Tom Kacich: 'Outsider' pans union donors

Tom Kacich: 'Outsider' pans union donors

There's a reason the leaders of political parties despise contested primary elections, and last Saturday's "meet and greet" by the Ford County Republicans was the perfect example.

It's not that it wasn't a well-run, civic-minded event. It was. But when there are four candidates for one position, it's almost inevitable the contest will devolve from musical chairs into a melee, and in the long run, everybody gets hurt.

The "outsider" in this race, Chicago venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, wasted little time by lobbing a verbal neutron bomb at the "insiders" in the race: Dan Rutherford, Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady. They've all been around Springfield since 1993 (although Dillard earlier was Gov. Jim Edgar's chief of staff), and that means they have a record of votes, political affiliations, speeches and campaign contributions.

It was the latter that Rauner the outsider used to undermine the insiders, insinuating that in 20 years in politics the others are tainted by a fraction of the campaign contributions they have taken.

For the record, campaign disclosure reports show that Rutherford has taken about $28,540 from unions representing state employees, health care workers, firefighters, police and transportation workers; and Brady received about $12,375 from unions representing teachers, firefighters and police.

Dillard's support from unions is far more substantial: $365,000 from various unions representing government workers. Among the biggest, $329,050 from the Illinois Education Association and $19,700 from the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

"I'm the only one talking about the core problem because they're all part of it," Rauner said after the forum in Gibson City. "They're all in the pension, they're all taking government union money and the system is corrupt and broken."

Pension and government union. Using those two loaded terms as his foil, that's apparently how Rauner intends to win the Republican primary. As in, if it weren't for pensions and unions, all would be grand in the state of Illinois.

The pensions and the unions are not the reason that state government is such a financial mess. The main culprits are the recession and the legislators, governors, university presidents and others who for decades looked away as the pension systems, now siphoning off billions of dollars that should go to education and other services, weren't funded at the appropriate levels.

But it makes for a simple, emotional argument for a candidate who asserts he's the Republican who'll clean up Illinois.

Rauner the outsider has a record, too, that the Republican "insiders" likely will be attacking before the potentially bloody primary. More on that Wednesday.

Frerichs money

Mike Frerichs, the Democratic state senator from Champaign who is an unannounced candidate for state treasurer, continues to report strong campaign contributions. Since June 30 — when Frerichs had $647,188 in his campaign fund — he has added at least $41,000 more.

Frerichs has reported labor union-related itemized contributions (more than $1,000) from: Illinois AFSCME, $10,000; the South Central Illinois Laborers Political League, $10,000; the Cook County College Teachers Union, $5,000; and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 841 in Terre Haute, Ind., $5,000. Non-union contributions included $2,500 from the Illinois Trial Lawyers and MidAmerican Energy, an Iowa-based electric and natural gas utility.

Pool expert

Vicki Mayes, the Urbana Park District executive director who announced last week that she would be retiring next April, also made a confession.

In her long career in parks and recreation, Mayes said, she has opened seven swimming pools (including the new family aquatics center in Urbana), rehabilitated six more and overseen 30 others. But she is not a swimmer.

"In fact, I can't swim. But I'm a good floater," said Mayes, who called herself "a dedicated non-athlete."

She said she may take up golf in retirement.

Richards' background

Michael Richards, the Champaign Democrat who hopes to succeed Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, in the Illinois House, was once a columnist at the Daily Illini, the student newspaper at the University of Illinois.

Asked last week if any of his columns from 2001 might end up in "opposition-research" files, Richards said, "They were liberal columns. But that was 10-plus years ago. If people want to go back and look at them, fine, but depending on the issue, I may agree with myself then, I may not."

I told Richards that I hoped no one would be able to unearth the stone tablets on which I wrote columns in college.

Democrat picnic

Hours after the Champaign County Republicans have their fall festival today, the county Democrats will have a picnic from 3 to 6 p.m. at the garden pavilion at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana. A donation of $10 is suggested, said party Chairman Al Klein. "We provide the beverages, and the Lloyd Carter family will prepare the BBQ," Klein wrote. "Additional food you bring to share is welcome."

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. Kacich's column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at

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