Dan Rutherford supporters for now are standing by their man after a former employee charged him in a federal lawsuit with both political and sexual improprieties.
The Chenoa Republican has a strong political base in East Central Illinois — he won a straw poll among the four gubernatorial candidates at last summer's Champaign County Republican picnic — and has represented many area counties, either in the Illinois House or Senate, before becoming state treasurer in 2011.
Should Rutherford quit the race? Ask Tom Kacich here
But the charges, contained in a lawsuit filed Monday by former aide Edmund P. Michalowski, are likely to test the loyalty of even the staunchest Rutherford supporter. Included are allegations that Michalowski was forced to do political work for Rutherford and presidential candidate Mitt Romney during his working hours at the treasurer's office, and that Rutherford "grabbed at (Michalowski's) genital area" one night while at the state treasurer's home.
Rutherford has aggressively answered the allegations and denied them. And his supporters say they believe him.
"I don't know the other man but as I know Dan, I will believe what he is producing," said Champaign City Council member Karen Foster, who heads Rutherford's Champaign County campaign. "And I have a feeling that those who know him in Champaign County — I can't speak for the rest of the state but I know that he has a lot of strong supporters here — I hope that they would feel the same way that I do, too."
Gwen Ennen, vice president of the Ford County Republican Women and a longtime Rutherford backer, called the candidate "an honest, hardworking individual."
"I've known Dan for quite a long time now, volunteered in his office and worked with his mother and sister. I've been very close to him and his campaign. I know these allegations are totally untrue," Ennen said. "I think this has actually helped Dan's cause. If he can get this internal investigation completed before the primary, that will help, too."
John McGlasson, who heads the Republican Party in Livingston County, Rutherford's home county, said: "I stand by Dan 100 percent and I think you can say the same thing about all his friends in Livingston County. These little rumors have been under the surface for years and years and years and only now has anything to this extent been charged. I don't think anything will come to fruition."
McGlasson rued that "it's so odd that 2-year-old charges pop up six weeks before the campaign."
The alleged sexual harassment occurred in April 2011. The political allegations supposedly happened throughout the years 2011-13.
State Rep. Josh Harms, a Watseka Republican who has endorsed Rutherford in the gubernatorial race, said "I'm still supporting him."
"Everyone kind of assumed something like this would come along sooner or later. I'm not close enough to it to know what's going on but I believe that people are innocent until proven guilty. Dan's a friend of mine. I've never seen him do anything inappropriate. I do believe Dan is aboveboard on this. If someone shows me something definitive otherwise then I'll have to reassess my situation. But I still firmly support Dan in this."
State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, who serves much of the area that Rutherford did earlier in the state Senate, hasn't endorsed any of the four Republicans running for governor. But he said he thought Rutherford had done a good job of responding to many of Michalowski's allegations.
"Certainly the feedback I'm hearing initially is that his supporters are standing by him," Barickman said. "In one regard, the election is right around the corner. In the other regard, there's a million years between now and March 18, and this thing is going to play out. But I think last night Rutherford did as good as someone could do to refute these allegations."
Retiring Champaign County Republican Party chief Habeeb Habeeb bemoaned the ongoing "negativity" of the gubernatorial race, as did Tom Bennett, chairman of the Ford County GOP.
"Before the primary campaigns even started, people were attacking (U.S. Rep.) Aaron Schock because they saw him as a formidable opponent" for governor, Habeeb said. "The negativity there was dismaying to me. There's negativity against (Bruce) Rauner. There's negativity against Rutherford. Surely something will be said about Brady and Dillard too. It's dirty politics. I think we need to get beyond dirty politics."
"The apathy in politics that you hear about," said Bennett, "things like this are part of the reason."
Family-Pac Federal, a conservative organization based in Chicago, has endorsed Urbana attorney Erika Harold in the 13th Congressional District GOP primary.
"Erika Harold is just the type of leader who can represent Illinois families well in Congress and stand up for conservative principles, which are being attacked by some in the Republican Party today," said Paul Caprio, director of the organization. "Erika will not simply be a 'good vote.' She has unique leadership abilities and will quickly become a national leader in the fight to protect traditional family values, religious freedom and other issues important to Illinois families. Her opponent had failed to demonstrate this type of leadership."
Caprio said Harold's opponent, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, had "refused to complete a Family-Pac questionnaire that he was sent. Harold returned an excellent questionnaire."
Davis spokesman Andrew Flach acknowledged that the campaign did not return the questionnaire because Family-Pac already had given Harold's campaign $8,000 last fall.
But Caprio also said Davis refused to complete a questionnaire sent to him last year from the Coalition to Protect Children and Marriage, asking him to oppose SB10 (the same sex marriage bill in Springfield).
"He did not return the questionnaire. At that time, we were told by his staff that he does not fill out questionnaires or make pledges. We find it interesting that he had time to complete several other questionnaires," Caprio said.
Shimkus in Danville
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, will be available for "office hours" with constituents in the Danville area from 2:30 to 4 p.m. next Thursday. Shimkus will be at his office on the second floor of the U.S. Courthouse, 201 N. Vermilion St., Suite 218, Danville.
Those interested in scheduling an appointment with Shimkus should call 217-446-0664. Appointments are not necessary but are helpful in keeping waiting times to a minimum.
Danville is the largest community in Shimkus' 33-county district across eastern and southern Illinois.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. Hi column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.