Andrew Dambrauskas for Illinois 96th

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“You don’t expect to win when you’re a write-in candidate, especially when your last name is Dambrauskas. But the longer I [campaign], the more support I’m actually getting. I’ve actually been able to insert myself as a third voice in this race.” – Andrew Dambrauskas

Andrew Dambrauskas’ political ambitions may not rise to the level of such notable UIS alumni as the late State Sen. Vince Demuzio or former Mayor Karen Hasara, as his ultimate goal is to become a teacher after completing a degree in history at UIS, but this November he is running as an independent write-in candidate for Illinois’ 96th Representative District.

The 96th legislative district covers downtown Springfield and the city’s east side and stretches to Decatur, where it encompasses that city’s downtown district and many small communities in between. Dambrauskas, a Springfield native who grew up on the city’s east side, believes that the area, despite spanning two distinct cities, connects neighborhoods with similar demographics and concerns.

One of the concerns Dambrauskas identifies is crime. “When you look at the demographics of people committing crimes, they tend to be less educated, young, and unemployed. You have people in desperate situations who feel they need to commit crime for survival,” stated Dambrauskas.

He believes the biggest deterrent to a rising crime rate is education. But in a contrary move, many local governments have responded to tightening budgets by cutting funds to workforce and adult education programs. The Illinois Community College Board has cut grants to the Lawrence Adult Education Center in Springfield and the Adult Education Program at Richland Community College in Decatur. Dambrauskas believes this move is “the surest way to get crime rates up in [the 96th] district.”

By pledging to make vocational training and adult education a centerpiece of his campaign, Dambrauskas hopes to “amplify a lot of the voices in the 96th that can’t seem to connect with either of the other candidates.”

His opponents on the ballot in November include Democrat Sue Sherer of Decatur and Republican Dennis Ross Shackelford of Rochester. Both cite education as a priority on their respective websites, but they also identify as fiscal conservatives intent on balancing Illinois’ budget. Whoever wins the seat will surely be facing tough funding negotiations as Illinois continues to face budget shortfalls.

The consensus-building skills Dambrauskas practiced in the Model Illinois Government while a student at Lincoln Land Community College may serve him well during such tough negotiations. John Vinzant, Professor of Political Science at LLCC, advised the school’s team that won the Outstanding Large Delegation Award during the simulation held in March at the Illinois State Capitol. Dambrauskas served in the model Senate as a committee chair.

Vinzant states that participation “ involves a lot of public speaking, negotiating with fellow students, building relationships, and researching your positions – all of these are things Andrew could do well.” However, he warns “there are certainly realities that come with on-the-job training. In the legislature, party pressure cannot be ignored, especially in a hyper-partisan environment. The leadership exerts tremendous pressure, as well.”

Despite these realities of political office, Dambrauskas feels prepared for the challenges. “When you look at the three candidates in this race, I’m the only one who has stood on the House floor and debated a bill,” he jokes. “Obviously, there are people who aren’t going to take me seriously because I’m a 23-year-old college kid,” he continues, “but the flip side is that there are a lot of college kids and young voters in the 96th who look at me and say, ‘we have all these people making decisions in the name of the next generation but we don’t have anybody representing the next generation in the Statehouse.’ I feel like I’m up to it, and that’s what matters.”

Dambrauskas is happy to discuss people’s concerns this voting cycle while he is walking around downtown, on campus, or knocking on doors on the east side. He will likely offer a business card that can be used before entering the voting area that clearly provides the correct spelling of “Dambrauskas.”