Running in a historically Republican district against a longtime incumbent doesn’t dissuade Becky Anderson Wilkins from being the change she wants to see in Congress.
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For six generations, Becky Anderson Wilkins’ family has owned and operated the independent bookstore Anderson’s Bookshops based in Naperville, IL, but politics is also a family affair. “My great-grandfather ran for Congress in 1946 as a Democrat,” she says, describing family as a “long line of Democrats in a Republican place.” Her district is in a historically Republican part of Chicagoland, but the tide might be turning — Hillary Clinton won by seven points over Trump in a district where an incumbent Republican Representative was last elected. It’s this incumbent, Peter Roskam, whom Anderson wants to unseat in the March 20 state primary, as she runs on a platform based on reforming taxes, health care and gun control.
This isn’t your first political race: In 2014 you ran for and got elected to city council. What spurred you to run?
When you’re an independent bookseller going on six generations now, it’s in your DNA to get engaged in whatever way you can. You fight for your community, you engage, and you volunteer, or you jump into a political race. Our business wouldn’t survive if we didn’t do that, if we didn’t listen. Books make that easy. They make a bridge to so many parts of the community—we’ve done so many good things with authors and teachers and the school district. When I ran for city council, there were way too many men and very few women. Now, we have four women out of nine people in the council, which is fantastic.
What spurred you to run for Congress?
Peter Roskam has been in Congress for 12 years, and before that he was a state representative. He hasn’t had a town hall in over nine years. There’ve been so many protests in his district—he’s one of those guys who runs out the back door. He avoids people with opposing views: everything he does is virtual and screened. That goes against everything in my nature.
The November election (in 2016) 16 was the last straw, seeing this Representative who was truly not representing people in his district. It’s gotten even worse; he’s now almost 100 percent a Trump follower. He’s very proud of things he shouldn’t be proud of—he’s one of the main architects of the tax bill. He’s a huge taker of money—the gun lobby, fossil fuel industry, the Koch brothers—all the dark money that you don’t know where it came from.
You don’t mind meeting with people you disagree with?
Face to face it’s not that bad. People hide behind email and postings and social media. They can be a lot nastier. When it’s face to face they have a bigger opportunity to find out what you have in common.
You discuss your struggles with breast cancer as part of your campaign. How did you decide how much of your own personal life to reveal in this process?
When I saw what was happening to the Affordable Care Act, when I had breast cancer and the complications I had, I couldn’t fathom the fact that people can’t have the same (treatment) that I had. After radiation I had huge seroma. I had to be flat on my back for a while, had to go through so many sessions of draining. I didn’t like my care, so I switched doctors and hospitals. To be able to afford to do that is something that everyone needs to have access to.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back and talk to yourself before beginning this campaign?
“You should have done this when you were younger.” A lot of us who are running our own businesses, you wait. But there are so many young women who are running right now, that’s going to be the change.
I probably would also tell myself, “Learn more about the process.” There are certain things that you don’t realize until you start doing it. If I had my eyes a little bit more wide open, I wouldn’t have let it get to me when, for instance, you reach out to people, and they decide that they don’t want their name to appear on the donor list. I wish I had probably started ground campaigning even sooner.
What are you reading these days? Do you have time to read?
I’m one of those people who can’t go to sleep until I read. Right now I’m reading Luis Urrea’s new book [The House of Broken Angels]—he’s from Naperville, and a Pulitzer finalist. I’m also reading [Fatal Throne], the new Young Adult book that a bunch of authors wrote about the 6 Wives of Henry the 8th. I like seeing the different YA perspectives on each one. When I get to D.C., I decided I’ll do required reading assignments. I’m going to push the whole reading agenda.
Why should people outside of Illinois pay attention to you?
We need to flip this district, and if we flip this one, we’ll flip a lot more. We’ll get control of the House again and fix the damage that’s been done. I think this race will be the cornerstone of that. This blue wave’s gonna be crashing in November, and it’s going to be female.
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