by State Representative Karina Villa

Karina Villa, MSW was elected to Illinois 49th Representative District in November 2018. We’re grateful that Representative Villa took the time to share her freshman lawmaker experience with our readers.

June 1, 2019, at 8:15pm the 101 Illinois General Assembly adjourned with what is being referred to as one of the most progressive sessions in Illinois history. I am proud to have been a part of it representing the 49 House District.

My road to the 101st General Assembly began on November 2016, when many told me I was naive in believing the 49th House District could be flipped. It was an off year with expected usually low voter turnout in a traditionally conservative district. However, I believed my community deserved and needed a new inclusive voice. So, with determination for two years, I met my constituents, knocking on thousands of doors, listening to their concerns, and introducing myself through the rain, snow, and heat and everything in between.

Talking with my community was one of the most rewarding endeavors.

The hard work across the state paid off. We brought an unprecedented number of voters to the ballot November 6, 2018. On a progressive agenda, we elected a Democratic Governor, Lt. Governor, every constitutional office, and supermajorities to both chambers of the Assembly. I am fortunate to have been included in the success. What was clear, we had been given a mandate by the people to bring change to Illinois.

The day I was sworn into the General Assembly, 6 other freshman who flipped seats, joined me in awe and wonder of the enormity of the moment. We understood, though, we were there for a purpose, to restore stability to government and make it work for the people. We jumped right in and got to work. At times the work was simply navigating our way through the tunnels of the capitol to find the bathrooms, and at other times it was navigating the process, like learning how to file a bill and defend it against fierce opponents. It was the hardest and most exciting thing any of us had ever done.

All the work since being sworn-in culminated in a whirlwind month of May. Nothing could have prepared me for it. Spending consecutive weekends away from family and friends, living out of a suitcase, hopping between an Airbnb and hotel room, all the while trying to stay on top of a grueling schedule that could easily runs 14 – 16-hour days. It was all worth it.

It was reassuring to learn many of the senior General Assembly members, as well as lobbyists, told me since the 2018 election the capitol felt renewed. The freshman class brought with it much needed energy and enthusiasm; however, we were also cautioned. I was told to be careful with my expectations because Springfield wasn’t a place where things happened overnight. I kept a smile on my face and fierce determination in my heart, because we were ready to fight for Illinois.

One of the many pieces of legislation I fought for is the Reproductive Healthcare Act (RHA). The RHA protects access to comprehensive reproductive health. The RHA was dead just one week before it passed. It was not getting called out of committee and many assumed there was no hope for it. I decided to host a get together with some of my fellow female legislators. It is important to note the 101st General Assembly is unique in that is has an unprecedented number of Democratic women elected. We had many thoughtful late-night conversations finally deciding we needed to rally support to revive it. Millions of women across the country have been living in fear government would take away their right to access healthcare. We owed it to the women of Illinois to do everything in our power to protect their rights. With resolve and persistence, we passed the RHA out of committee, then onto the House floor, and eventually to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. I am proud to have played a small part in its success.

After four years of gridlock, lost hope, and a former Governor who didn’t govern, change came to Illinois because a blue tidal of voters came out to support a bold and progressive vision. Our class, made-up first-time legislators from every corner of the state, were able to reinvigorate and revitalize Springfield. Turning it into a place for hope and prosperity.

This summer will find me back talking with and helping my constituents. They will find me at town halls, at my office, in the neighborhood, or at their door. I look forward to serving my district for years to come. See you soon!