An earnest young former seminary student from Berwyn is providing the only competitive state legislative race in the local area this fall.
Andy Kirchoff, 27, is challenging state Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez (D-Cicero) in the 24th District, which includes the southern portion of Brookfield and a narrow slice of Riverside just north of the railroad tracks.
This is the first political race for Kirchoff, who is gay.
“I’m the first openly gay Republican to run in the state of Illinois,” Kirchoff said.
Kirchoff describes himself as a bridge builder who can unite various factions of the Republican Party as well as appeal to Democrats and independents. Kirchoff kicked off his campaign at an event at Proksa Park in Berwyn last month.
“I’m honored to be in a position where I can talk to both conservatives who have skepticism about the LGBT community and at the same talk to the other side, LGBT advocates who are skeptical of conservative Christians,” Kirchoff said. “I like to be the bridge between the conservatives and the moderates in the party.”
Kirchoff said that he decided to run because he believes that Hernandez is unresponsive to constituents.
“The reason I’m running is because everyone here in this district deserves something better than what we’re currently getting from Lisa Hernandez,” Kirchoff said. “More than just her bad votes, it’s about being available for the community,”
Kirchoff is anti-abortion and favors immigration reform.
“I’m very pro-immigration reform,” Kirchoff said. “Needless to say in the age of Donald Trump that makes me very different than the party’s front runner.”
Kirchoff generally agrees with Hernandez on immigration issues.
“My opponent has done an excellent job on immigration issues,” Kirchoff said. “It’s just everything else where’s she’s been absent.”
Kirchoff said that he is willing to vote for a tax increase as part of a comprehensive budget solution to the state’s present impasse.
“I am willing to increase taxes,” Kirchoff said. “I have absolutely no problem with that, but I also agree with the governor that there has to be reforms to many state programs in order to ensure long term sustainability for our state.”
Kirchoff said that such a change doesn’t mean following the footsteps of other Republican governors, such as the ones in Wisconsin and Indiana.
“It’s more that we need to plan for the future in a way that’s sustainable,” Kirchoff said. “We need long-term plans as opposed to short-term solutions which I feel that Springfield has been focused on for a very long time.”
He said pension reform was critical, stating, “We would not be at the place we are at if it wasn’t for the pension system being, frankly, mismanaged and overpromising.”
Kirchoff faces long odds in challenging Hernandez. The 24th District, which includes Cicero and Berwyn as well as part of the Southwest Side of Chicago, is heavily Democratic.
Both Kirchoff and Hernandez ran unopposed in their respective primary races in March, but Hernandez received more than four times the number of votes than Kirchoff did in the suburban portion of the district.
Hernandez also has an overwhelming financial advantage over Kirchoff, who works part time for a home health care company and lives with his parents in Berwyn.
As of March 31, Kirchoff’s campaign committee had only $645 in its bank account while Hernandez’s campaign committee reported a balance of almost $55,000.
It is possible that Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and political action committees associated with Rauner could cut that gap, but it seems more likely that Rauner-associated money will go toward more winnable races this fall.
Kirchoff said he doesn’t know if he will receive any support from pro-Rauner PACs.
“I’m not going to comment on that,” Kirchoff said. “Honestly, the answer is that I have no idea.”
Kirchoff has always been interested in politics. He graduated first in his class at Quigley Prep and attended seminary for a few years before deciding not to become a priest.
He graduated from Loyola University in December 2011 as a philosophy major. In 2012 he worked on a senatorial primary campaign in Wisconsin and has also worked on a Republican state legislative race in Illinois.
Kirchoff knows the odds are against him in this race, but he says he believes he can win.
“If I didn’t think I had a chance to win, I wouldn’t be running,” Kirchoff said. “My opponent needs a challenge and, even if I don’t win, hopefully maybe Lisa Hernandez will start showing up to community events, maybe she’ll start changing her votes on a couple of issues.
“The bottom line is this community deserves better and if I can be a catalyst to make that happen, whether I win or lose, I can hang my head up high and be proud that I did something good for the community.”