Tom Kacich: Chairman hopes calm prevails after furor over email
Habeeb Habeeb, the chairman of the Champaign County Republican Party, thinks that last week's internationally reported furor over the sexist and racist remarks of a former area GOP county chairman will calm the waters for the upcoming primary battle between U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville and challenger Erika Harold, an Urbana attorney.
Well, he hopes so.
"I don't know what to expect. I'm still a novice at this," said Habeeb, who became the head of the local party in April 2012.
"I haven't been in politics for 30 years. Just by experiences in life, though, I would have worried before. But after this week I think people are going to be more civil. I hope so."
Last week it was disclosed that Jim Allen, a Davis supporter and the former head of the Montgomery County GOP, had written a vituperative rant to the publisher of an Illinois Republican news website, predicting that Davis would defeat Harold in the primary and send her back to Chicago where she would work "for some law firm that needs to meet their quota for minority hires."
That was among the less coarse things in Allen's tirade. About a day after the email was disclosed, Allen told distraught party officials that he would quit.
"I think that when bad things happen, people tend to calm down and have a different perspective," Habeeb said. "So maybe we can have a normal primary rather than a caustic primary. I hope the events of this week help us to have a positive primary."
But if there are going to be problems in the Harold/Davis primary, they're most likely going to occur in Champaign County. It's Harold's home county, the home county of former U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson who never endorsed Davis in last year's election, and the place where Davis ran poorest in his general election contest last November, getting only 37 percent of the vote.
Habeeb, who has ties to both Davis and Harold, is walking a sort of political tightrope. Last year, when the 14 Republican county chairmen in the 13th Congressional District chose Davis to replace Johnson on the ballot, Habeeb voted for Harold.
"During the selection I voted for Erika. But then we had our nominee. You don't play sour. You have to play as an adult and fall behind and you support the nominee, and we supported him," Habeeb said.
He backed Davis in the general election, donating $2,500 in personal funds to Davis' campaign fund. And he's mentioned on Davis' campaign website as a member of "Team 2014," a list of supporters.
"I'm in a unique position to stay neutral for the good of the family. As for the website, that part started last year after the nomination. That's what that is about," he said.
"We helped Rodney with fundraising. Now we have a primary. As chairman for the county I need to let the primary happen without taking sides so that the people can speak. My only concern was to have a good primary and a positive primary.
"Erika has said that she wants to run a positive primary. We know that people can get down into dirty politicking if they have to, either side, Republicans, Democrats, etc. But now with this I'm optimistic that we'll have a positive primary. That's all I want, a positive primary. Whoever wins, we'll rally behind them."
He said he'll do what he can to help both candidates.
"Usually they expect the chairman and other officials to attend various events, unless you really hate the other side. You go and show your face at various functions," Habeeb said. "I'll be glad to show my face at every function to keep people active. But now I have to watch my donations, that kind of stuff.
"In the end I want to live my life in an honorable way and I want to live my role in politics in an honorable way. I don't want to segment the two. I want to be able to shake both of their hands, look them in the eye and have them know that I did the honorable thing for them, for the party and for the county."
Callis in town
Democratic congressional candidate Ann Callis of Edwardsville will be the featured speaker at 4 p.m. today at the Champaign County Young Democrats summer barbecue.
The event — free and open to the public — will be at the home of Julie and Josh Hartke, 303 S. Fair St., C. Food items will include Hawaiian Pork Sliders prepared by Josh Hartke, a member of the Champaign County Board; and barbecued ribs by Pat Devaney of the Associated Firefighters of Illinois.
All those attending are asked to bring a dish to share or a grillable item.
The Young Democrats were formed to get more people, 45 years old and under, involved in the Democratic Party and in campaigns in Champaign County. But those over 45 are welcome as well, said organizers.
Second class of Edgar Fellows
A number of area government, business and community leaders are among the 2013 Edgar Fellows, a program named for former Gov. Jim Edgar and sponsored by the University of Illinois and its Institute of Government and Public Affairs to foster cooperation across regional, political and ethnic lines to address challenges the state faces.
"I am confident these emerging leaders representing the great diversity of our state will become friends. They will realize that they have much in common and appreciate differences in perspective. They will form bonds and sharpen leadership skills that should help them solve problems as they assume even more responsibility," Edgar said.
The Edgar Fellows will gather from Aug. 4-7 in Urbana-Champaign under the stewardship of Edgar and the institute.
Among this year's group of Edgar Fellows are: Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign; Edward Feser of Champaign, dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Illinois; Champaign City Council member Deborah Frank Feinen; Rep. Josh Harms, R-Watseka; Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten; and Mike Marron of Fithian, vice chairman of the Vermilion County Board.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.