Rodriguez challenges LaHood to follow Lincoln’s lead and debate

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[September 17, 2016]  In my professional life as an educator and a historian I have had the opportunity to specialize in difficult and often painful aspects of our nation’s past—in particular, the legacy of slavery, of abolition, and of emancipation. Through the combination of my teaching, writing of several books, and development of a television documentary on these topics, I have come to have a special admiration for Abraham Lincoln and the means by which he deftly honed his political skills by having the courage to tackle the most pressing concerns of his era. In this regard, Lincoln did not falter, and his actions remain instructive today for those who would seek political office in a time of uncertainty.

As many of you may know, the territory that today encompasses the IL-18th congressional district overlaps with the region that Abraham Lincoln once represented (then the IL-7th district) during his single term in the U.S. House of Representatives (1847-1849). The story of Lincoln certainly looms large throughout this district: in Peoria he delivered the famous “Peoria Speech” that marked his first public criticism of the institution of slavery; at the Old State Capitol in Springfield he delivered his famous “House Divided” speech, and in Quincy he debated U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas on matters of national urgency dealing with the potential expansion of slavery into the western territories. This political ground was touched and shaped by the Lincoln legacy, so the willingness to speak, affirm, and debate one’s political views, however unpopular they might be to some, has always been the standard by which we must measure our character.

Today I stand upon Lincoln’s principles—here in this place and across this district—to challenge sitting U.S. Congressman Darin LaHood to have the political courage to participate in a series of four debates across the IL-18th district and address the issues of the day publicly in these venues. Free and open discussion of ideas has always been one of the hallmarks of our democracy, and the residents of this district deserve nothing less than the opportunity to hear their candidates for U.S. Congress argue and defend their views in a public forum. This is what the citizens are demanding, and anyone seeking office in Lincoln’s old district would be derelict in his duties should he fail to heed this call.

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As the Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in the IL-18th district, I know that there have been ongoing efforts over several months by groups to arrange opportunities for debates or public forums where both candidates stand side-by-side and respond to questions. In all cases in which I have been invited to participate in such an event, I have responded quickly and favorably and expressed my willingness to be a part of such a program. To date, Congressman LaHood has not demonstrated such an eagerness to participate in these proposed events. We now have less than two months separating us from the General Election—I would advise Congressman LaHood to agree to debate and to announce his decision within the next forty-eight hours.

There is a natural give-and-take that occurs in political life; it is part of the landscape with which all who enter the political fray should be familiar. Voters have a right to demand of those who aspire to be their representative that they can argue effectively, passionately, and accurately on key matters of national importance. We send a representative to Washington, D.C. to be a part of the U.S. Congress, the world’s greatest deliberative body—why would we not expect that those who seek that role should gladly rise to the occasion and make their case to the voters who hold such political aspirations in the balance? Today I challenge Congressman LaHood to rise to the occasion and show himself to be a true statesman and not just another petty politician. Take your cue from Abraham Lincoln and defend your ground.

[Rodriguez for Congress]

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