Tom Kacich: 13th District voters have an alternative
You know, we don't have to take it this time.
We don't have to grudgingly give our vote to either Republican Rodney Davis or Democrat David Gill and reward them for the negative campaigns that already have started in the 13th Congressional District that includes Champaign, Urbana, Decatur and Springfield.
It's not even mid-September and already the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Republican National Campaign Committee are dirtying up the local airwaves with irritating TV spots full of half-truths and distortions about their election foes.
The DCCC started it with commercials tying Davis to disgraced ex-Gov. George Ryan, wildly asserting that Davis was "right in the middle of it" as Ryan committed all of his federal offenses. The RNCC responded that Gill has a plan that "would end Medicare." Gill in fact wants to expand Medicare so it would cover everyone.
With early voting more than a month away, there's plenty of time for this race to get more rotten, with more candidate quotes taken out of context and more use of grainy black-and-white images with the words "Scandal" and "Political Favors" stamped across the screen.
It likely will get worse unless Davis and Gill themselves call off the attack dogs.
So far they haven't and they probably won't.
Gill and Davis are nice guys, the kind of people you'd like to have as your neighbor, but they've turned over their campaigns, at least the mud-slinging parts, to the Washington political consultants who specialize in sleaze.
But by a fortuitous quirk in Illinois election law, there is an independent candidate — a third choice — in this year's 13th District race.
In a normal year, John Hartman probably wouldn't have been able to get on the ballot. But because this is a redistricting year, when congressional candidates are running for the first time in newly configured districts, Hartman had to get only 5,000 signatures from voters to get on the ballot. Normally he would have needed about three times that number.
Hartman, of Edwardsville, and his friends did it. They pounded the pavement and went door-to-door on weekends and collected the required signatures and more. Republican political operatives tried to knock Hartman off the ballot but couldn't do it.
So now he gets to play little David again, going up against the major party candidates and their congressional campaign committees and PACs and nasty television commercials. Hartman, who has pledged to take no more than $20 from any individual and only from people eligible to vote in the 13th District, said he finally went over the $5,000 contributions threshold last week. Davis, meanwhile, reported having $429,184 on June 30 while Gill had $200,606. You can be certain that they have added hundreds of thousands since then, more money for more negative television advertising.
Hartman, 56, is the chief financial officer for a small biotech firm in St. Louis, DNA Polymerase Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration and a master's in teaching. He has been a manager at BF Goodrich, a stock trader, a staffer on Capitol Hill and a teacher.
He says he is a true independent, and his voting record in Madison County pretty much confirms it. Since 2004, he's voted in two primary elections, taking a non-partisan ballot in 2006 and a Democratic ballot in 2010. State and federal records show he hasn't contributed to any political candidates or causes in recent years.
"I'm not a Democrat and I'm not a Republican. I haven't been one and I don't want to pretend that I'm either one," Hartman said.
Asked what he would do if he somehow was elected to Congress, he said, "I would love to keep my independence to every extent that I possibly can. And I would love to see more independents in the U.S. House. What a change that might bring, if we have 10, 20, 30, 40 independents in the House. I think that could really break the logjam."
On his website, Hartman has posted expansive position pieces on a number of issues and even included his responses to a Chicago Tribune questionnaire. It's far more than Davis' terse issues statements ("Rodney believes we must lower taxes for everyone, including small business owners, reduce red tape and regulations, and repeal and replace Obamacare") or even Gill's more detailed missives.
Hartman doesn't want to be pigeon-holed but I'm going to do it anyway. ("We need to mature beyond placing everyone on a left-right continuum," he said. "I have been an independent for 30 years and I truly don't think of myself as being a liberal or a conservative. In fact, I don't even like that notion. That means that I have a preconceived notion, I don't think of myself that way," he said).
Hartman is certainly more liberal than Davis. Some conservative voters might have a tough time supporting him, but imagine what it would be like to have a representative who isn't beholden to anyone — Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner, corporations or unions — just his constituents.
He supports the Affordable Care Act, public financing of elections, abortion rights and an increase in taxes on gasoline and diesel fuels. He believes in climate change and wants a cap-and-trade system to reduce environmental emissions. But he also supports gun rights, budget cuts and an end to tax breaks.
"The polarization of the two major parties and the hesitancy of party members to break with their perceived party orthodoxy have kept us from making progress. As an independent, I do not have this problem, and there are multiple budget plans that I could support, and these happen to be the plans that offer the best chances of passage," he told the Tribune. "Though I can provide constructive criticism of the plans, taken in total, I would support the Simpson-Bowles plan, the Domenici-Rivlin plan, and the Senate's Gang of Six outline plan. The deficiencies in these plans are not nearly as bad as the danger of ever larger deficits."
When he isn't working at his real job, Hartman said, he goes door-to-door, appears at parades and farmers' markets and shakes hands outside of post offices. He has no money for TV ads, negative or otherwise.
"The people I have met think there is no one paying attention to what they think, that the candidates are just thinking of the big money. We've lost something in our democracy because of that," Hartman said. "The people are completely disgusted with the way that things are operating now. So what is the right way to do this? It would be that in a democracy every person felt that they had an even-steven chance of putting the person in power who is representing them."
That's why he thinks public financing of campaigns is needed.
"This is critically important. If we can't get our money and campaign figured out, then how are we going to get at health insurance and climate change?" Hartman said.
There's still time for Davis and Gill to repudiate the direction their campaigns have taken. If they don't, though, John Hartman, a David among the Goliaths, is available.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.