Niemerg says he wants to ‘speak up’ for downstate Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – Republican state Rep. Adam Niemerg grew up in a family that cared about politics, so it felt like a natural step for him when he ran his first campaign to get a seat in the House of Representatives in 2020.

“There's a lot of things that I wanted to say and that I wanted to do and my values really reflect the district’s,” Niemerg said.

Niemerg lives with his wife and two children in rural Dieterich, just a few miles from his hometown of Teutopolis.

Prior to coming to Springfield, Niemerg spent 12 years as an insurance adjuster for Country Financial. 

“I spent a lot of time on roofs, spent a lot of time in basements for a house fire or basement flood,” Niemerg said. “I spent a lot of time on farms, in combines on tractors.” 

Despite enjoying the job, Niemerg said he didn’t like the direction the state was going. 

“I looked at my children and what was happening and felt like I had to make a difference,” Niemerg said. 

Niemerg won his first election to fill the seat of Darren Bailey, who moved to the state Senate. 

He won by one of the largest margins in the state, receiving 82 percent of the vote in the race against Democrat John Spencer. Only two representatives won contested elections by a wider margin — incumbents Tim Butler, R-Springfield, running against a Green Party candidate, and Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, running against a Libertarian candidate. 

“It's very easy for me to be a conduit for not only my political ideology, but also the ideology of southeast Illinois, and the 109th district,” he said. 

For Niemerg, next year’s election is voters’ first chance to elect him with a record in the Statehouse. While in office, Niemerg has been focused on issues popular among his Republican base. 

“Right now, I am so focused on getting the masks removed in schools. I’m so focused on getting vaccine mandates removed in the state of Illinois,” said Niemerg. “It’s important we remember our bills regarding the right to live, regarding the Second Amendment, regarding limited taxation.” 

Niemerg’s focus on masks has included speaking out on the House floor and introducing legislation to bar state agencies from requiring masks.   

“I get calls constantly about the vaccination and mask mandate from all over the state, not just my district,” Niemerg said on the House floor in August. 

Since then, several school districts in his area have engaged in battles over the state’s mandate that students and teachers wear masks. In mid-September, Teutopolis Unit 50 schools became the center of a lawsuit brought by Thomas DeVore on behalf of several district parents seeking to remove the mandate. 

“Any action that’s taken to fight mask mandates in schools should be supported, whether that be action taken by a school to file litigation in a certain way or whether it be action taken by parents,” said Niemerg. 

He added that he wants the legislature to take action on the issue of masks in schools, though he doesn’t expect the Democratic-controlled chambers would remove the executive branch’s authority on the issue. 

“I would like to at least see some accountability in the House and the Senate,” Niemerg said. “If we’re called into session, they have to hit that ‘yes’ button if they want to agree with the governor. Then we can hold those individuals accountable.” 

As a lawmaker, Niemerg has introduced more than twice the number of bills and resolutions as any other freshman representative. 

The 51 bills and resolutions he has introduced include provisions that would have, among other things, instituted stricter voter identification rules, lowered the minimum age to obtain a Firearm Owners Identification Card and make so-called “partial-birth abortion” a state crime. 

Despite the number of bills he introduced, he was the chief sponsor on only one bill that became law. The measure was introduced in the Senate by Bailey, R-Xenia. It expands the eligibility to become a firefighter to include volunteer and part-time firefighters with five years of experience. 

When asked why he introduces so many bills, most of which have slim to no chance of passing, Niemerg said he feels like it’s his duty because the people of his district feel left out of politics. 

“They feel Chicago takes the majority of the attention and really drives the politics of the state,” he said. “They wanted me to speak up and to discuss what their values are to really represent them on the House floor.”

Niemerg, Bailey, and Rep. Chris Miller, of Oakland, were among a group of Republican lawmakers who sent a letter to Miller’s wife, Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, asking her to object to certifying the 2020 presidential election.

“I believe we really need to look into election integrity, not only in the state of Illinois but throughout the country,” Niemerg said when asked if he stood by this position. 

There is no verifiable evidence that calls the 2020 election outcome into question or indicates any credible, widespread allegations of election fraud. 

When pushed on the subject, Niemerg indicated the issue of election integrity is about more than just fraud. 

“When it comes to the next governor’s race, when it comes to any race we have that will be somewhat close in the legislature and Senate, we have got to get out and vote,” Niemerg said. “If we have folks sitting at home saying ‘What does it matter? It’s all rigged anyway,’ then we are not going to win.” 

Niemerg’s relationship to his district might be up in the air as he faces reelection. 

On Sept. 24, Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law new legislative maps which rearranged the boundaries of Niemerg’s district. Niemerg currently represents an area stretching from White County to the south up to Effingham County. 

Niemerg’s new district is almost entirely different. It now covers an area stretching from Lawrence County all the way to Champaign County. 

To add onto that, the new area Niemerg is running in, District 102, is also home to Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland.  

“The boundary line for the 101 can’t be 200, 300 yards from my property line,” Miller said, referring to an adjacent district with no incumbent lawmakers in it. “The reasonable thing for them to do would be for them to move that line 400 yards east.”

Illinois law allows for incumbent lawmakers to run either in the district they live in or in a district which contains part of their previous district. 

“Adam, (state Sen.) Chapin Rose and I have talked about this a good bit,” said Miller, adding that the three have come to an agreement where Niemerg will run in District 102 and Miller will run in District 101. Rose, R-Mahomet, will run in the Senate district that covers the same area. 

Republican leaders and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have filed lawsuits in state court challenging the maps. 

Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield and an expert on Illinois redistricting, said the lawsuits likely won't result in fundamental changes to the maps. 

“If the Republicans thought they had a solid case on procedural grounds, they would have filed a suit in state court,” said Redfield. “But they didn’t.”

On Oct. 19, a panel of federal judges gave MALDEF and the Republicans a chance to submit "proposed revisions" to the maps.

Redfield added he believes there is partisan intent on behalf of Democrats to protect their power in the state, though that’s mostly done by protecting incumbents. 

“The Republican districts are kind of leftovers,” he said. 

This story was distributed by Capitol News Illinois on behalf of the University of Illinois-Springfield’s Public Affairs Reporting program. The story was written as part of the PAR coursework.