QUINCY -- Brian Deters was on familiar ground Tuesday, campaigning for Congress in his hometown of Quincy and talking about education.
After 23 years as a teacher, Deters said he sees a crisis in education, with politicians demonizing public schools. He said he also is concerned about a nationwide teacher shortage.
"For a federal legislator, it is important to be an advocate. I want to do that for education," said Deters, who is running in the Democratic primary for the 18th Congressional District seat.
For 17 years, Deters taught in Morton, which he describes as a top-notch school system. But many rural Illinois school districts are struggling because of limited tax bases and the difficulty of finding teachers.
Deters recently returned from Switzerland, where his wife, Joni, worked for Caterpillar for the past six years. During that time, Deters taught social studies at College du Leman, an international school near Geneva.
"My overseas experience has made me a stronger candidate. I've seen things through a different lens, working with people from all over the world," he said.
Without hesitation, Deters recites his knowledge of Illinois' 18th District.
"I 'am' the 18th District," he said. "I grew up in Quincy. I taught in Morton for 17 years, where we have our home. I've lived many places in between, including Bloomington, Washington, Peoria, Dunlap and East Peoria."
People in all of those communities are kindhearted and ready to listen to a fresh voice, Deters said.
They're also conservative voters, and Deters said the 18th District has elected Republicans to Congress since the New Deal era. The 44-year-old Democrat said it might shock the world if he or one of his two primary opponents won the general election in November.
But he's heard lots of feedback from Central and West-Central Illinois residents who want a change.
"We've got a broken political system, but it goes beyond that, to our culture," Deters said.
His campaign theme and a YouTube video series are linked as "A Time to Heal," where Deters talks about people and things that drive Americans apart on issues, rather than looking for middle ground.
"I passionately believe I'm the candidate who can initiate the kind of dialogue our country needs, who can go to Washington and change things up from the perspective of an educator who's had extensive experience in bringing people together to find solutions," he said.
Technology is another issue for Deters. He said it seems that many parts of the 18th District are five to six years behind on broadband internet access and other important technology.
"We live in a world where you can work anywhere. You can have a residence in Warsaw or Liberty and help boost the local economy," Deters said.
He said he thinks online connected jobs could help keep many of the region's young people from moving to metropolitan areas in search of jobs.
Gerrymandering is another concern that Deters wants to tackle. He said the U.S. Supreme Court is considering cases where politicians have designed political districts to favor one party or another. He said elections in such unequal districts "are not all that democratic" and ought to anger voters."
Deters said he has many of the same concerns as fellow Democrats Junius Rodriguez and Darrel Miller, the two other Democrats in the March 20 primary. He called them "intelligent men of great character" but said both have campaigned in the district before and lost by lopsided margins.
"I offer myself as a new voice, a different choice," Deters said.