Illinois state Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, talked labor issues Tuesday, June 14, 2011, at the Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 25, union hall in Rock Island. He was running for the Democratic nomination in Illinois' 17th Congressional District, but announced Dec. 2 that he was dropping out. (Ed Tibbetts/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Ed Tibbetts

Illinois state Sen. Dave Koehler began courting organized labor Monday in his first visit to the Quad-Cities as a full-fledged congressional candidate.

Praising the prevailing wage and other union initiatives, the Peoria Democrat told more than two dozen people that labor unions have been good to him — and he will remember.

“Labor is my foundation and my base, and I will be loyal to that always,” he said.

The campaign for the Democratic nomination in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District is just getting under way.

The primary is still nine months away, but several Democrats have said they’re interested in running.

Former state Rep. Mike Boland, East Moline Alderwoman Cheri Bustos, Porter McNeil, a spokesman for former state comptroller Dan Hynes, and former Rock Island Mayor Mark Schwiebert all have said they’re considering bids.

Koehler is the first to have announced his candidacy.

Koehler’s visit to the Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 25, union hall in Rock Island was one of a series of stops he planned to make in the area Tuesday, escorted by former U.S. Rep. Phil Hare.

Hare, who said last month he won’t run, has not endorsed Koehler but calls him a good friend.

Koehler is an ordained minister who worked for 20 years as director of the Peoria Area Labor Management Council. He took a handful of questions from the audience.

He barely mentioned incumbent U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill. Instead, he praised the year-old health-care law, saying the alternative is a situation that pushes the cost of the uninsured onto those who do have insurance. And he told the group that while “some adjustments” need to be made to keep Social Security and Medicare fiscally sound, there needs to be “shared sacrifice.”

He said too much of the country’s wealth is flowing to the upper income.

“We’ve got to be concerned about the middle class,” he said.

Koehler criticized House GOP plans to turn Medicare into a voucher-like system for people who are newly eligible in 2022. But he didn’t say specifically what adjustments he would make to Social Security and Medicare, which he called “one of the foundations of being an American.”

Afterward, he told a reporter that “everything has to be on the table.”

Medicare in particular faces fiscal challenges because its costs, as well as the number of beneficiaries, are rising faster than the program’s income.

Some of the area’s top labor leaders who were in the audience said it’s too early to endorse a candidate. But Jerry Messer, president of the Quad-City Federation of Labor, helped to organize the meeting.

“His voting record, if nothing else, puts him at the table,” Messer said.