said.
“So whether you’re a Republican, an independent or a Democrat,” he continued, “the nice thing about the truth is it never changes.”