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STATE GOVERNMENT

Watch now: A year after controversy, Mary and Chris Miller look to hang on

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On January 6th, 2021, Donald Trump's supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to overturn his election defeat, the worst assault on the seat of the federal government since the War of 1812. Here's a look at the key events of the day.

SPRINGFIELD — One year ago, the wife-husband duo of U.S. Rep. Mary Miller and state Rep. Chris Miller, both Republicans from Coles County, were at the center of a political storm. 

Mary Miller had just been sworn in as a member of Congress, filling the southeastern Illinois-based seat long held by former U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville. And Chris Miller was just over one week away from being sworn in to his second term in the Illinois House.

Both were in Washington for the festivities surrounding her swearing-in and it didn’t take long for them to each be the subject of controversy. 

First, Mary Miller spoke at a rally outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 5 in which, reading from prepared remarks, she referenced Adolf Hitler when making a point that conservatives will lose “unless we win the hearts and minds of our children.”

The comment drew widespread condemnation, some calls for her to resign and — eventually — an apology.

The next day, of course, was the deadly Capitol insurrection, in which the most extreme supporters of former President Donald Trump ransacked the building.

Chris Miller acknowledged that he attended an earlier rally in which Trump spoke, but said he did not take part in the violence that took place later. 

However, a few weeks later, a picture surfaced showing a pickup truck belonging to Chris Miller with the decal of a far-right wing militia group on its back window. Members of that group, known as the "Three Percenters," participated in the violence on Jan. 6. The truck was parked on U.S. Capitol grounds near where insurrectionists breached the property.

U.S. Rep. Mary Miller announces former President Donald Trump's endorsement of her campaign. She will run for reelection in the new 15th Congressional District against fellow Republican incumbent Rep. Rodney Davis. 

Chris Miller said he was unaware of what the decal meant and said he was not a member of the group, but it led to the Illinois House passing a resolution condemning him for the display while calling for an investigation into his conduct. 

The Illinois Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope later found that Chris Miller’s comments that day as “distasteful and not excusable,” but said claims that he helped incite the riot were “unfounded.” 

One year after these events, the political future of the Millers is somewhat uncertain. 

Whether it was her Hitler comments or his presence at the rally that preceded the Capitol riot, Chris Miller's colleagues in the Illinois General Assembly did not forget.

The pair were taken to task in redistricting, with Chris Miller drawn into an Illinois House district with fellow incumbent state Rep. Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich. The Millers' home was literally just a few hundred yards from a another conservative district with no incumbent. Under Illinois law, state legislators must live in the district they represent. 

Mary Miller's U.S. House district was carved up. Her home was put into the very northern tip of the Southern Illinois-based 12th Congressional District, which includes the home of U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro.

Her 15th Congressional District was instead shifted to include much of rural central Illinois and the home of U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville.

Both Bost and Davis are running for reelection in their fellow districts. 

Illinois Democrats did their best to put the Millers in a tenuous political situation.

Illinois State Fair Republican Day

U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, visits with Randy Duncan, an Abraham Lincoln, during Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield on Aug. 19. 

In the case of Mary Miller, they have forced her to run against an entrenched incumbent if she wants to keep serving in Washington. With Chris Miller, he will have to either face a primary against another Republican incumbent or move to run in a new district. 

Despite these setbacks, both have signaled their willingness to fight to maintain their positions. 

Chris Miller told a Capitol News Illinois reporter late last year that he plans to run for reelection in the 101st House District, which is the open seat just yards from his property line. He told Lee Enterprises Wednesday afternoon that he will officially announce his intentions soon. 

And Mary Miller began the new year with a splash, announcing her run in the neighboring 15th Congressional District against Davis with the endorsement of Trump. 

Candidate Forum 10/09/18 (4)

State Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland, takes part in a forum at LifeSpan Center near Loxa in October 2018. Miller and his wife U.S. Rep. Mary Miller have gotten national headlines in the past week. 

It sets up potentially one of the most contentious incumbent-versus-incumbent primaries in the country.

Until Trump's endorsement, Davis, who has significant support among local elected officials, is a strong fundraiser and experience in close races, had been viewed as a strong favorite against Miller.

But as one Republican who knows both candidates put it, the former president’s endorsement “just opens up this huge ability to fundraise online nationwide ... as Donald Trump's candidate for Congress” and “puts her on the same footing with Rodney,” who up until this point had the momentum in the race.

"President Trump endorsed me because he knows we need to defeat weak, establishment Republicans who stand with Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger," Mary Miller said, referring to the two GOP members of the Jan. 6 commission. 

One year has past since Jan. 6, 2021. And though Democrats have tried to knock down Mary and Chris Miller, they are not out of it by any means.

Brenden Moore's 5 most memorable stories of 2021

If 2020 was a year of disruption, 2021 was a year of change.

Perhaps no arena saw more change than Illinois government and politics.

Michael Madigan, the longest-serving House speaker in American history, was toppled by his caucus amid a growing corruption probe. In his place rose House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, who is the first Black person to hold that title.

I wrote several stories about Welch this year, but none was more memorable than when I profiled in late January, when he told me about that fateful question Madigan asked him just a few weeks prior: “Chris, do you want to be speaker?”

This past summer, I also had the opportunity to profile U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, who has gained a national profile as one of the most vocal Republican critics of former President Donald Trump. 

There was also a lot of major policy change in Illinois this year. Not to mention the impacts of policies enacted in previous years, such as recreational marijuana legalization and the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy. 

Some of those topics are addressed in my five most memorable stories of 2021. I hope you can tell through this sampling of my work that I truly love my job. It's a privilege to tell this state's stories. As always, thank you for reading. 

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