Rep. Cheri Bustos

17th Congressional District of Illinois
Photography by Kira Kwon

A voice for the middle class in Washington, carrying on central Illinois’ tradition of bipartisan leadership

I was born in Springfield, Illinois, to two loving parents, Gene and Ann Callahan. I attended Illinois College, the University of Maryland, and then earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Springfield. I played basketball and volleyball in college and was inducted into the Illinois College Sports Hall of Fame.

While working as a young reporter in the Quad Cities, I met a rookie cop named Gerry Bustos, and the rest is history. We raised three sons together in East Moline, in the same house where we still live today. I am proud to say that my husband serves as the under-sheriff of Rock Island County and commander of the Quad-City Bomb Squad.

Throughout my career in journalism, I always tried to use my pen to help the community. As a journalist, I uncovered stories of corruption and greed in government. Although this career was rewarding, after 17 years of working as a reporter and editor, I decided to go to work for one of the nation’s largest nonprofit, non-denominational healthcare systems. While at this job, I strived to help improve the quality of healthcare available to families throughout the region.

In 2007, I was elected to serve on the City Council of East Moline, and served for five years. I was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012, and consider it the privilege of my life to represent the people of Illinois’ 17th Congressional District.

Please list and reflect upon your major accomplishments of 2013.
I believe my biggest accomplishment has been giving the middle-class families of our region a voice in Congress. For far too long, those in Washington have had their priorities upside down and put their own political ambitions and special-interest groups above the people they have pledged to represent. In every decision I make and every vote I cast, I strive to put the middle-class families I represent first.

I have made a big effort to work across the aisle during my time in Congress. Before taking office, I called through all the new members of Congress—both Democrats and Republicans—to introduce myself and tell them I was looking forward to working with them. I then joined a group called No Labels, which is the only bipartisan group in Congress that meets on a regular basis. I will continue to work with people of both parties on the issues important to our constituents.

What is your secret to maintaining a balance between your work and personal life?
I have always believed the key to maintaining a balance between my career and my personal life is to work very hard and be there for your loved ones. When my husband and I were raising our three sons, we always gave the extra effort to help with homework late at night and to put breakfast on the table before their day began at school.

What is your leadership philosophy?
I believe a successful leader serves the needs of others, treats people well and listens attentively. In my office, I have many signs to remind myself of these principles every day.

Did you have a mentor in the early stages of your career?
My father inspired in me a lifelong love of public service. He was a top aide to former senators Alan Dixon and Paul Simon. Paul Simon lived with my family for a half-year when I was growing up, so I spent a lot of time around the kitchen table talking politics and policy with some of the legends of Illinois politics. I was blessed to be exposed to these ideas and experiences at such a young age, and they helped set me on a path toward serving others.

In your opinion, what is the greatest struggle working women face today?
Working women face many obstacles in today’s work environment. The greatest struggle for women today is juggling responsibilities. Many women today are juggling careers with family responsibilities and other priorities. We need to make sure that workplaces are family-friendly and conducive to working mothers and fathers who also need to take care of children.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?
It is always tough to describe one’s self. However, I always strive to be compassionate, determined and loving to everyone I meet.

How do you unwind after a long day of work?
After a long day of work, I love to sit down and laugh. Usually this means spending time with my family and friends with a cold beer and a hot pizza.

If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
A dinner with one of my role models would be an excellent way to spend an evening. Abraham Lincoln would be my first choice. In the 17th Congressional District of Illinois, only a few miles from my home, Abraham Lincoln declared slavery to be immoral for the first time. This gives me confidence daily to strive for the greater good. iBi