New rep’s vision for district, Illinois
SYCAMORE – Jeff Keicher knows virtually everyone at Shawn’s Coffee Shop.
As a local State Farm agent, he’s handled many of their insurance claims. His daughter took a vacation with a patron he greets in the line for the register Friday morning. He waves, greets, chats with everyone, everything short of kissing babies, although he could have done that if he wasn’t concerned about waking a child in a carrier.
Area Republican leaders appointed Keicher as the new representative of the Illinois House’s 70th District, which includes Sycamore, Genoa, most of DeKalb and northern DeKalb County, with a swearing-in ceremony Tuesday at Dayton Farms in Sycamore.
There will be little business conducted in Springfield during the time of his appointment. Republican party officials no doubt hope that appointing Keicher now will give him a leg up when he faces Democratic challenger Paul Stoddard, a DeKalb County Board member, in the general election Nov. 6.
Keicher, 45, has worked with State Farm for more than 20 years, the past dozen at his office at 315 W. Elm St. in Sycamore. He said relationships he’s built there, and tough conversations, have helped make him the right man to represent the district.
“I’ve had to break hard news to people,” he said. “You’re sitting side-by-side with a mom and a dad who just lost their child under horrific circumstances. A lot of what I’ve done day-to-day in my career has prepared me for communications with constituents.”
Beyond that, he said he’s spent substantial time in Springfield vying for clients and their rights. He plans to decline health care and pension benefits for the position.
Desnee Kramer waited tables for years, providing for her three children, and later became a mortgage lender.
Her sacrifice and dedication inspired her son, Jeff Keicher, who also took a cue from her sister, Dawn Soderquist, who ultimately became a legislative assistant in Hawaii.
He said both of their influences instilled a sense of honesty, accountability and servitude.
“ ‘Trust’ is the word I’d emphasize,” he said.
Keicher said he once wanted to be a pastor, but during a trip to Russia in the early ’90s, he felt other religious organizations were banging the drum too loudly.
“The last thing you need to do is to tell people who have lived through Communism how to worship,” he said.
So he shifted gears.
He said Monetary Assistance Program funds made it possible for him to attend Northern Illinois University, although he did quit for a spell, relying on his wages as a bartender, working about 70 hours a week at Riverside Receptions and Conference Center in Geneva. Eventually, he went back to school and got his degree while working with his grandfather’s former partner, George Beasley, at a Sycamore State Farm Insurance Agency.
After working in various roles at multiple State Farm offices, Beasley retired and Keicher replaced him in 2016.
Vision is the key word for Keicher, and he said he’s eager to spend time with leaders in state departments and agencies to see whether they’re delivering results.
He said his main goals are to protect taxpayers and ensure public funds are well-spent. He said two of the biggest commodities in the district are education and agriculture, areas in which he wants blockades to be eliminated.
“We shouldn’t have bugaboos about letting colleges and the Department of Agriculture innovate and experiment,” he said. “Look at all these outdated, archaic things and think, ‘If we could do this all over again and work toward success in innovation, what would we do?’ So often, we don’t ask that question.”
He said in the education realm, he’d like to see far fewer than 200-plus state mandates. He said his predecessor, Bob Pritchard, who held the seat for
15 years, did a great job in working for education reform, including a recent overhaul of the school-funding formula.
“We need to allow them to innovate within their programs and their structures, and to free them from the shackles of some of the rules and regulations,” he said. “We’re mandated that children who text eight hours a day learn to write in cursive. Let the school boards, administrators and families in those districts decide.”
Pritchard said Keicher’s grit will serve him well.
“He’s a worker,” Pritchard, now a member of the NIU Board of Trustees, said, “and that’s one of the things you need to be to be successful in representing your constituents.”