COLUMBIA — A Marine veteran and government contractor who, along with his wife built a chain of cafes in Armenia founded on the principle of sustainable farming, has launched a crowdfunding campaign and says he intends to run as a Democrat to represent Illinois' 12th District in Congress. 

David Bequette, 37, of Columbia, told the newspaper via email that he has always been committed to service to his community, state and country “whether as a student-athlete, as a U.S. Marine, and even when living abroad.”

“Now it seems the best way for me to try and positively impact the lives of my neighbors and fellow Illinois District 12 resident is through representative politics,” he wrote. 

The seat is currently held by U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro. Bost, who also is a Marine veteran, is serving in his second term. Before joining Congress, Bost served nearly two decades in the Illinois House. 

Bequette publicized his political intentions earlier this month with the launching of his CROWDPAC fund. Crowdpac.com bills itself as a website designed to fight “Big Money” by providing a fundraising platform for political outsiders that encourages more people to seek office and small donors to engage in the political process.

As of Wednesday morning, Bequette had raised $4,685 toward his listed $25,000 goal. His crowdfunding campaign indicates donors will only be charged if Bequette decides to run.

Though his page on the website describes him as a “potential candidate for Congress,” in his email to the newspaper, Bequette wrote that he is committed to running in 2018. Illinois’ 2018 primary will be held on March 20. Candidates will not begin filing their official candidacy paperwork until later this year.

The newspaper conducted its interview with Bequette via email and Facebook Messenger because he is currently out of the country. Bequette is working as a government consultant in Armenia and returns to his home in Columbia, located just south of St. Louis, on July 1, he wrote.

Bequette said that since launching the crowdfunding campaign that he has “received nothing but overwhelmingly positive responses” to his decision to run. He further noted that Rosie O'Donnell shared a link to his campaign on Twitter and asked how to donate. But a successful campaign is likely to require much more than the close to $5,000 individual donors have pledged thus far. By comparison, Bost has raised $3.86 million since 2013 to support his congressional runs. 

To that end, Bequette said he’s also in touch with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Party county chairs throughout the expansive 12th District, though his email did not indicate if the DCCC has promised a financial commitment of significance, and it would be early in the process for them to do so.

“There’s still a long road ahead to November 2018, and my focus now is on building a truly grassroots base of followers and supporters because that’s what representative democracy should look and feel like,” he wrote.

That said, the race is on the DCCC's radar, judging by the emails the organization sends out that are critical of Bost. Democratic-leaning activist groups such as "Indivisible I-57," "Indivisible Southern Illinois" and "Indivisible Against Trump (IL 12th Congressional District)" also have turned up the heat on Bost in response to his vote in favor of overturning and rewriting the Affordable Care Act and decision not to hold town hall meetings.

These groups also are pointing out that in 2014, Bost criticized his opponent, former Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, for not hosting town hall meetings in his district and relying on tele-town halls. Bost and his staff have since then said that times have changed with the souring of the political atmosphere. They claim the town halls would not be productive because liberal activists are organizing across the country to cause disruptions at public constituent meetings hosted by Republicans. 

For his part, Bequette said that among the issues motivating him to run for Congress are the “ineffective and broken political climate in our country as a whole” and the “situation in the state of Illinois, which has led to decades of failing businesses, a debt-plagued state, and representation that has been too much about self-interest …”

Bequette said that a top priority of his campaign will be increasing voter registration and more widespread participation in the political process, particularly in the Metro East counties that have historically registered lower voter turnout numbers. He said other focuses of his campaign will be job creation and a re-energized economic environment, and a unified message around government accountability.

He called the 12th District a “beautiful and diverse intersection of American life.” It runs across the southern part of Illinois, from the Metro East to Cairo. The district includes the counties of Jefferson, Perry, Franklin, Williamson, Union, Alexander, Pulaski, Jackson, Randolph, Monroe, St. Clair and part of Madison County.  

“But there is a common thread throughout the district which is the need for economic security and opportunity,” he wrote. “I believe that the strength of positive messaging, focusing on what’s important for middle class workers and their families, is a message that will resonate with voters from the entire political spectrum.”

Bequette said he plans to harness “the power of my own family’s diversity to connect with a broad range of voters.”

“My wife and children are proud carriers of Armenian heritage, and our family is a symbol of the multicultural families that are a natural part of a diverse and thriving Southern Illinois.”

Bequette was born and raised in Columbia and is a graduate of Columbia High School. He attended Missouri Baptist College on an athletic and academic scholarship and one year later joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Bequette said he spent five years serving the country and defending U.S. interests in Indonesia, China and Malta. Over the past 15 years, Bequette said he completed his degree at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and worked as a government contractor. He also said he “moved halfway across the globe because I had met the love of my life and I wanted to support her dream of completing a Ph.D.”

In Armenia, Bequette and his wife, Irina, whom he described as a well-respected political scientist and activist and his “best friend and confidant,” built a chain of cafes that was founded on the principle of sustainable farming and was run mostly by Christian Syrian-Armenian refugees. Bequette also has lectured undergraduate and graduate students in marketing and leadership for a Texas A&M degree outreach program.

The couple has three children: David, 8; Nane, 1; and Anthony, four months.

molly.parker@thesouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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Molly Parker is general assignment and investigative projects reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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