Gun violence prevention activist Kina Collins announced Tuesday that she is launching a new Democratic primary challenge to Rep. Danny Davis in Illinois’ 7th Congressional District.
Davis has been a target of progressive insurgents in recent cycles, winning each time while seeing his vote total slip. He fended off three challengers in 2020, including Collins, who is now running with the support of Justice Democrats as she seeks to consolidate left-wing opposition to Davis.
Collins joins a growing slate of Justice Democrats-backed primary challengers on the 2022 ticket, including Odessa Kelly in Tennessee and New York’s Rana Abdelhamid. The group has also endorsed former state Sen. Nina Turner’s Democratic primary bid in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, where there is a special election on tap this year to fill the seat of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, who left Congress to join the Biden administration. Despite House Democrats’ poor overall showing in 2020, progressives grew their share of seats in the party’s narrow majority, adding to the left’s increasing influence on Capitol Hill.
If Collins succeeds in denying Davis another term, it would mark the second consecutive primary cycle in which a Justice Democrats-endorsed candidate in Illinois ousted an incumbent on her second attempt – following Rep. Marie Newman’s defeat of former Rep. Dan Lipinski in 2020. Collins took about a third of the anti-Davis vote last year, splitting it with Anthony Clark, who previously challenged Davis in 2018 with Justice Democrats support, and Kristine Schanbacher.
“From leading the gun violence prevention movement in Illinois, to fighting for Medicare for all and holding elected officials accountable after the murder of Laquan McDonald, Kina has already delivered results for her community,” Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats, said in a statement. “The people of this district are ready for a new generation of leadership who will show up everyday in Congress and fight for the change her community needs.”
In an interview, Collins mentioned the second-chance successes of Newman and Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, who defeated longtime Rep. William Lacy Clay in 2020 after failing on her first try in 2018. And like Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York, who won his primary last year by arguing that then-Rep. Eliot Engel had lost touch with the district he had represented for three decades, Collins said that Davis – despite the congressman’s liberal voting record and progressive roots – has not been a forceful enough advocate for his constituents.
“I’ve been at community meeting after community meeting on urgent issues like health care and gun violence, and Congressman Davis just doesn’t show up,” Collins told CNN. “We are in a watershed moment coming out of this pandemic, and in this recession we need someone who’s been organizing on the front lines of the district. These urgent crises require urgent leadership.”
Collins’ activist work was recognized by then President-elect Joe Biden’s team when she was asked to join the transition’s task force on gun violence.
“I’ve been working on every single level on this issue, and it is one of the top issues in our district,” Collins said. “People in the city of Chicago, people in the western suburbs, they want solutions and they want to make sure that they’re going to elect somebody who’s going to fight for prevention and reaction.”
Collins also criticized Davis for his willingness to accept corporate PAC donations, which she has sworn off, and she expressed confidence that there would be no splintering of the progressive vote in 2022.
“I think that we are going to make it very apparent that I am the progressive challenger that progressive groups need to get behind,” Collins said, pointing to Justice Democrats’ decision and other early endorsers, including the Women’s March Illinois. “We’re building the rainbow coalition.”
Davis, who was first elected in 1996, is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, supports “Medicare for All” and signed on to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s House version of the Green New Deal.
He has also been a vocal proponent of new gun control legislation. His grandson, 15-year-old Javon Wilson, was shot and killed in 2016. Residents of Illinois’ 7th District, one of the bluest in Congress (a distinction that is unlikely to change in the coming redistricting process), have long faced high rates of gun violence, which has soared there and across the country over the past year.
In 2019, Davis testified before the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, on which he sits, about his firsthand knowledge of the “personal cost” of gun violence.
“I know what it feels like to have a loved one whose life was wiped out unnecessarily for no apparent reason,” Davis said. “I have attended the funeral of so many children in my communities whose wonderful lives were interrupted by gun violence. I feel the devastation.”
Collins, too, has come face-to-face with the gun-related bloodshed and trauma.
“Not only did I witness a child murdered in front of my house, where I was able to identify the shooter and the victim,” she said, “but I went on after that incident, that changed the entire trajectory of my life, to organize on the local and national level around gun violence prevention.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge’s name.