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Folks in Southern Illinois are losing faith.

As a candidate for Congress in the 12th District, I’ve driven all around Southern Illinois in the past year. I’ve spoken to folks on farms and in diners. I’ve held town halls in community centers and union halls from Granite City to Carbondale.

I’ve heard from dads with two jobs and three kids who still can’t afford health insurance; from grandparents raising their grandchildren, waiting for the parents to recover from opioid addiction; from business owners with unreliable water and slow internet.

These stories are tough. The conversations are hard. Still, when asked what Congress can do to help, most everyone has a solution. Because of our corrupted system, folks are simply losing faith that those solutions will ever happen.

It’s easy to understand why. There are a few people at the top with lots of money and power. For a long time, our democracy has been abused by those powerful few. Decisions are made far away, money drowns out the voices of the people, and life gets harder in Southern Illinois.

We must restore faith in our democracy. We must restore our faith in the heart of our system — ​the power of the people to elect someone who will represent them. Not party leaders. Not the powerful few.

I believe in my heart and soul that we can restore that faith. The people of Southern Illinois have great ideas about how we can. Here are a few:

• Get money out of politics:​ I will never accept money from the Big Pharma companies whose opioids are killing our people or from the Big Wall Street Banks that wrecked our economy. I’ll also support a constitutional amendment to overturn “Citizens United” and stop the endless flood of corrupting money into our politics.

• Reign in pensions for Congress and term limits: Public service is supposed to be about “service,” not currying favor with powerful donors and feeding at the public trough for 35 years. While some folks worry about not having enough for retirement, some in Congress are on the path to earning a second pension. We need to reconsider the pensions that members of Congress receive, and stop the double-dipping that occurs when former state and local officials draw both federal and state pensions after politicking for a lifetime. We need to rein in political careers, implement term limits, and make sure public service is simply about helping your fellow Southern Illinoisans and then stepping aside to let the next generation lead.

• Expand public corruption enforcement at all levels of government: Public corruption undermines our trust in government and our elected leaders. I’ve spent years going after corruption in both ​parties. Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants are tools intrinsic to ensuring the safety of our neighborhoods, towns, and cities. COPS grants should also be applied to corruption.

Congress must also have aggressive oversight to reign in public officials spending taxpayer dollars on fancy furniture and first-class travel. We can only do that with funding dedicated to rooting out the rot, so our police, public safety officials and investigators will be better equipped to restore faith in our public institutions.

These ideas are just part of the Kelly Coalition’s 12-part “Restore Faith in Southern Illinois” plan.

I believe that we will make these ideas a reality. I believe that we will restore faith in our democracy.

When we restore that faith, we can finally rebuild and save Southern Illinois.

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Brendan Kelly is a Navy veteran, the elected State’s Attorney in St. Clair County, and a candidate for Congress in the 12th Congressional district. You can find his ​ “Save Southern Illinois” ​ and “Restore Faith in Southern Illinois” plans on his website,


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