QUINCY -- Junius Rodriguez was doing interviews Tuesday in Quincy before attending a candidate forum at a Quincy Tea Party meeting.
"I see that as an opportunity to talk about some of the common ground that exists" between the extremes in U.S. politics, Rodriquez said.
The Eureka College professor labels himself a centrist Democrat who is conservative on fiscal issues. He said that when the tea party movement got rolling in 2009, there was an aversion to the national debt. Yet the Republican tax plan approved in December will add trillions of dollars to the debt.
"We have to get a handle on the debt," Rodriguez said.
Transportation systems are one area where Rodriguez said he wants to see the nation invest money. Highways, airports, and the lock and dam system should not be partisan issues, he said, and because they're national systems, broad coalitions ought to back them.
Rodriguez also supports broadband networks because they'll help businesses create jobs.
"Most new jobs are created by small businesses. A lot of the startups have online components to them," he said.
The lack of quality internet access also ties in with the isolation and poverty that many rural communities experience, he said.
"A lot of Americans feel forgotten. They've been missed by the recovery. In a lot of the small towns, the indicators are trending in the wrong direction," Rodriguez said.
Illinois is losing people "at an alarming rate" who leave to find quality jobs, he said.
Two years ago, Rodriguez saw what he thought was just another indicator of rural decline. Winchester was losing its grocery store, and most of the residents were worried about what that would mean for the city of about 1,500.
"I was back there last Sunday for a chili supper, and they've got a civic group that's trying to organize a co-op to operate a grocery store," Rodriguez said.
Cooperatives were an important part of the build-out of rural electrification in the mid-1900s, and Rodriguez said he thinks that co-ops and public-private partnerships could be powerful agents of change in the 21st-century economy.
One idea that occurs to Rodriguez is to educate and train Americans to handle the online records mandated in the Affordable Care Act. He said many of those record systems are being outsourced to other countries, but with access to the internet, Americans could be earning wages for handling some of the work through public-private partnerships with insurance companies and hospitals.
"Peoria used to be known for manufacturing. They built stuff," Rodriguez said. "Now it's growing its health care industry. We need to look at what realities and needs there will be for a capable and competent workforce."
Although he's an educator, Rodriguez is quick to say, "Not every kid needs to go to college."
During the Adams County Democratic Central Committee's recent pork chop dinner, Rodriguez heard from an attendee that local contractors have not been able to find people with carpentry skills. He said in some cases "a robust apprenticeship program" could serve the needs of job seekers as well as enrollment in formal trade schools.