Smile Politely

Celebrating C-U Life: John Bambenek

Smile Politely: Where were you born?
John Bambenek: I was born at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, IL.

SP: Tell me about your childhood (parents, siblings, favorite vacations, most memorable experiences).

Bambenek: I am the oldest of three, I have two younger sisters. Growing up, my father was an iron-worker and my mother worked for Sears taking mail-order catalog orders. While I was still in school, my father finished his degree and went to work in IT for Allstate. My mother now works for my uncles’ law firm. 

My family and I would take yearly vacations up to the upper peninsula of Michigan to visit my great grandparents. While the trip up was somewhat less than enjoyable, I always did like camping and being outdoors. 

Not only am I the oldest of three children, my mother is one of eight children and I am the oldest of 27 grandchildren (on my mother’s side). We spent most weekends with my extended family and I was pretty close to my grandfather. One thing I particularly liked (he has since passed away) was the stories he would tell.

SP: Did you have any nicknames growing up?

Bambenek: Well the most common one was Bambi, which took a brief hiatus during the murder trial of Lawrencia Bambi Bembenek (no relation) who killed her husband’s ex-wife in Milwaukee when I was still in grade school.

SP: Do you have any nicknames now?

Bambenek: Still pretty much Bambi; that’s what I get for having a Polish last name butchered by Ellis Island.

SP: When you were younger what was your dream career?
Growing up I wanted to be a military pilot and astronaut. I ended up getting my Bachelor’s degree in Astronomy and Physics as a result.

SP: What sparked your interest in politics?

Bambenek: I came from a politically active family and spent my childhood going to pig roasts and the like. My grandfather was the longtime township party chairman where I grew up and I have had several uncles run for office.

 However, it wasn’t until I had my first child where I started really paying attention. At that time, Blagojevich was re-elected while everyone knew he was under federal investigation for flagrant corruption. I started working on some statewide referenda campaigns to help bring reform to Illinois including supporting term limits, decentralizing power in the state legislature, and was calling for funding our pensions back in 2007, saying we were facing an impending fiscal crisis.

SP: What are two things you would like to accomplish with your political work?

Bambenek: My two goals would be to stabilize the state’s financial situation so that pensions are stably and sustainably funded, key services are paid for, and the state’s massive backlog of bills is paid off. 

The second would be to fix the state’s jobs climate. Businesses have been driven out of the state with high taxes, excessive regulation, and overt hostility by state agencies. While there is a place for government regulation, Illinois needs to stop looking at job creators as the enemy and simply a means to get more money to waste on corrupt or fraudulent spending.

 I would also tackle political corruption and promote the laws and tools that law enforcement and the public need to put an end to the endless parade of politicians and bureaucrats who enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us.

SP: Are there individuals that inspire(d) you in both areas? 

Bambenek: As far as fiscal issues, I would say Ronald Reagan in particular. Some more current figures would be Governor Mitch Daniels, who took over as Governor in Indiana facing the same problems we faced and turned around the state’s budget and fiscal situation in only two terms. In Illinois, Dan Rutherford is leading the charge on making the hard choices to turn around our state.

 As far as corruption, as odd as it may seem, Rod Blagojevich was the inspiration to get me more seriously involved in politics. With a constitution, it should be impossible for a governor to be as breathtakingly corrupt as he was. The first campaign I was involved with was to push for a constitutional convention to put some real reforms in the state constitution to prevent such corruption on every level of government. My first book, Illinois Deserves Better, contains some of those items, such as term limits for elected officials, recall, and fiscal transparency.

SP: What’s the best piece of advice you have received?

Bambenek: As far as politics go, there have been many forms of this, but it comes down to doing what you think is best to make the lives of the citizens in your district better and to not worry about the next election.

SP: If you could identify your style with one American president who would it be? 

Bambenek: Abraham Lincoln. One of the things he was highly rated on was integrity, and I hope to bring the idea of “I will not lie, cheat or steal nor tolerate anyone among me who does” to Springfield.

SP: What would you say to a Champaign citizen who feels it’s not important to vote (in any election)?

Bambenek: Elections are determined by who shows up. Many people are fed up with both parties, and for good reason. However, the only way to change things is to change who is there. Sometimes one vote makes the difference in an election. Just in 2010, the Vermilion County Clerk’s race (the official that runs elections for an entire county) was determined by just one vote.

 More important than voting is getting involved, perhaps by running for office. Until good people in both parties start running, we will continue to be faced with “the lesser of two evils” choices on Election Day.

SP: What do your parents and wife think of your choice in career?

