By Joe Kaiser -
After winning her seat in the Illinois House in 2008, Darlene Senger told then-Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R) she would love to one day have the opportunity to succeed her in representing the 13th Congressional District in Washington D.C.
That opportunity came, but in unfortunate circumstances for Republicans, when Biggert lost in a landslide to Democrat Bill Foster in the new, gerrymandered 11th Congressional District in 2012.
Senger is convinced her experience winning elections will help her earn a different result, though, as a candidate for the 11th congressional seat in 2014. A three-term representative from Naperville, Senger said being in Springfield showed her how to work together, listen to constituents' needs and win elections against some tough odds.
“People are very frustrated with Washington right now – the problems with Obamacare and the debt ceiling and spending and over-regulation and over-taxing,” Senger said. “The biggest problem is the uncertainty that’s been created in Washington.”
Obamacare, spending and jobs are all going to be major issues in the 2014 cycle, as Senger acknowledged, and she said she believes the Democratic-leaning 11th Congressional District is actually independent enough to swing the district back to Republican hands. She added that she believes the values of families in the district are “Republican values,” despite its statistical Democratic leanings.
The candidate who will attempt to stand up for those Republican values in 2014, however, remains to be seen. Senger faces Joliet businessman Chris Balkema, Naperville businessman Bert Miller and Ian Bayne, an Aurora businessman and conservative radio personality, in the March GOP primary. While her three opponents tout private-sector experience and an outsider's perspective, Senger embraces her legislative experience as the quality she feels makes her the best candidate to face the incumbent Foster.
"My opponents have business experience, including running budgets," she said. "But I bring a lot to the table, not only to craft policy, but also to campaign and win elections. A lot of this is about working with people. Until you really know how the process works, it's not that easy. I really know how that process works."
That process, she said, includes knowing how to create policy and have legislative influence.
"I know how bills get crafted and get through commmittees," she continued. "There is a whole learning curve that I already have in my pocket and my oppponents don’t have. You don’t just walk in and think you are going to change the world as soon as you walk in."
Balkema told Illinois Review in October that Senger's work on the state pension committee, which he said has not "done squat," makes her unqualified for higher office. But Senger saw her experience on the committee differently, as she noted that the committee pushed the issue to leadership and did so in a bipartisan manner.
Instead of looking at the experience as a negative, she said it showed "we could understand each other's differences, but also be firm in what we believe and craft something moving forward."
If Senger survives the primary, she plans to use this legislative and electoral experience to put her over the top. Upon possibly taking office, she said she plans to tackle Obamacare, which she compared to a Jenga game imploding on itself, and comprehensive tax reform, in addition to analyzing spending on jobs programs.
She's confident she will get that opportunity.
“I can beat Bill Foster in 2014," she said. "It will take hard work and someone with experience in winning elections. It will take an effort.”
Senger officially filed her nominating papers Nov. 25, as did Balkema and Miller.