Tom's Mailbag March 7, 2014

Tom's Mailbag March 7, 2014

Lots of questions/comments about politics this week and none about history or hockey. Next week I predict the big topic will be Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day and real St. Patrick’s Day.

Here we go:



The purpose of the Champaign County Redistricting Commission, which garnered bipartisan support, was to take partisanship out of the redistricting process. Kurtz’s statement concerns me that he intentionally undermined that goal and has no problem bragging about it publicly to try to get votes in a Democratic primary. Do you know how Kurtz’s “leadership” created a partisan map favorable to Democrats while he was under the direction of the county board, and then county board chair C. Pius Weibel, not to consider party politics?

Interesting question, and one that only a few people may really be able to answer.

A group of Democrats and Republicans had pushed to try to have a group separate from the county board, although including county board members, draw a nonpartisan county board district map. The commission was headed by former state Sen. Rick Winkel, a Republican who was, and is, at the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs. The commission met for months in early 2011 and at one point recommended a map, 7-4, that generally had Republican and some independent support but was opposed by four other members, including Kurtz.

But a few weeks later the NAACP of Champaign County submitted its own redistricting map to the county board and it was approved by the board a week later, 15-11. Every Democrat on the county board at the time, except for former board member Brendan McGinty, voted for it. That includes both Kurtz and Weibel, who then was the chair of the county board.

It was never clear who drew the winning map, which at least for now, enabled Democrats to retain control of the county board.

NAACP members insisted that they drew it, but rumors persist that Democrats skilled in partisan map-drawing were behind it.

Kurtz clearly was opposed to the independent commission’s recommended map, but I doubt that he alone was responsible for getting it tubed and having the NAACP map adopted. 

Overall the redistricting commission did not work as intended. Republicans admitted they were outfoxed by the Democrats who for some reason believe the county board is a political prize while they make weak attempts, or none at all, to win countywide offices such as auditor, county clerk or circuit clerk.


Say, Tom, have you seen the page on the website of the Champaign County Clerk, where you go to access your sample ballot for the upcoming spring primary?

Here’s the link:

1.  Why do you think this page requires you to enter your personal voter information, just to see your own sample ballot?  Shouldn’t it be the case that since it’s publicly available information who the candidates and various ballot items are for the two parties in your precinct, that anyone should be able to see the sample ballot for your precinct, for both parties, without having to provide identifying information?  Why do you think the county clerk would set things up this way?

2.  And the thing is, Tom, it gets even stranger than that.  I mean, the way that page is currently set up, it’s *NOT ONLY* the case that you can only see your own sample ballot, but, *even in that very limited case*, you’re only eligible to see it if:

(a)  You’re already registered to vote,

(b)  You’re willing to give up your personal information to the system (so that it could in principle track who’s looking up their ballot and, perhaps, even track which party’s ballots, R or D, they’re looking up), and

(c)  You’re fortunate that your completely-accurate personal information hasn’t yet been rejected by the system for some completely-spurious reason (which, in fact, happens from time to time, you know, by data-entry errors, postal-delivery errors, those notorious Tuttle-Buttle errors from bugs in the system, and so on and so forth.)

3.  Suppose you’re trying to help a friend (who lives in a different precinct and isn’t too good with computers) get a sample ballot for his precinct, and you’re willing to print it out and then deliver it to him the next time you see him.  With this system, you can’t see who’s on the ballot in other peoples’ precincts unless other people happen to give you their personal information, which is essentially like them giving you their passwords (and that’s never too good an idea, of course).  This sure doesn’t make it easy to help other people find out who the candidates are who are on their ballot, does it?

The county clerk, Gordy Hulten, said there are two reasons why he has voters type in their personal information to get to their sample ballot. One, to make sure they get the correct ballot and, two, as a way of verifying that that the county clerk’s information is correct.

Hulten said his office has 611 different ballots for this primary election, and it could be easy for a voter to make a mistake about what precinct he or she was voting in, partly because some precincts are split.

Hulten said he’s heard “two or three” people complain about the process of getting an online sample ballot this year, even though it’s been the method for some time. If people are uncomfortable typing their personal information on the website, he said they can go to the county clerk’s office and get the correct ballot.

As for finding out who’s looking up which ballot, Republican or Democrat, once you’ve selected the partisan ballot it’s public information. 

Many times I’ve written about people from one party who crossed over to vote in another primary. For example, Bruce Rauner. The Republican candidate for governor voted in a Democratic primary eight years ago ...


Champaign County taxpayers have paid  $778,612,596 dollars through March 3 for the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cost for Champaign County increases by $5,767 every hour. The cost to Illinois taxpayers will soon reach $90 billion. Have any of the candidates for Congress in the 13th Congressional District addressed this issue in detail?

Not really. Perhaps the closest is the questionnaires we sent to the candidates in which we asked under what circumstances they’d be willing to commit U.S. troops top foreign wars. 

Here’s what they said:

Republican Michael Firsching: “When citizens in our country are attacked or in imminent threat of an attack.”

