Students, faculty and community members filled the Storer Auditorium on Wednesday Oct. 25 for an intimate discussion with former U.S. House of Representatives member Adam Kinzinger, who discussed the contents of his new book, “Renegade: Defending Democracy and Liberty in our Divided Country.”
The book is a journey through the personal and political life of Kinzinger, including his navigation through the Republican party during a transformative time in Congress and how he upheld his faith, service and political duty.
He was joined on stage by Tom Hudson, Wisconsin Literacy Resource Network’s (WLRN) Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent for South Florida.
Hudson asked questions ranging from the future of the Republican party, the unique political landscape of Florida and to his stances on current events.
The event was hosted by the Hanley Democracy Center, UM’s hub for research and opportunities promoting the understanding of democracy and governance at home and abroad. In attendance was the center’s founder, George P. Hanley.
Before discussing the release of his new book, the conversation began with the recent news of Mike Johnson (R-LA) being elected as House Speaker, following a tiring three-week long hiatus without a Speaker in the House.
“Nobody’s heard of him before,” Kinzinger said, garnering the first dose of laughter from the audience that evening.
“He, policy-wise, is no different than Jim Jordan, but I think he’s going to be a better pick because he can at least pretend to be interested in government.”
Kinzinger recalled his time as a House member representing Illinois’ 16th congressional district and his interactions with Johnson, along with shared moments between Florida Republicans Governor Ron DeSantis and Representative Matt Gaetz.
He described some members of the Republican party in Congress as “hope yes, vote no” people, who toy with the legislative process for personal gain. Kinzinger expressed concern that the new House Speaker Johnson falls under that category.
He defined the role of his faith in politics and what it means to be a “religiously-inspired conservative,” as Kinzinger noted in “Renegade.”
“I’m a person of faith, but I’ve never sat in a crowd and talked about that in a way that denigrates anybody else,” Kinzinger said. “I represented 700 some thousand people and I guarantee you there were people of different religions I represented. My job wasn’t to be a preacher.”
As for his conservatism, he describes himself as a “Lincoln Republican” in his new book, standing center left on social issues such as voting rights and right on the role of the federal government and infrastructure.
Dylan Long, a freshman studying political science with minors in law & politics and political economy, shares his reaction from the audience.
“I really enjoyed his interesting take on strengthening democracy, specifically coming from the Republican party. He’s able to come with a unique perspective,” Long said.
Tyra Marrs, a second year master’s student studying Public Health (MPH) and Public Administration (MPA, also appreciated the perspective Kinzinger brought.
“I would say it was really refreshing to hear how, even though he is Republican, how he had agreement with Democrats. It was nice to hear a different perspective,” Marrs said.
Kinzinger spoke directly to the audience when highlighting the importance of local news and stepping away from D.C. politics.
“Local news keeps you tied to the community. You can actually hear what’s going on around the community and it keeps local leaders accountable.” Kinzinger said. “I think it’s essential.”
Given his appearance in South Florida for this stop of the book tour, Hudson asked Kinzinger to diagnose the political climate of the sunshine state, to which Kinzinger said it’s a place with “rage, fear and anger.”
“Renegade” also takes an in-depth and personal look into the Jan. 6 insurrection on the United States Capitol and its aftermath from Kinzinger’s perspective. He served on the non-partisan select committee from Jul. 2021 to Jan. 2023, which ultimately came to the conclusion that Donald Trump incited the attack.
“I think Donald Trump’s going to jail,” Kinzinger said. “We don’t want to be a country that prosecutes last administrations because those countries fail, [but] this is a very uniquely acceptable position.”
In light of recent conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, Kinzinger shared his stances on the conflicts, referring to his experience as a soldier with the Air Force and his time fighting in Iraq.
The evening came to a close following audience questions, asked by director of Hanley Democracy Center and professor of Political Science Gregory Koger.
These questions included the impact of public service, the Country First movement, the upcoming Republican debate and his future plans, hinting at a possible return to public office if he sees major change in the Republican party.