Candidate forums will be held Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night.
Why are these forums being held almost a month before primary Election Day?
Although the primary is March 18, absentee voting already has begun and early voting starts March 3. In the 2012 general election more than 25 percent of all Champaign County voters voted before Election Day, according to Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten.
Will Congressman Rodney Davis join the forum Thursday night?
No, his office says he is committed to speaking at the Macon County Republican Party dinner that night. It's at 6 p.m. at the Decatur Club. Davis is the keynote speaker. Organizers had offered to move the Republican congressional forum to 8 p.m. Thursday or to have it on a different night this week, but they never heard back from the Davis team.
He's the only one of 14 candidates invited to the three nights of forums who won't be there. The congressman has made himself scarce for every forum, debate and joint radio appearance opportunity with Harold and Firsching, except for a joint appearance before the Chicago Tribune editorial board on Tuesday.
It's the modern-day version of Jimmy Carter's Rose Garden strategy in 1980. In that instance Carter stayed busy with official White House business rather than campaign at a level equal to his opponents.
Why no forums for Republican county board or state legislative candidates?
There are no Republican contested races for county board seats, and Kristin Williamson of Urbana is the only GOP candidate in the 103rd House district.
What are the forum rules?
They are the standard rules for forums organized by the League of Women Voters.
Candidates get a 2-minute opening statement and a 2-minute closing statement. In between come questions from the audience, which must be written on index cards and then are read aloud by the forum moderator.
Candidates are asked to refrain from negative attacks on other candidates and to not mention other candidates by name. But that doesn't prevent the congressional candidates, for example, from referring to "the incumbent congressman" or the "congressional candidate who is not here tonight."
Have there been any incidents at past forums?
These are generally civil and non-controversial events. But in October 2010 Al Reynolds, a Republican candidate for the state Senate, stunned a small audience by saying that black men "find it more lucrative to be able to do drugs or other avenues rather than do education." He continued, "We need to provide ways that are more incentive, other than just sports avenues, for the men for the minorities to want to go to college and get an education and better themselves before the women have to support them all."
Following the remarks, local Republican leaders in Champaign and Vermilion counties urged Reynolds to withdraw from the race against Sen. Mike Frerichs. He did not, and lost the general election race by 61 percent to 39 percent.
How many seats in the council chamber?
There is seating for 160 people, plus standing room for 50 more. The forums have never been that crowded, though. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. each night. The event is free and open to the public.
Who will be the moderators?
The four county board forums tonight will be moderated by Trisha Crowley, first vice president of the League of Women Voters, and Shandra Summerville, events coordinator with the NAACP; Thursday's moderator will be Barbara Wysocki, president of the LWV; and Friday's moderator will be Sandra Kato, legal redress chair with the NAACP.
What should I watch for?
There could be drama every night. Tonight's first two sessions hold promise, particularly the face-off between Kurtz and Weibel, that has split local Democrats. These two fellows have a lot of issues to discuss, not the least of which is the way that Kurtz because county board chair (mostly with the help of Republicans).
Thursday's forum gives the two Republican candidates a chance to explain why they're a better option than Davis, and underdog Democrats Gollin and Green to explain why they're preferable to Callis, a former judge who is backed by the Washington, D.C., power brokers. This the only scheduled, full-fledged issues forum among Callis, Gollin and Green before the primary.
Friday's forum with Ammons and Rosenberg gives each a big audience to explain their backgrounds, experience and differences on issues, and to talk about their relationship with House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Will the forums be televised?
Yes, the forums will be broadcast live on Champaign's government access Channel 5 on Comcast and Channel 99 on AT&T U-verse. It also will be live-streamed on the city's website, ci.champaign.il.us/cgtv. Imagine that, someone in Sochi, Russia, could watch this exercise in American democracy.
Independent redistricting drive in good shape
The bipartisan drive to get a constitutional amendment on the November ballot requiring independent legislative redistricting in Illinois seems to be in good shape. Last week the effort picked up the endorsement of former Gov. Jim Edgar.
Its campaign fundraising is humming along, with at least $169,000 raised since Jan. 1. The campaign brought an impressive $490,030 in the October-December quarter, outraising every gubernatorial candidate except Bruce Rauner ($4.1 million) and Pat Quinn ($1.9 million). Among the recent donors are $1,000 each from Trent Shepard of Urbana and Champaign County Republican Party chair Habeeb Habeeb of Champaign, and another $1,000 from Edwin Eisendrath, the Chicago Democrat who challenged Gov. Rod Blagojevich in the 2006 Democratic primary and got 29 percent.
And the petition passing continues with a soft deadline of April 15, although the petitions do not have to be submitted until May. 4.
"Petitioning is going great," said campaign manager Michael Kolenc. "The cold in January and February slowed us down a bit but we still feel really good about our volunteers across the state, and we're looking forward to turning in our signatures on May 4."
Kolenc still isn't disclosing how many signatures have been collected.
When asked if the committee ever would give an update he said, "Maybe, maybe not. We haven't decided yet."
The goal is to submit petitions with at least 300,000 signatures.
Locally, petitions are available at the Champaign Chamber of Commerce office, 303 W. Kirby Ave., C. And at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 1, supporters can sign the petition, drop off completed petitions or get them notarized at the Beckett and Webber law office, 708 S. Broadway Ave., U.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.