Bambenek: They all have stated that they are very proud and supportive of what I’m doing. In particular, it has meant the world to have the support of my wife and children who don’t get to see me as much as they would otherwise.

SP: Where has been your favorite event/place to visit on your campaign trail?

Bambenek: To be honest, I like going door-to-door and meeting voters one-on-one. I really draw my energy from concerns voiced by every day citizens who just want a better state for the children. Illinois is in real trouble and it’s heartening that people still care and just want someone in there to fight for them.

SP: Which politician would you love to have dinner with and talk shop?

Bambenek: I would probably say Bill Clinton. On the other side, he is viewed as one of the more intelligent people around, and I genuinely enjoy talking ideas and policies with intelligent people “on the other side.” When you have a group of people with the same ideas, there really isn’t much need to talk at a deep level and evaluate your assumptions and core ideals. Talking with those who disagree with you on an intellectual level helps you really evaluate and think about why you stand for what you do, and it refines your level of thinking in a way that our current system of “talking point politics” doesn’t allow you to do.

SP: What can we find you doing on a Saturday night?

Bambenek: Right now, I’m either out campaigning or spending time with my wife and children in the evening. Still having young children, they tend to get restless when they don’t see me for a few evenings so I try to be at home for bedtime as much as possible.

SP: What are your long term goals?

Bambenek: When I was younger, I had a fairly detailed life plan and everything planned out, and due to situations outside of my control none of that came to pass. I’ve never really gone through the exercise again as things have worked out pretty well (I met my wife and started our family here). If I’m elected, I wouldn’t serve more than ten years (so I can try to tackle redistricting reform again), so I would likely be back in the private sector full-time. Beyond that, my goals are to raise my children to be happy and have the opportunities to fulfill their dreams.
SP: What do you think you’ll be doing when you’re 55 years old?

Bambenek: About that time, I will have children going to college, about to go to college, or moving out. I suspect the bulk of my attention will be making sure they get the best start to their adult life as possible. I would like to pick back up some of my charitable endeavors in helping improve education in Africa as well.
SP: What is a social issue you’re passionate about?

Bambenek: I would say providing a solid education for children so they can be successful in life.

SP: Do you do any community work related to this issue?

Bambenek: At one point, I helped with a charity that helped build and supply schools in Africa and provided funds to send children to schools to get an education. I have shipped four shipping containers to Africa to supply those schools with computers, medical supplies, and other needs which gave me an interesting exposure to international shipping and the issues involved with that. I hope to resume that after the election one way or the other.

SP: What’s the first job you ever had?

Bambenek: My first job was delivering newspapers for the Daily Herald while I was in junior high school. With the extra money I made, my grandfather suggested I invest in stocks of a small company (at the time) called Walgreens.

SP: What did you like/not like about it?

Bambenek: I liked the fact I was earning my own money and building something of my own. As a young child, however, getting up at 5:00 a.m. to deliver papers was not the most fun ever.

SP: Where are your favorite places to travel?

Bambenek: I’ve always loved Ireland and have been a few times. I’m half Irish on my mother’s side and was raised with a good deal of Irish heritage. I’m not much of a traveler with young children, but if I had to pick a destination that would be it.

SP: How did you meet your wife? Was it love at first sight?

Bambenek: We met and casually knew each other my last year at the University of Illinois. We were friendly, but never really spent much time together, just chance encounters at social or church functions.

 After I graduated, we crossed paths one evening and spent the entire night up talking and things took off from there. About five and a half weeks later, we were engaged after I proposed to her outside Killarney in Ireland.

SP: You have three beautiful children. What is one great characteristic about each?

Bambenek: Michael is my oldest son (five years old) and is really empathetic and helpful. If anyone is hurt or feels bad, he is usually the first to check up on them and try to help. Just last night he saw that my wife was feeling overworked and stressed and of his own initiative he cleaned up after dinner and cleaned the table. 

Gabriel is my second son (three years old). He is usually quiet and industrious and can be usually found building something around the house. I suspect one day he’ll be the engineer in the family. 

Linnea is my daughter (almost two years old) and has quite the spunky personality. Mostly, I just love her laugh and how playful she is.

SP: Presidential candidates always pick a theme for their candidacy, usually using a famous artist and song. Which artist would you choose and what song would you choose?

Bambenek: Bon Jovi, “We Weren’t Born to Follow.”

SP: If someone created an electronic with you in mind, what would it be (Ex. laptop, iPod, smart phone)?

Bambenek: I suspect it would be the iPad. I spend a bit of time on the go and I’m a bit of an information monger, so I like the ability to communicate and get information while on the go.

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