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Remembering Ex-Rep. Bobby Schilling, R.-Ill.: The Tea Party's 'Pizza Man'

Remembering Ex-Rep. Bobby Schilling, R.-Ill.: The Tea Party's 'Pizza Man'
(Rockford Register Star, Scott Morgan, File/AP)

By Friday, 09 April 2021 05:04 PM Current | Bio | Archive

''Pizza Man wants to talk to you,'' Laure Mandeville, Washington, D.C., correspondent for the venerable French publication Le Figaro, whispered to me during the annual Washington, D.C., banquet of the Former Members of Congress Association in the summer of 2011.

Immediately, I knew who she meant: freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling, R.-Ill., and, until a few months ago, owner of the Saint Giuseppe’s Heavenly Pizza in Moline, Illinois.

Having ousted Democrat Rep. Phil Hare by ten percentage points in 2010, Schilling seemed the embodiment of the Tea Party candidates who were the lion’s share of the 87 Republicans that gave their party a majority in the House that year.

Schilling (who died Wednesday at age 57) was a former union steward for the United Paperworkers of America who never finished college. He went on to be a top-selling insurance agent for the Prudential before launching his pizza parlor.

He was also a recent Democrat-turned-Republican (''Ronald Reagan converted me''), whose personal story and campaign agenda intrigued the local and national press.

He vowed never to participate in the congressional pension program and to donate any pay raise to charity. Schilling also told voters he would never vote on a bill he had not read, nor serve more than four two-year terms in the House.

A devout Roman Catholic, he unapologetically opposed abortion under all circumstances except for saving the life of the mother.

Former House Speaker John Boehner wrote in his recent memoir that in 2011, ''[s]ince I was presiding over a large group of people who’d never sat in Congress, I felt I owed them a little tutorial on governing. I had to explain how to actually get things done. A lot of that went straight through the ears of most of them, especially the ones who didn’t have brains that got in the way.''

But that was not the way Boehner spoke of Schilling and his freshman colleagues when they made him speaker in 2011. Indeed, Pizza Man was interviewed by CBS-TV’s Diane Sawyer as the face of the Tea Party in Congress.

Foreign correspondents such as Mandeville, used to getting the brushoff from U.S. politicians, found an open door at the office of the Illinoisan. He put a pleasant face on the Tea Party and its agenda.

''And come on down to Moline and drop in on Saint Giuseppe,'' Schilling told them. ''My wife and kids will make a pizza for you that melts in your mouth!''

True to his word on the campaign trail, Schilling opposed a federal grant to extend the Amtrak line from Chicago to Iowa City (something mayors in his district badly wanted). He opposed extending the USA Patriot Act and offered legislation to deny congressmen their pensions until they had reached the age required to take Social Security.

In 2012, as Barack Obama was sweeping the Prairie State, Schilling was unseated by Democrat Cheri Bustos, 53 to 47 percent. In a rematch two years later, he against lost to Bustos, 55 to 45 percent.

The next time I heard from Bobby Schilling was in 2019. His ten children had given him fourteen grandchildren. He had relocated to Iowa (''Illinois taxes were too darn high!'') and opened up a new pizza parlor. Schilling was ''98 per cent certain'' he would run for the 2nd District (Quad Cities) House seat relinquished by retiring Democrat Rep. Dave Loebsack.

But in facing primary foe and State Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Schilling faced another foe — cancer. Amid the amicable primary bout between two conservatives, Schilling announced he had cancer. Miller-Meeks won the nomination and went on to win the closest U.S. House race (by 6 votes out of 395,000 cast) in the nation.

''Bobby’s in the fight of his life,'' Rep.-elect Miller-Meeks told me as the recount of her race was proceeding, ''And my husband and I are praying hard for him.''

Bobby Schilling served only one term in Congress. But along with making the message of the Tea Party succinct and marketable, he also lived a life that was nothing less than admirable: that of a boy from Rock Island, Illinois, with humble beginnings and without a college degree, who loved his country and his faith, and went on to provide a better life for his children and grandchildren.

Along with being Pizza Man and Tea Partier, Schilling had another characterization that fit him comfortably: American.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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John-Gizzi
''Pizza Man wants to talk to you,'' Laure Mandeville, Washington, D.C., correspondent for the venerable French publication Le Figaro, whispered to me during the annual Washington, D.C., banquet of the Former Members of Congress Association in the summer of...
bobby schilling, tea party, pizza man
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2021-04-09
Friday, 09 April 2021 05:04 PM
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