Smart, ambitious, community-minded.
Those are words those who know Regan Deering use to describe the candidate for the Republican nomination in the 13th Congressional District, an eel-shaped district that stretches from East St. Louis to Springfield to Decatur and ends in Champaign-Urbana.
But as soon as her name comes up, something else is often whispered: "You know she is an Andreas."
Her grandfather was Dwayne Andreas, the man who built Archer-Daniels-Midland Company into the agricultural processing giant that it is today. And no name carries more clout in Decatur.
"People look at that different ways, but I tend to think that most people look at the person, regardless of her relationship with the Andreas family, I mean, she's her own person. She's proven that in multiple ways," said Bruce Pillsbury, head of the Macon County Republican Party.
"I did invest in the first quarter of my campaign. Any future self-funding is yet to be determined," Deering said during a May 13 interview.
That investment came in the form of a personal loan to herself, noted Paul Osborne, a political analyst for WSOY radio, former Decatur mayor and editor of the Decatur Tribune.
"Big Andreas was her grandfather. So, there is money and I did notice that she loaned $150,000 this last quarter to her own campaign. You have to take that into consideration. If she comes out of the Republican primary, she's probably going to have the money to run a pretty strong campaign," he said.
Nikki Budzinski is widely considered the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. But David Palmer, a Champaign insurance broker, is also on the Democratic ballot. Besides Deering, there are three other GOP hopefuls seeking their party's nod: Terry Martin, a Springfield journalist; Matt Hausman, a Champaign engineer; and Jessie Reising, a Decatur lawyer.
Deering describes herself as a conservative who can work with people across the political spectrum. She holds a bachelor's degree in marine biology from Duke University and a master's in teaching and learning from DePaul University.
"I'm a commonsense conservative. I've worked in my community as a problem solver. I advocate for success for all. And I feel as though my experiences allow me to connect with people and talk about what their concerns are," Deering said.
Her experiences are varied. Shortly after college she worked at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium and then worked as a biology teacher at a private school in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Later she owned a tutoring franchise serving central Illinois.
"I opened my own Huntington Learning Center franchise with a family member here in town," she said. "And it was nice to bring that service to Decatur. They didn't have anything that was tutoring for elementary-age students."
The business grew, and through a state grant, she provided tutoring services within Springfield and Decatur public schools.
"We provided our own teachers, our own curriculum. I had just about 100 teachers between the two districts. So, that was a great opportunity to think through my passion for education and help a number of students too. But the state was granted a waiver to the No Child Left Behind contracts. And so that business ended in one day. It was really, really crushing. I provided a lot of jobs and a great service to the community, but I couldn't afford to maintain the business after we lost that revenue stream from the state in one day."
Deering, a Decatur resident, is married and has three children. Her two youngest attend Mount Zion public schools and her oldest attends school in Indiana.
Deering was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Gov. JB Pritzker that successfully sought to end the mandate for children to wear masks in Illinois schools.
"I was unhappy that my local school district was changing what was originally a mask- optional policy for the school year to a mask-mandatory policy based on Gov. Pritzker's renewal of his executive orders," she said. "I was attending my school board meetings. I was sharing the data and the science as far as it related to school-age children and the numbers that were here in our county. And I didn't feel like my parental rights were being recognized as far as making that choice for my children. So, I joined a lawsuit, (lawyer) Tom Devore opened up to families throughout the state."
Abortion is likely to be another central issue in the upcoming elections, and Deering identifies as pro-life.
"I value the rights of the unborn. I want to support women and families in crisis who might be facing an unplanned pregnancy. ... You know, it's getting a lot of buzz with the Supreme Court leak. The leak gives me hope that the issue is going to return to the states where it belongs, in my opinion. ... I was adopted myself. I was just a few days old. My birth mother chose life. I have lived my life to the fullest, and I always have in the back of my mind, I have a responsibility to make something of my life and value that choice."
Deering said she voted for Donald Trump twice and supports gunowner rights. When asked if there are any gun-control measures she would support, she said she would have to evaluate the legislation on a case-by-case basis.
When asked her current occupation, she says she identifies as a "community activist."
For example, she serves on the board of the Northeast Community Fund in Decatur, a ministry that provides food and clothing and works to empower low-income families. The organization also helps with utilities, housing, medicine and provides for the needs of homeless people.
She has helped raise more than $1 million for the organization, according to Jerry Pelz, the retired longtime director of the fund.
"When you had been doing this as long as I have, you can tell the difference between people who really have a heart for what we're doing and people who are there because it looks good on their resume. And she had a heart for what she was doing," he said.
Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].