Congress Member, Illinois’s 2nd District
Seasoned Illinois Politico
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A seasoned Illinois politico who represents a diverse Chicago district, Rep. Robin Kelly prioritizes issues that impact marginalized communities, such as economic growth and health care reform. Over the past 14 months, that emphasis has extended to COVID relief.
While the Democrat represents parts of Chicago and its southern suburbs, she grew up in Harlem, the daughter of a small-business owner and a postal worker. She moved to Illinois to study at Bradley University in Peoria, where she studied child psychology. After college, she settled in Cook County and began a career in social-service work, with a special focus on child development.
Kelly got her start in politics in 2002, when she won election to represent the 38th District in the state House of Representatives, ultimately serving three terms. She lost a race for state treasurer, but when Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned amid charges he misused campaign funds, Kelly threw her hat in the ring for the special election, winning in the general with more than 70 percent of the vote.
Kelly, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust and cochairs the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, has throughout the pandemic pushed measures to reduce racial health disparities through data collection, testing, contact tracing, and community grant programs.
Kelly held town halls last summer with Black leaders about minority participation in vaccine trials. As she told National Journal last year, “If you aren’t part of the trials, you aren’t part of the cure.”
Approach and Motivations
Excerpted from Robin’s Vignette profile
Emphasizes bipartisan solutions to aid Illinois constituents, particularly marginalized groups
- Experience representing a highly diverse district, which includes parts of urban Chicago and farm areas, informs Kelly’s bipartisan approach to addressing a wide range of issues; uses “popcorn diplomacy” by sharing local Garrett popcorn with lawmakers across the aisle
- Staunch advocacy for “common-sense” gun reform is influenced by Chicago’s high rates of gun violence, which disproportionately impact communities of color
- Forms relationships with other Illinois members of Congress, including Sen. Tammy Duckworth, to achieve wide-ranging goals related to consumer protection and economic development
- Uses her membership on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to push for coverage accessibility and equity among different communities. Introduced the Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act in 2020, which would have required the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to publish COVID-19 data based on race, ethnicity, and other demographic characteristics
- Sponsored the Action for Dental Health Act, signed into law in 2018, which improved access to oral care
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