DIXON – Amy Murri Briel paints herself as an ordinary person, but she believes ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things when given the opportunity.
Briel, a Joliet community activist and mother of three, is one of five Democrats in the race for U.S. representative in the 16th Congressional District. She was at the Lee County Democratic Party headquarters Wednesday for two community forums.
Briel, a first-time political candidate, said the November elections cemented her decision to make a run for public office.
“After the elections, I realized that the values my husband and I have tried to instill in our three sons have been ignored, and Donald Trump and Adam Kinzinger have either ignored or politicized some of the nation’s most important issues,” she said.
Two Republicans also are trying to unseat Kinzinger in the March 20 primary.
At the forefront of Briel’s campaign is access to quality health care and a world-class education. A sense of urgency for rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure also is an important part of Briel’s platform.
If elected, Briel said she would battle for universal health care, but she realizes it can’t happen overnight.
“As a first-time candidate, I’ve talked to a lot of people in politics, and many candidates never learn that problem-solving is a process,” Briel said. “The important thing is that we have to send someone to Washington who will fight.”
Briel’s political appearances were arranged by the Action for a Better Tomorrow – Sauk Valley chapter, an organization advocating for civic engagement that picked up steam in the aftermath of the November elections.
In what is becoming a crowded field in the 16th District, ABT chapter president Sarah Bingaman asked Briel what makes her candidacy stand out.
Briel said she believes she has the most diverse background, which can help bring people together and engage them in the political process.
“I was born and raised in Ottawa, and I have an understanding of rural America – that’s where my heart is,” Briel said. “My mom was a farmer, my dad was a union worker, and I’ve worked in for-profit and nonprofit businesses.”
After graduating from Illinois State University with a degree in speech and communications, Briel struggled to find her place.
She worked at a discount brokerage firm and spent time as a job recruiter for tech companies, but became disillusioned with corporate America.
“I had a front seat to policies that kept hurting people, and I couldn’t sell a bill of goods that I didn’t believe in,” Briel said. “I moved to social services and found my niche in helping people.”
She worked with domestic violence and sexual assault victims, helping many of them get training and find good-paying jobs in male-dominated fields such as trades, construction and manufacturing.
Briel left the workforce to raise her kids, coach soccer and push for political change. Taking the next logical step requires money, and she hopes to raise $2 million through smaller donations.
“My campaign will be about getting the word out in a grass-roots capacity, but people are receptive,” Briel said. “This district wants change, and they need common-sense policies.”
She said Kinzinger has lost touch with the majority of his constituency, and that people have to turn on Fox News, CNN or CNBC to see their congressman.
Kinzinger was in Braidwood on Thursday morning for “Principal for a Day,” in LaSalle on Thursday afternoon for an opioid forum, and Rockford on Thursday night for a human trafficking forum. He appeared in Byron on Monday and had a Youth Leadership Summit scheduled in Oglesby on Friday.
Michael Soto of Franklin Grove, who is becoming a precinct committeeman, said getting people engaged is challenging.
“Change comes from the bottom up, and I’m finding that there is a lot of education that needs to be done,” Soto said.
Briel said civic engagement ideally starts at a young age. She said her kids are very aware of how the political process works, but many are not.
“Not only do they have to understand how municipal government works, but you have to engage kids when they are young, and make them believe they can make a difference,” Briel said.
Briel lives about five minutes outside the 16th District, but said she is planning to move to her family home in Ottawa. Congressional candidates are not required to live within the districts they represent.