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The Pantagraph: Adam Kinzinger charts path from Illinois to new political battlefield

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MORRIS, IL, July 17, 2021 | comments
A profile piece on Adam Kinzinger by Lee Enterprises reporter Brendan Moore.
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For more than six months, the six-term congressman has been engaged in what he believes to be a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. It's pitting him against loyalists to former President Donald Trump.

It’s a battle for truth that Kinzinger, in a sit-down interview with Lee Enterprises last week, concedes he is not winning — at least not at the moment.

“No, we're not winning,” Kinzinger said. “Do I see signs of progress? Yes. There's a sense that though Trump goes out and speaks, he's not getting the attention he (used to receive), people are ready to move on. What I worry about is that as Trump fades, Trumpism still stays.”

Kinzinger, whose district wraps from Indiana to Wisconsin and includes swaths Chicago's exurbs and the Illinois Valley, has become one of the former president’s most vociferous Republican critics and was one of 10 GOP House members who voted to impeach him in January, citing his role in inciting the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Since that fateful day, Kinzinger — along with U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming — has not missed an opportunity to harangue Trump and his followers in Congress, becoming one of most easily-recognizable faces on cable television and Sunday morning talk shows, where he recites a message promoting truth and "Country First," which also happens to be the name of the political action committee he’s formed.

But as certain as Kinzinger is in ultimately winning the argument, his future in politics is unclear, with his path back to Congress potentially blocked by Springfield Democrats who control the redistricting process or by a primary challenge from a pro-Trump candidate.

And though he continues to keep the door open on a possible run for governor or Senate, Kinzinger's conservative politics don’t necessarily play well in a statewide race.

Not that any of this weighs on him.

“So do I want to win? Yes. If I don't win, is it gonna hurt? Maybe a little bit, but I'm not going to have an ounce of regret,” Kinzinger said. “And at no point in my last seven months, particularly since the insurrection, have I ever had an ounce of regret for anything …”

“... Maybe a few tweets,” he quipped.

‘He’s not going to lie’

Kinzinger, 43, was born in Kankakee and raised in Bloomington. His mother, Jodi, was an elementary school teacher and his father, Rus, ran faith-based homeless shelters in Bloomington and Peoria.

His interest in service started early. In 1998, while just a 20-year-old sophomore at Illinois State University, Kinzinger successfully ran for McLean County Board, defeating a three-term incumbent. This made him the youngest person elected to the board at the time.

“I had initially started going door-to-door, but I looked like I was 14, so I just started calling people on the phone because I sounded older,” Kinzinger said. “And so they elected me and, all of a sudden, they're like, 'Oh we just elected a kid and didn't know it.'”

But the kid took some advice from the county board chairman: “Don’t say anything in a meeting for a year” — basically learn the ropes before speaking.

“That was a lesson I kind of brought back into Congress early,” Kinzinger said. “But yeah, I wish some of the freshmen would just quit trying to be famous and try to actually work.”

“Look at Marjorie Taylor Greene,” he said, referencing his controversial House colleague from Georgia. “Nobody knew who she was. Now everybody knows and that's all she wanted. She doesn't need to be a serious legislator, she doesn't care if she has committees. She's famous, and that's unfortunately why people are coming to Congress now.”

Kinzinger in February joined all Democrats and a handful of Republicans in voting to strip Greene of her committee assignments over past racist and anti-Semitic remarks as well as her well-documented promotion of conspiracy theories like QAnon.

Those who know Kinzinger say his fight against these preeminent elements of the Republican Party is entirely in line with his background.

“It's not surprising to me that amidst all kinds of really crazy conspiracies ... that Adam Kinzinger is the one who says, 'No, I'm the grown up in the room,'' said Tari Renner, the former two-term Democratic mayor of Bloomington and a political science professor at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Renner was elected to the county board the same year as Kinzinger. Though from different political parties and generations, the two became “close pals within about a year,” he said.

“We could trust each other, I guess it's safe to say,” Renner said. “You could certainly trust Adam. He's not going to lie, he's not going to stab you in the back or be wishy-washy. Or if he's on the fence, he's legitimately conflicted.”

The full article can be found on The Pantagraph website here.
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