CBS News headline: "Ex-Rep. Aaron Schock isn't ruling out return to politics after corruption charges dropped"
Politico headline: "Aaron Schock won't rule out another run after settling corruption case"
Both of those blurbs, and the others like them that appeared in the hours after Peoria’s former congressman reached a deal with federal prosecutors to drop the charges against him, aren’t wrong.
But his tone in an interview Thursday night suggests the “maybe” he’s dangling is far from a sure thing and far from a soon thing.
That’s probably wise; a political comeback is premature.
His earning potential now without an indictment over him is better, which could be key after years of legal bills. Don’t underestimate the importance of that to someone who made himself comfortably well off early in his adulthood.
But Schock also told the Journal Star his first priority after the last four years of federal scrutiny is “to take some time now that I don’t have this weight on my chest and I don’t have this burden every day when I wake up, and explore my options.”
He says he’s been “enjoying some semblance of a personal life since leaving public office.” That’s a contrast to much of the time between his late teens, when he got on the Peoria Public Schools board in an improbable write-in campaign, through age 33 when he resigned from the House. Because of the career path he chose, “I didn’t have a lot of weekends and evenings off,” Schock says.
Still, he expressed regret in a separate interview on the "Greg and Dan Show" on WMBD radio about resigning when he did, while the investigation was still ongoing. But while he might have "weathered the storm," as Schock suggested, staying in office would've dramatically impacted his effectiveness as a legislator for the area.
That storm has abated, but the rain hasn't stopped.
Schock still also has to live down a reputation that he got, fairly or unfairly, from his social media as a globe-trotting congressman in a fairly buttoned-down district. The papal handshake and the not-for-profit work improving sanitation in rural India were overshadowed in many minds by photos of him tangoing in Buenos Aires, taking an awards show selfie with Ariana Grande and leaping with joy atop a glacier at the ends of the earth.
Then there’s the feeling among many that he got treated lightly. Essentially, his plea deal still has him admitting error — if not criminal culpability — for misstating mileage records and neglecting to report all his income to the IRS.
The notion that he skated because of power, connections and having the best legal team that millions of dollars can buy has been the subject of lots of commentary and chatter, including from Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle. Many don’t feel better that prosecutors in the Northern District of Illinois who decided not to prosecute this case have put two governors, some Chicago aldermen and plenty of other local officials behind bars.
Of course, time can soften all those perceptions. And that’s something Schock has plenty of if he wants a comeback.
He’s among the first to point out that he’s only 37 — not even middle-aged. He could conceivably spend the next 15 or 20 years in the private sector and then return to politics at the age that many people enter it at the national level.
Today’s U.S. House is no picnic to go back to, let alone today’s Washington, D.C. The independence and individuality of a guy like Schock isn’t rewarded in the so-called “people’s chamber.”
If he were to choose to make a run for something, there’s a bit larger range for individuality in the Senate, even though there aren’t many thirty-somethings there now. And state and local politics were arguably where he had the most impact, passing a host of bills in the Legislature while in the minority party, often working across the aisle.
Even those races aren't a sure thing, of course. Schock says that “there are ways to serve your community beyond running for office.”
If he chooses a public role in the near term, look for that to include advocating for some reforms he says are needed in how prosecutors handle themselves. His gripes there about what he sees as prosecutorial overreach and misconduct relate directly to his case, but if he expands the focus beyond his experience into the effect on others, it can help him build consensus for change.
For someone who always cast himself as a policy-oriented guy, achieving change ought to be a reward unto itself. But doing so on a few subjects also helps to push the last four years farther into the past.
Chris Kaergard is associate editor at the Journal Star, and covers politics and government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard.