On most issues considered important to the 51st Senate District  — gun laws, taxes, budget cuts, ending the General Assembly scholarship program and more — state Rep. Chapin Rose  and Dr. Tom Pliura  are pretty much in lockstep. The two Republicans are opposed to more gun laws, want last year's state income tax repealed, favor big cuts in Medicaid, want the legislative scholarship program killed and support state pension changes.
But Pliura's campaign is rooted in a kind of anti-incumbent idealism. His big roadside signs implore voters to "Re-elect No One" (although he issued a news release about being endorsed by state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, who is running for re-election and has been in the Legislature since 1993). He backs a two-term limit for state senators; a video on his website chides Rose for seeking a sixth term in the Legislature. He pledges not to take political action committee money. And he says that if elected he wouldn't take a state pension.
Rose touts his record of working to cut the budget and reduce taxes, his work on the House panel that led to the impeachment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his efforts to reform state government, including the failed effort on behalf of a Fair Map Amendment.
And at the same time he says that like Pliura he supports term limits, Rose says he intends to prove it by moving from the House to the Senate.
"I'm stepping out of the House seat to let fresh faces come into government," said Rose, a representative since 2003. "Most term limit proposals I have seen call for eight to 10 years in one chamber and then somewhere else, and that's what I did. I've stepped out and let someone else run. That would be in the realm of (legislation) I could support."
Pliura and Rose are facing off in the March 20 primary election. Having an election foe is rare for Rose, who was last opposed in 2002. He has responded with an aggressive media campaign (he and Pliura were among the first candidates to hit the airwaves this winter) along with a frenetic level of appearances, including parades and festivals.
That style of campaigning led to one of the snippy exchanges between the two candidates, Rose noting his willingness to meet voters, Pliura saying he wants to talk one-to-one.
"I've got a list from every county voter registration deal and I've made 6,000 individual, personal phone calls," Pliura said. "I'm not doing any parades. I'm not that kind of person. I don't feel like you're doing anything when you haven't seen these guys all year long and they show up and glad-hand you at a parade."
Pliura, a wealthy lawyer, doctor and farmer from McLean County, says he'll never take money from PACs, contending that "they're basically buying politicians."
He doesn't criticize Rose by name for taking tens of thousands in PAC money.
"It's a personal decision. He doesn't have a problem with it, but I'm not doing it," Pliura said.
But Rose noted that Pliura gave $250 in 2004 to Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin's Prairie PAC.
"I find it a little hypocritical for someone who's given $80,000 to candidates, including PACs, to be critical," said Rose. "$80,000 is more than most people in the 51st Senate District make in a year, far more. So I find it a little cynical that someone who has basically been an elite, big money insider to both parties to come in and now say that 'I'm not going to take money from PACs.'"
For his part, Pliura says "I'm not saying anything bad about Chapin Rose. He's an absolutely great guy. I like the guy. It's the system that we need to change.
"I've got a lot of stuff on my plate, but I'm fed up with this. I really, truly am. It's a fraternity down there (in Springfield.)"
He cited the vote last year on "smart grid" legislation that will benefit Ameren and Commonwealth Edison, passed after the utilities made campaign contributions to many lawmakers.
"It makes me sick to my stomach that Republicans and Democrats took campaign contributions and then voted on something and said there was no connection, that it's just a coincidence," he said. "You should impose some regulation on that that would have some teeth. I'm thinking off the top of my head now but maybe there's a way to retroactively tax that. I'd be in favor of taxing the heck out of PAC contributions to lawmakers. That'd be about the only tax I'd ever vote for."
In a video on his website, Pliura contends that legislators "serve about 60 days a year" and that "it's a part-time job."
Rose said that description "is beyond naive, to the point where you have to question the commitment. When someone calls you at 5 a.m. with a problem you've got to take the call. Life happens and it happens every day of the year, not just 60 days.
"The best days in this job are the days when you can help someone who is down and out and in trouble. True story: We get a phone call in the office at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon from a teacher calling about a second-grader who went home to a house with no heat. We got the heat turned back on by 7:30. Those are the days you feel good about yourself. The reality is that doesn't happen on just the 60 session days a year."