Newcomer, veteran facing off in 103rd House Dem primary
CHAMPAIGN — For the first time since the general election of 2000, Democrats in Champaign-Urbana won't see Naomi Jakobsson's name on the ballot as their party's candidate for state representative.
The 5,000 or so Democrats who will vote in this month's primary election in the 103rd House District have to choose a new candidate — either Urbana City Council member Carol Ammons or Champaign attorney Sam Rosenberg — to carry the party banner against Republican Kristin Williamson in November. Williamson is unopposed in the GOP primary.
Ammons, 42, has a longer history in the community. She ran for the Urbana school board in 2003, served five years on the Champaign County Board and was elected to the Urbana City Council in April 2013. But her resume also is more controversial, including a degree from what she admits was an online university of dubious standing ("I have contacted Walsingham University to express my concerns about their misrepresentation of their organization and to ask for an explanation. I have not yet received an answer," she says on her website), and the 2003 school board race in which she vacated the seat she was elected to over legal concerns.
Official minutes of the April 8, 2003, school board meeting show that the board voted to call for an investigation into the legality of Ammons' (then known as Carol George) service on the board, either by the state's attorney's office, the Illinois attorney general or the State Board of Elections. Minutes later, however, George vacated the seat she had been elected to.
"The controversy came about because we had a break in the residency. That was the controversy. I didn't realize at the time that that break in the time disqualified me from the seat. Instead of me fighting that claim, I just decided to release it and let them have the seat. I moved on to do some other civic and social service work," Ammons said last month.
She also said she didn't have one child attending a Rantoul school and another at an Urbana school, although two Urbana school board members alleged that at the 2003 meeting.
Rosenberg, 29, has a shorter history in Champaign-Urbana, and hasn't run for any office before this one. But he has the backing of some of the top Democrats in the county, including Jakobsson, the mayors of Champaign and Urbana and State's Attorney Julia Rietz, the only Democrat serving in a countywide office. Many of the state's top labor unions are supporting him, including the AFL-CIO and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
Rosenberg also has out-raised Ammons about 5-to-1 ($111,960 to $21,229).
And, yes, he has the backing of House Speaker Michael Madigan and his political organizations, including more than $45,000 in campaign aid, including polling, mail pieces and campaign staff.
Madigan, however, has not been much of an issue in the campaign. Neither candidate would pledge to oppose voting for another term for the Speaker who has run the House for all but two of the last 31 years.
"I don't think standing up to a man who has been Speaker of the House of Representatives longer than I've been alive benefits this district," Rosenberg said.
Said Ammons, "I will not antagonize Speaker Madigan by supporting a futile attempt to unseat him because that would not be helpful to the people of this district."
Both, however, said they would strive to be independent of Madigan.
Ammons said she is "not beholden to Speaker Madigan," and Rosenberg said "(r)egardless of who the Speaker of the House is, I will vote only in the best interests of the Champaign-Urbana area."
Overall, Rosenberg and Ammons agree on most issues: opposed to the pension reform plan approved by the Legislature last year and insistence that it is unconstitutional, instituting a graduated income tax in Illinois, in favor of continuing the current "temporary" income tax increase until a graduated income tax is approved, favoring alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders in order to reduce prison populations, and for expanded casino gambling and for abortion rights.
Among the major issues on which they disagree:
— Marijuana legalization.
Ammons: "I support immediate decriminalization of marijuana to ensure we don't waste taxpayers' money on jail or prison time for people charged only with possession. I also support full legalization of marijuana but the legislation must include safeguards against abuse such as limiting purchase to adults only and prohibiting creation of marijuana bars or other businesses established for the purpose of consuming the product on the premises."
Rosenberg: "(T)his is an issue I would have to discuss further with local law enforcement officials to ensure that the safety of our communities is not jeopardized, to ensure the proper safeguards will be in place to keep drugs away from school zones and prevent drug use in public."
— Cutting corporate taxes in Illinois.
Rosenberg: "I support such tax cuts if it is done in conjunction with making sure that a progressive income tax is implemented ... and that it is at the very least increasing the revenue by a small margin in the state of Illinois."
Ammons: "I do not support a corporate tax cut as proposed by Speaker Madigan. To create a continued deficit at about a billion dollars for our already indebted state is absolutely preposterous. We cannot afford to cut taxes. We have to maintain our current tax, but we also have to pass the progressive tax rate as well so that those tax breaks don't get exchanged for another."
— On the independent maps question that could be on the statewide ballot this fall, setting up an independent commission to draw legislative district boundaries.
Ammons: "I don't believe currently that there is such thing as nonpartisan maps."
Rosenberg: "I am in favor of nonpartisan maps, even though it would put many seats that are currently held by Democrats, a party that I know and love, in jeopardy."
— On increasing the minimum wage.
Rosenberg: "I am on record as advocating for a minimum wage increase to $10."
Ammons: "I would suggest that even if we raised the minimum wage to $10.65 I have not found any conclusive evidence that it will drive job loss. I also contend ... a proposal that will tell you how we can get from $10.65 an hour to $15 and it may take us 15 years to actually get there, but the reality is that the stagnant suppression of wages has been happening since 1968 and it's important for us to keep the minimum wage growing as the cost of living continues to grow."
Meet the candidates
Home address: 1108 N. Busey Ave., U.
Date of birth: June 1, 1972.
Occupation: Urbana City Council member.
Political experience: Champaign County Board member, 2007-2012; Urbana City Council member, 2013-present.
Education: Completed coursework toward a degree in business administration at Joliet Junior College and has taken classes at Parkland College.
Home address: 1 E. Main St., #418, C.
Date of birth: Jan. 15, 1985.
Occupation: Attorney with the firm of Thomas, Mamer & Haughey LLP in Champaign.
Political experience: None.
Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Chicago, 2007; law degree, University of Illinois College of Law, 2010.