Jesse Jackson Jr.: Primary Not ‘Grueling’

After winning a tough race, the Illinois congressman talks about the ethics probe and his priorities.

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Fresh off a grueling primary election last week, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) checked in with The Root on Friday via email to talk about his landslide victory against former Rep. Debbie Halvorson.

He discussed his priorities, which include building a new airport outside of Chicago and using legislation to increase health care and health security for Americans. He also talked about the first test of the state’s new congressional map, which appeared to work in his favor during last Tuesday’s election.

Jackson, who first won office in 1995, also addressed the grueling race against Halvorson, which was made difficult by a House Ethics Committee probe into allegations that he attempted to trade campaign contributions for an appointment to Illinois’ U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. Despite the cloud, he was able to garner 71 percent of the vote, while Halvorson won 29 percent.

As he prepares to face Republican challenger Brian Woodworth in November, Jackson talked to The Root about what he hopes to accomplish if he is elected to a new term.

The Root: Congratulations on your win, Congressman Jackson! You first won office in 1995. Why did you face such a grueling primary competition?

Jesse Jackson Jr.: I didn’t consider it grueling. I considered it democracy. My opponent was correct in saying that I have not had a serious primary challenge since my initial election in 1995 — but I was up to the challenge. The challenges were that Debbie Halvorson was a former member of Congress. I was running in a new district that was urban, suburban, small town and rural.

The question was, could I win in such a district? I had a good message. I put together a good re-election team, and the result was I won with a significant 71 percent of the vote. And I intend to represent all of the people in the new 2nd Congressional District, from urban consumers to small businesses to rural farmers.

What most people don’t understand is that the Congressional Black Caucus has one of the strongest voting records when it comes to farmers and small businesses. We don’t just represent African Americans and urban concerns. My district now is only 54 percent African American. Indeed, the 2nd District now reflects Illinois. Illinois, indeed, reflects most of America.

TR: Halvorson made a pending House Ethics Committee investigation over your alleged ties to ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich part of her campaign. Are you concerned? Can you express your thoughts about the investigation?