Dems meet potential Davis challengers

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign County Democrats got to meet two potential candidates for Congress in the 13th District on Sunday night, but they heard from only one of them.

George Gollin, a University of Illinois physics professor, spoke for more than 15 minutes at the Democrats' annual spring dinner, touching on topics ranging from gun laws to poverty.

But Ann Callis, chief judge in Madison County and another potential challenger to freshman U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, stayed largely silent, speaking to small groups at individual tables but forgoing an opportunity to address the 150 or so in attendance.

Once Callis announces for Congress, she'll have to step down from her $181,479-a-year judgeship.

"I was invited and I'm happy to be here," was all Callis would say for the record Sunday.

It was up to Gollin to speak about a possible Democratic Party primary election next spring.

"I am considering running for office, as is Judge Callis. If we both decide to run, it will be a spirited primary," he said. "And then by mid-March, voters will have chosen one of us to stand against Representative Davis. The judge and I come from opposite ends of the district. If we run, I will expect that next year we will have a friendly discussion about who would like to be the rock and who would like to be the hard place. And then we will come at Mr. Davis from the east and from the west and return him to private life."

Bloomington physician David Gill, who lost to Davis last November and is considering a fifth congressional bid in 2014, did not attend the dinner.

Also Sunday, the Democrats heard from two Democratic state senators considering running for statewide office.

Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, acknowledged that "I may be looking at the treasurer's office," but went no further addressing his aspirations in the 2014 election.

Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, who succeeded Barack Obama in a Chicago South Side Senate district in 2004, is considering running for attorney general if Lisa Madigan decides to run for governor next year. He made no mention of an interest in statewide office during his speech, instead reciting his personal and legislative biography.

Like Frerichs, however, Raoul made a special point of bemoaning political attacks on public employees during the current legislative debate about changes to Illinois' public pension system.

"As we approach pension reform, we have to realize that the employee has been constantly making their payment to the pension funds, constantly over decades. We can't approach this problem by vilifying, as certain Republicans do, the employee," Raoul said, drawing loud applause from the crowd, which included many University of Illinois employees. "It is one of the more difficult decisions that need to be made, but I think it needs to be made with the voice of the employee at the table. We have to make smart decisions, but the decision-making has to be an inclusive process that recognizes the fact that the public employee has dutifully been making their payments toward their retirement."

But the longest speech of the night's was Gollin's, who addressed gun laws, education spending, jobs and infrastructure spending, university funding, energy funding, climate change, and other topics.

He joked, "I'm a professor, I like to talk," but concluded his address by saying that there are a large number of underprivileged families in Champaign-Urbana and that "poverty is as great a peril to the United States as an irrational denial of climate change."

"There is a tendency on the right," Gollin said, "to blame the poor for their desperate circumstances, to identify poverty as fit punishment for an imagined life of irresponsibility. This is a cruel and false moral calculus and it ignores the toddler who relies on his mother for food, shelter and clothing and protection. It is indecent to claim that her child will receive adequate care through visits to emergency rooms, or that coming from an impoverished environment, her son will thrive in school or that her daughter will become a physician, just because the American dream says she can."

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