Last week's Statehouse votes on a controversial pension reform measure were, more than anything, a reflection of downstate Illinois' abundance of government employees versus the Chicago area's relative lack of them.
Of the 30 Senate votes for the pension systems' overhaul, only six came from senators who live outside the eight-county Chicago area. And of those six, only two are from south of Interstate 80, the traditional dividing line between northern Illinois and the rest of the state.
Those two are Republican Sens. Bill Brady of Bloomington and Darin LaHood of Peoria.
Brady, a gubernatorial candidate and a member of the conference committee that recommended the $160 billion pension fix, said, "The fact of the matter is, we're dealt the hand we have today and we have to act upon it."
LaHood expressed similar sentiments: "With the worst public pension system in the country and the fact that there's not going to be a pension system left for retirees if we don't do something in terms of reform, we had to do something."
But all 13 other downstaters in the Senate — six Democrats and seven Republicans — voted against the pension bill. That includes area Sens. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign; Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington; Dale Righter, R-Mattoon; and Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.
In the House, the disparity was even more stark. Only five of the 62 "yes" votes came from representatives outside of the Chicago area, only three of whom are from south of I-80: Republicans Jil Tracy of Quincy and David Leitch of Peoria, and Democrat John Bradley of Marion.
Thirty other downstaters — seven Democrats and 23 Republicans — voted against the pension bill. That includes Urbana Democrat Naomi Jakobsson and Republicans Dan Brady of Normal, Adam Brown of Champaign, Brad Halbrook of Charleston, Josh Harms of Watseka, Chad Hays of Catlin and Bill Mitchell of Decatur.
A study of government workers within census tracts, performed earlier this year by Chicagoan Rob Paral, found that downstaters for the most part had higher percentages of government employees than Chicago and especially suburban lawmakers. Paral's report is at http://bit.ly/kacich1208
Frerichs has more government employees in his district — 28,563 — than any of his colleagues. Likewise, Jakobsson has more government employees in her district — 19,528 — than any other member of the House. Both voted against the pension bill.
They weren't alone. Of representatives with the 25 highest percentages of government workers — remember that this includes Chicago teachers, Cook County workers and others not affected by last week's pension vote — 17 voted against the reform measure.
And only three of the top 15 senators with high percentages of government employees voted for the pension bill.
One more interesting sidelight to the five south-of-I-80 downstaters who voted for the pension bill: only Rep. Leitch currently has opposition in his re-election bid. The veteran lawmaker — who had no opposition two years ago and is about to begin his 28th year in the House — has a Republican primary opponent, Chillicothe attorney Marz Zalcman.
Of the others, Sen. Brady is running for governor, but also has two years remaining on his Senate term. LaHood also is in the middle of a four-year Senate term.
Tracy is not running for re-election to the House but is running for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Sen. Kirk Dillard, and Bradley has neither Democratic nor Republican opposition in his deep southern Illinois district.
The Erika Harold congressional campaign is dismissing the results of a poll reported last week in the Washington, D.C.,-based Roll Call newspaper. It said that Harold, an Urbana attorney challenging U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis in the March GOP primary, trailed him by 63 percent to 15 percent. The poll of 400 likely Republican voters in the 13th Congressional District was taken Nov. 19-21 and had a margin of error of 4.9 percent.
The poll was taken by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va., which works for the Davis campaign. In fact, Davis' latest disclosure report says the campaign owes the firm $9,000.
"The pollsters are on his payroll; it's an internal push-poll with basically predetermined results," said Phil Bloomer, a spokesman for Harold. "It's just an attempt to sway public opinion."
He said the poll questions, which he admitted he did not hear but had heard of, had "misleading questions and was not scientific polling."
Bloomer said name recognition numbers quoted in the poll — that 45 percent of those questioned had never heard of Harold — were "crazy. This woman has gotten national and local attention he couldn't hope to get, either as an incumbent or as a candidate."
But Davis spokesman Andrew Flach said the poll was legitimate, wasn't a push-poll and he revealed a memo from Public Opinion Strategies that explained more of findings. He did not, however, reveal the wording of the poll questions.
"Across all core primary voter blocs Davis' support soars into the low 70s; he earns 72% among base GOPers who are very conservative; 71% among base GOPers who are senior citizens; 73% among base GOPers who say they have a favorable image of the Tea Party movement; and 72% among base GOPers who are religious conservatives," said a memo from Glen Bolger, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies. "Among base Republicans overall he crushes Harold 69% to 11%."
Meanwhile, Bloomer also said the Davis campaign has not responded to Harold's suggestion, contained in a letter written to the congressman more than a month ago, that the two hold 14 debates before the March 18 primary.
"If she's really that marginal, what would be the harm in debating her?" Bloomer said. "Why continue to duck her?"
Flach said the Davis campaign will "consider debate requests as we receive them and as the congressional schedule will allow" for the primary.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sunday and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.