BLOOMINGTON — Two of the Republicans looking to replace U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson in Congress don't like the way he pulled out of his re-election race, and believe his decision was orchestrated to benefit his former chief of staff, Jerry Clarke.
Johnson announced on April 5, about two weeks after he won the 13th Congressional District primary election, that he would not run for a seventh term in Congress. Clarke said that day that he was interested in replacing Johnson and that he had already begun calling the county chairmen who will make the appointment.
"It's not right. This is not right," said state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, who told a Republican luncheon gathering in Bloomington that he is interested in the congressional seat. "You know what's really insulting about this? It didn't just happen. There was talk of this happening a year ago, and it's a real insult to the people. Like I said, their vote was taken away from them.
"I think we're used to politics as usual. The politics as usual is that you manipulate the system to put certain people in positions of power. That's not the way it ought to be. The people should decide who is going to be speaking for them. Remember, this power that (politicians) have, they don't own it. It's only borrowed from the people who elect them. We forget that. But when you have people in back rooms who decide they are going to put in place who they want so that they can control them and they can control what happens in this country, that's wrong."
McCarter said the county chairmen should slow down the process to appoint Johnson's replacement.
"We need to see who would represent the people best, not what person was decided in a back room deal who was going to get the job," said the one-term state senator, who lives in the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis. "This heir-to-the-throne idea in politics, I don't care what party you're in, it's wrong. It's an injustice and it doesn't work because ultimately, when you get that person in there, they don't serve us well."
Asked who benefited from Johnson's sudden retirement announcement, McCarter pointed to Clarke.
"There was definitely a favorite," McCarter said. "I think Jerry obviously had the inside knowledge about what was happening. But as long as the process slows down and everyone is vetted, if Jerry Clarke ends up being the choice of the chairmen, I'll be behind them. I'm trusting the chairmen to do their job."
Sam Spradlin, a Springfield truck driver who also wants to be considered by the GOP county chairmen, said Monday that "this feels like a hand-me-down to Jerry Clarke."
Spradlin originally had planned to challenge Johnson in the March 20 primary, then pulled out of the race.
"Tim knew he was going to quit the race before the primary. He knew ahead of time," Spradlin charged. "If they give this to Clarke, it's a travesty."
Spradlin also made his views known in a 5-minute video he posted Sunday on You Tube. In it he predicted that if county chairmen choose Clarke, "you will have a mutiny on your hands."
He said that "a lot of Republicans are crying foul that Tim ignored the primary process" and charged that this "seems like something that Rod Blagojevich would do."
Meanwhile, McCarter said he believes he has about a week to decide if he will be a candidate for appointment as the party's nominee.
"I feel like I'm being effective where I'm at. I don't want to force myself into a higher position even though I'm able to do it and I could do it," he said. "I want to do what is right. I don't want to be impatient. I want to be where God wants me to be, and that's all there is to it."