Tom Kacich: It's time for ugly part of campaigning
Here we go, perhaps the 10 worst days of the year for our great exercise in democracy known as primary election voting.
By March 18, when Election Day finally rolls around, most people will be so sick of the nasty TV commercials, radio spots and mail pieces that they won't go to the polls.
Intraparty sniping — by both Democrats and Republicans — may be part of the reason primary election turnout is generally 50 percent or less than the turnout of the general election.
And there's plenty of sniping this year.
Republicans statewide this month have been treated to negative ads run by wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner, who has spent millions attacking GOP gubernatorial rivals Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, in part for their support of public employee unions. The labor unions last week dumped $485,000 into the Republican Fund for Progress and Jobs organization to pay for hits on Rauner.
Statewide, the lack of any big primary races has kept things quiet among Democrats.
But in East Central Illinois, two races — one for Congress and one for the Illinois House — have turned ugly in the last week.
George Gollin, a friendly and mild-mannered University of Illinois physicist from Champaign, is running new TV spots going after the presumed front-runner in the 13th Congressional District primary, former Madison County Judge Ann Callis.
Callis has run a cautious, milquetoast campaign, both in her public statements and in her paid advertising. She's talked as much about her Army Ranger son, Eliot, as she has about issues. For example, asked in a News-Gazette questionnaire how she'd decide how to commit U.S. troops to foreign wars, she responded, "As I did as a judge, I will consider all the facts, evidence and arguments before making a deliberative and thoughtful decision."
In its editorial endorsement of Gollin, The Chicago Tribune called Callis out, saying that "she would not agree to be interviewed by the Tribune." The State Journal-Register in Springfield, which also endorsed Gollin, said that Callis "seemed to lack a deeper understanding of national issues."
But Callis continues to pile up endorsements from local Democrats and money from national PACs and Democratic leaders, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Gollin apparently had enough and last week began running a commercial hitting Callis for "folding to the tea party agenda" on cutting Social Security. The commercial features a five-second, incomplete sentence by Callis, in which she says, "We're going to have to see what's there and what we remove ..."
Callis said Gollin's commercials "are the mark of a desperate campaign."
"As someone who grew up knowing my grandmother depended on her Social Security and Medicare, I'm offended that Professor Gollin would lie and distort my record," she said. "I have made it clear from the very start of my campaign that I will protect Social Security and Medicare for seniors and not accept any deals that include cuts to benefits."
And in the 103rd House District race between Democrats Sam Rosenberg and Carol Ammons, the Rosenberg campaign (more accurately Michael Madigan's Democratic Majority PAC) sent out a mail piece last week hitting Ammons for siding "with the politicians and against us" because she supported a pay increase for Champaign County Board members.
The mailer did not tell the whole story, of course, including that every other county board Democrat at the cited meeting voted for the pay increase (from $45 to $80 a meeting), and that it was the first one for county board members in 24 years. Finally, the pay increase later was lowered to $60 a meeting (although Ammons did not vote for it) and Ammons didn't benefit from the raise because she left the board before it went into effect.
The good news: It's all over on March 19.
Ditka backs Harold
Former Chicago Bears player and coach Mike Ditka has endorsed Urbana Republican Erika Harold in the three-way 13th Congressional District race.
A radio spot featuring the endorsement began running last Thursday.
"Coach Mike Ditka here with three good reasons to vote for Erika Harold for Congress," said Ditka, who does not live in the 13th District. "First, she's a natural leader with some fresh ideas to get this country back on track. Second, she's a conservative who takes the Constitution seriously. And No 3: She's tough, iron tough. I don't like weakness in football players or in politicians. And Erika Harold stands up for what's right. She won't waste time on the nonsense. Vote for Erika on March 18th and send the right kind of person to lead in Washington."
In the past, Ditka has endorsed George W. Bush, John McCain and Sarah Palin and Pat Quinn, among others. He also is a noted product endorser, doing advertising spots for his own wines, cigars and sausages and commercials for Binny's Beverage Depot and Levitra.
Ditka has given more than $80,000 to various Republican organizations and candidates since 1990. In Illinois, he has given $5,000 to Supreme Court Justice Bob Thomas (a former Bears kicker), and about $1,000 in in-kind contributions to state Rep. Tom Morrison, R-Palatine. At the federal level, he's given to President George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush, Jack Kemp, Mark Kirk, Rudolph Giuliani and former Sen. George Allen, plus the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The only debate featuring the three Republican candidates in the 13th District — Harold, Rep. Rodney Davis and Michael Firsching — will be from 7 to 8 a.m. Monday on Bloomington radio station 92.9 FM.
FEMA reform stalled?
Legislation introduced in January to reform the way the Federal Emergency Management Agency evaluates the need for public assistance in the wake of natural disasters — brought about by tornadoes in Illinois last November — hasn't gone anywhere yet.
Davis' HR 3925 still has only five cosponsors — all from downstate Illinois — and hasn't had a subcommittee hearing.
But Davis spokesman Andrew Flach said last week that Davis will meet with staff members from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday to start moving the bill.
"Everything takes forever" in Washington, Flach said. "But this is the first step in getting it to the committee."
A website that tracks legislation in Congress, govtrack.us, gives Davis' legislation only a 9 percent chance of being enacted.
An identical bill in the Senate, S 1960, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is given just a 2 percent chance of being enacted.
The legislation came about after several Illinois communities ravaged by tornadoes Nov. 17, including Gifford in Champaign County, failed to qualify for public assistance because of the way FEMA evaluates the need for it. Illinois officials claim the formula is unfair to rural sections of high-population states.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.