Republican Erika Harold: “Voting to commit U.S. troops to a foreign war is the most serious vote a Representative takes, and I only would be willing to do so if the answers to the following questions (derived in part from the Powell Doctrine) were in the affirmative: (1) Are any critical national security interests at stake?; (2) Has an achievable military objective been articulated?; (3) Have all other non-military alternatives (i.e., diplomacy, sanctions, etc.) been exhausted; and (4) Does a clear exit strategy exist?”

Republican Rodney Davis: “When America is attacked and when a clear interest in American foreign policy is attacked.”

Democrat Ann Callis: “This is an issue that hits very close to home with me, as my son is an Army Ranger and was just deployed a few weeks ago. I believe in diplomacy and also know how important it is for us to be able to protect ourselves and our allies from attacks. As I did as a Judge, I will consider all the facts, evidence and arguments before making a deliberative and thoughtful decision.”

Democrat George Gollin: “In general, participation in combat operations abroad should be done in accord with the requirements of U.S. and international law. And whenever possible, military operations should be done in coalition with other national governments, as was the case in the international response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

“It would be appropriate to commit troops to a foreign war in the case of a direct attack on the United States or its territories by the foreign power against which the Congress would declare war.

“It is appropriate for the United States to commit troops to limited peacekeeping and humanitarian operations that are overseen by the United Nations, but only when war planning includes an exit strategy and a post-combat management plan.

“It is appropriate for the United States to commit its special operations forces to limited missions such as the rescue of U.S. nationals held hostage abroad, or the capture and forced extradition of terrorists like Osama bin Laden. These missions must be carried out in accord with the dictates of international law.”

Democrat David Green: “I would be willing to commit troops to a foreign war if the armies of that country invaded our shores in violation of international laws, and if both constitutional and United Nations procedures were strictly adhered to regarding declarations of war.”


Tea Party Queen Michelle Bachmann is on her way to central Illinois to support Rodney Davis. Is there any chance that her favorite gun lover Ted Nugent will be coming to central Illinois as well? Don’t you think that everyone in Champaign-Urbana and Atwood would show up to see those three?

Bachmann is coming to Madison County — on the edge of Davis’ 13th Congressional District — on March 22, four days after the primary. The tea party leader, who is not running for reelection to Congress, will be the keynote speaker at the Madison County Republicans’ Lincoln Day dinner. Davis also booked to speak there (I wonder what would happen if he lost his primary race to Erika Harold? That would be interesting). 

As for Ted Nugent, be glad he hasn’t been invited to speak to the Champaign County Republicans. In 2012 the Sangamon County Republican Party had Nugent as its keynote speaker and heard him blast President Obama as an “America-hating punk.”

Nugent wasn’t entirely negative. “The whole world sucks, but America still sucks less,” he said.


Do you think that HB 4336 has a chance? It would be a setback for the Pearson Company. That company has enormous power and influence in every state, including Illinois. Will the General Assembly even allow this bill to come to a vote?

It sure looks like it. The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and changes references relating to General Educational Development testing and certificates to “high school equivalency testing and certificates,” passed the House this week, 110-0. It now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, is listed as its sponsor.


And people still have opinions about Illinois basketball. Asked about the future of the program, we got differing opinions ...


“Honestly? Not much better. Why, because I think coach Groce has to  learn how to get better at in game decisions.  Plus mid major talent isn’t enough. When you get top talent they know their good and they want to prove they can play at a higher level. Wont win with a team that has all defense and poor offense. They have Tracy and Egwu, Rice that started and will start  next year. They all are poor finishers on offense. Groce seems to stick with his experienced players good or bad so I guess that answers the question pretty well. Then there is the egos to deal with if you pull starters. If Groce can develop his new players and get them to be the best at their roles then there’s a chance to be better.  Long road.”


Not everyone was such a Gloomy Gus:

“I believe they will be a much improved team, things look bright to me. A very good future!!!!”


Have a great weekend. Spring is near, the election campaign is almost over, baseball is only a few weeks’ away and the Blues are in first place in the Central Division. Things are looking up.

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yates wrote on March 07, 2014 at 3:03 pm

I bet Uncle Ted would draw more people then those that view your mail bag.

Danno wrote on March 07, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Ted will always be Theodore. Greek origin. It's interesting that The N-G posts an old Concert picture of Ted, only to dismantle him in a few sentences in a commentary of several paragraphs.

nick wrote on March 07, 2014 at 6:03 pm

I didn't know anyone referred to Ted Nugent as Uncle Ted. Considering he has abused a 13 year old child and a 15 year old minor  maybe the name should be creepy Uncle Ted.

Sid Saltfork wrote on March 11, 2014 at 11:03 am

Ted Nugent is a draft-dodging, short-eyed, has-been who can only make money by talking crazy in public.  He appeals to the white-trash, neo-facists.  At first, he was paid to entertain at big GOP fundraisers.  However, his rhetoric went beyond what big money felt comfortable with in public.  Now, he has to resort to even more outrageous comments to make money.  As long as his fans love him; he can play taverns, family reunions, and cow pastures.