Tom Kacich: Siding with Sierra Club a bad thing?

Tom Kacich: Siding with Sierra Club a bad thing?

Earlier this month, the Illinois Republican Party whacked Democratic congressional candidate Ann Callis for siding with the Sierra Club.

If you were making a list of groups and organizations that have a bad reputation, it's unlikely the Sierra Club, a respected environmental group, would be included.

Hear more from Kacich Wednesday at 7:40 on WDWS.

But the GOP wanted to play up what it perceived as an attack on the Illinois coal industry, which still has political and economic clout in the southern part of the 13th Congressional District.

The Republicans said that Callis was "picking sides with a convenient political ally over an industry that supports nearly 12,000 Illinoisans."

"The coal industry is a key employer, especially in downstate Illinois, yet Callis' ally the Sierra Club is pushing a 'war on coal' that's devastating to jobs in a part of the state that needs them," said Republican Party spokesman Andrew Welhouse.

What's interesting is that the campaign of Callis' Republican opponent, Rodney Davis, stayed quiet on Callis' appearance at a Sierra Club fundraiser in Springfield.

It didn't want to upset environmentally minded voters in the northern part of the 13th District, particularly in Champaign-Urbana. Champaign County has more voters than any other county in the 14-county district that extends from Champaign-Urbana on the northeast to Collinsville on the southwest.

It's an indication of how big, diverse and politically divided the 13th District is, the candidates say.

Callis said the Sierra Club endorsement and what she called "a small-dollar fundraiser" is more about her stand on the Mahomet Aquifer than about dirty coal.

"That's what I love about the district, it is so diverse. But the local Sierra Club, the issue there is with the Mahomet Aquifer and how important it is all across the political spectrum. I have come out very strongly to protect that water source," she said. "I was asked to speak to the Sierra Club in Alton. They're interested in preserving those beautiful bald eagles that comes to the river road" along the Mississippi River.

Callis said she doesn't agree with the Sierra Club on all issues but "I don't see why we have to be on one side of the issue or another. I think there are ways to find real middle ground and get to these clean coal and renewable sources so that everyone can have great jobs right here in Illinois. That's a skill set that I think I can bring, that is bringing all these groups together and let's find ways to grow jobs here."

Similarly Callis said there are different opinions in different part of the 13th District on President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

"Some people are afraid that their rates are going to increase. They're fearful of that. But others are worried that for the first time they have insurance and now it's going to be taken away," said the Edwardsville Democrat. "So what I say is that one of the first things I'd do is to bring in the smartest of staff, open up office hours and listen to what people have to say. If something is trending upwards with rates we fix it, we don't do away with the whole thing. That's what I say."

Davis said the differences of opinion among voters in the 13th District are found in most congressional districts.

"That's something that every member of Congress has to take into consideration because of the totality of the district and how large they are," he said.

He is unapologetic in his support for coal.

"I've been very clear in making sure that coal remains a viable part of our energy future in this country. We have ways to burn it cleanly and we've been burning it much more cleanly over the last 25 years. We've reduced emissions in this country upwards of 90 percent over the last 25 years. We meed to continue on that path, and taking coal out of the portfolio means prices go up for every single American family and it means for my district upwards of 500 people losing their jobs. These are IBEW labor jobs that depend upon coal being burned to power much of the Midwest."

Davis also recently was labeled a "Dirty Denier" by the National Resources Defense Council for his position on climate change.

But he said he hasn't changed his mind from his opinion in his first race two years ago.

"What I said two years ago is the same thing I'm saying today: Climate change is real. We have to determine how much if it is from natural causes and how much of it is man-made," David said. "We can't put our American families out of work when our competitors don't really care about the air that they put over their own countries."

Insider politics

One of the more amusing aspects of the Callis/Davis race is how both are running against "insider politics" while using insiders to advance their campaigns.

Davis unveiled a TV ad last week in which he rails against the political establishment he's a part of.

"As far as D.C. goes, the only thing they're good at is creating problems. I'm working to change that for hardworking taxpayers and for the next generation," he said in the spot.

But Davis has accepted campaign contributions from innumerable Washington insiders, including Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, the GOP chief deputy whip, and had House Speaker John Boehner campaign for him in Illinois earlier this month.

Likewise, Callis last week hit Davis for the "stark differences" between herself and Davis.

"I believe that bringing John Boehner down to the district, who is just emblematic of Washington insider politics, and that's what Davis stands for, is bad. The more we get into the last few months of the campaign the more the contrast will be heightened," she said.

But Callis has accepted almost $32,000 from the pro-Israel JStreetPAC and $10,000 each from former Speaker Nancy Pelosi's PAC to the Future and Sen. Dick Durbin's Prairie PAC.

Another Congressman Davis in town

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., is scheduled to be in Champaign-Urbana today to campaign on behalf of Democratic state representative candidate Carol Ammons of Urbana.

He's scheduled to appear at three local churches, to meet with a group of University of Illinois students at 1 p.m. at the University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright St., and to attend a Democrats/Republicans charity softball game at Dodds Park in Champaign at around 4 p.m.

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

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