Jim Dey | McCann loses bid for more time in limelight

Jim Dey | McCann loses bid for more time in limelight

State Sen. Sam McCann's 15 minutes of fame are just about up.

In fact, the clock may already have expired on the fringe candidate for governor who ran under the banner of the Conservative Party.

But he was back in the news this week, the subject of a terse and unsympathetic legal opinion stemming from a dispute McCann had earlier this year with Bloomington's Bill Brady, the leader of Senate Republicans.

A three-judge federal appeals court panel in Chicago ruled that, in legalese, it had no authority to intervene in McCann's skirmish with Brady because the internal functions of the state House and Senate fall within the sole purview of those bodies.

It's that separation-of-powers thing again, the one about three distinct and co-equal branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial — that make their own internal rules about how they function.

But there's a real-world message in the court's opinion in this political dispute — the court said McCann couldn't have it both ways.

For those who don't recall, McCann, elected as a Republican from the Macoupin County community of Plainview, engaged in a bitter feud with outgoing Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner after Rauner took office in 2015.

Their relationship bordered on personal hatred, with Rauner trying to defeat McCann's bid for re-election in 2016. That's one reason why McCann decided to run against Rauner in 2018 under the banner of the Conservative Party.

McCann's third-party campaign was also backed by Democrats, who viewed it as a way to encourage disaffected conservatives from supporting Rauner.

At any rate, McCann announced his Conservative Party candidacy earlier this year. One immediate reaction was that Senate Republicans decided he was no longer a Republican, so they kicked him out of the GOP's Senate caucus, a move that denied him certain services available to caucus members.

He still held his office and could vote and use his office's budget allotment however he wished, but extra services were out.

As a consequence, when McCann called for a photographer to take his picture with visiting Girl Scouts, no photographer was forthcoming.

Enraged, McCann filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that as a result of his ouster from the Republican caucus, his constitutional rights, including the right to speak freely, were being violated.

In statements to the media, McCann described himself as a victim of "tyranny."

U.S. Judge Andrea Wood did not look kindly on McCann's legal claims. For starters, she denied his request to be reinstated in the GOP caucus and receive services accorded to caucus members. But she declined to dismiss the lawsuit.

McCann appealed, and this week, the three judges who heard his claims slammed the door on him.

"McCann would have the federal courts micromanage exactly what resources, and in what amount, the legislative leaders of the two major political parties dole out to their members. This is emphatically not our job," wrote Justice Diane Wood.

She said it's the duty of the courts to "stay out of the internal workings of the legislative process."

The court's ruling grows, at least partly, out of the two-party system. The majority and minority parties in the Senate and House receive annual appropriations needed to do their business.

Party leaders use those funds in a variety of ways to assist their members, including analysis of pending legislation and photography.

In this case, the GOP could allow, but is not required to, "accept Green Party, Socialist Party or Humane Party representatives into the (GOP) caucus," Wood wrote about third parties.

McCann, of course, argued that he was really a Republican for the purposes of being a member of that party's caucus in the Illinois Senate. At the same time, he was running under the Conservative Party banner to help defeat Rauner.

So what is McCann's party affiliation?

Brady said actions speak louder than words.

The court said it's not their job to judge.

McCann answered the question in his post-election analysis of the campaign.

He received about 190,000 votes, enough in some counties to maintain ballot access for those who wish to run under the Conservative Party banner.

"... Our party has now been established across most of Illinois," McCann said.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-351-5369.

Sections (2):Columns, Opinion
Tags (1):election 2018