Tom Kacich: Republican attacks targeting Carol Ammons
In recent weeks, the Illinois Republican Party has issued press releases going after many of the big-name Democrats in Illinois: House Speaker Mike Madigan, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Susana Mendoza and two early (and wealthy) gubernatorial hopefuls, Chris Kennedy and J.B. Pritzker.
On Thursday, it went after a two-term state representative from Urbana who is hardly a household name outside of East Central Illinois: state Rep. Carol Ammons. Her sin? She's considering a run against Republican Congressman Rodney Davis in 2018.
"America is still reeling from a disastrous, eight-year liberal agenda. Illinois can't afford a Bernie-inspired radical liberal like Carol Ammons," said GOP spokesman Aaron DeGroot in a press release.
Wait, there's more from DeGroot:
"Carol Ammons and Bernie Sanders are a liberal match made in a workers' paradise."
"Carol Ammons and her spending habits have pushed Illinois to the brink. Ammons voted for Mike Madigan's wildly out-of-balance budget, the largest spending plan in state history." (That budget wasn't enacted, nor has any budget in the time that Ammons has been a state representative.)
"Carol Ammons makes no bones about it — she gets her inspiration from left-wing, Communist radicals. In 2014, Ammons said her 'all-time hero' was a two-time failed candidate for Vice President on the Communist Party of the United States of America ticket." That "hero" would be Angela Davis.
DeGroot wasn't available for further comment on the unusually aggressive release, but one GOP strategist said it was the equivalent of a "warning shot" to let Ammons know what would await her if she decided to run for the Democratic nomination in the 13th Congressional District. Oddly, there was no similar GOP outburst against Dr. David Gill, an actual announced candidate for Davis' seat.
Ammons' reaction? She promised to continue to work to "pass progressive, worker-friendly legislation for my constituents."
"The state is in a financial crisis. Gov. Rauner intentionally derailed the work of his own Senate leader on the grand bargain. If the Illinois GOP is concerned about taxes, they should be focused on the three unbalanced budgets the governor has proposed, that would force a total of $14.6 billion in new taxes and debt onto the people of our state.
"It's time for the Illinois GOP to get serious about passing a budget and bringing financial stability to Illinois, instead of continuing a partisan agenda that clearly hurts working families.
"This week I held a town hall with my constituents, and I can tell you, that people are tired of distractions, of name calling and of deflecting from the real work that needs to be done in our state.
"The press release was just another Illinois Republican Party attempt to distract the people from the failed Turn Around Agenda in Springfield and the destructive draconian policies coming from the White House."
Urbana primary voting
About 35 percent of the people who voted in Urbana's Democratic mayoral primary last month could be considered non-Democrats.
Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten last week did a preliminary comparison of mayoral primary voters and found that 2,746 had voted in the 2016 Democratic Party primary but that 745 had voted in the Republican primary that year and 749 didn't vote in any primary.
That appears to confirm the suspicion that many Urbana independents and Republicans crossed over last month — there was no Republican primary — presumably to vote for Diane Marlin over Mayor Laurel Prussing.
Hulten declined to go that far.
"I had several people ask me that they wondered how many people voted in this primary who voted in the Democratic Party primary in 2016. So I just ran the numbers," he said.
Incidentally the mayoral results were certified last week, and the official numbers gave Marlin 2,431 votes to 1,511 for Prussing and 316 for Evelyn Burnett Underwood. In terms of percentages it was: Marlin 57.09 percent, Prussing 35.49 percent and Burnett Underwood 7.42 percent.
One more primary observation: it was an expensive election.
The only place that had an election was Urbana and the only race was for mayor.
Thus somewhere around $15,000 was spent to have 4,259 people vote in one race.
"It would certainly be less expensive for the county if the city of Urbana would switch to nonpartisan elections," he said. "There's no reason we couldn't have had an April general election with four candidates on the ballot, which would have been the case if Urbana was nonpartisan."
That's what happened in Champaign two years ago when the four-way race for mayor was incorporated into the April consolidated election, along with races for city council, school board, park district board, library board and public policy questions.
Hulten calculated the cost of the mayoral primary at $14,095 (election judges, election notices, ballot printing and testing, polling place rental and more) and said that figure did not include staff time, software maintenance and development and capital and maintenance costs for voting equipment.
At $14,000, the cost of the Urbana election was $3.28 per vote. At $15,000 it was $3.52 per vote.
Early voting starts Monday
Early voting for the April 4 election, which includes city councils, village boards, school boards, park boards and two Champaign County Nursing Home questions, begins at 8 a.m. Monday at the county clerk's office, 1776 E. Washington St., Urbana.
Early voting at eight other remote locations on the University of Illinois campus, in Champaign, Mahomet, Rantoul, St. Joseph and Tolono, will begin March 31.
Details are available at the county clerk's website: https://www.champaigncountyclerk.com/elections/voters.php.
New in this election, Hulten said, is that on Election Day voters will be able to vote at any of the nine early voting sites, plus at the precinct's polling place.
In other words, they can vote at any of 10 places on Election Day.
"We did it for three of those (early voting sites) in November and it was pretty well received," he said. "We realized that it went pretty well and that there was very little challenge for us to simply leave our early voting locations and equipment set up through Election Day and run our early voting locations not only as a normal voting location for their precinct, but if somebody wanders in there from a neighboring precinct, there's no reason they can't also vote there as well."
Hulten said the question most often asked by voters is where they go to vote.
"If they get used to their early voting locations — and people are starting to do that — to us if they want to vote there on Election Day, we have the authority, we have the equipment, we have the capability, we want to enable them," he said.
Hulten said he believes Champaign County is the first county in Illinois to expand the use of "universal voting locations" on Election Day.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.