Tom's Mailbag March 21, 2014

Tom's Mailbag March 21, 2014

The pre-spring break edition of the mailbag includes questions and comments about the primary election, Illinois basketball, a surprise resignation and spring break. Here we go ...


Weak candidates

“I don’t think it’s fair to toss around the term ‘weak’ with candidates that faced stronger than expected opponents in a primary. In some cases it may be accurate, but overall shouldn’t voters want more competitive primaries with strong candidates to choose from varying along the issues they care most about? I’m sure candidates would rather have easy landslide victories, but I think representative democracy works best when people come out and have a competitive race.

“Wouldn’t we all, as voters, want to fight for someone who best represents us as opposed to yet another victory by the guy they disagree with on some things that are important to them, skirting by because he’s the shoo-in? In the general election we have to rally behind a candidate that makes the strongest coalition happy, but primaries are for getting the best guy to build that coalition. Strong competition isn’t a sign of weakness in and of itself. Winning over stiff competition can often be the best sign of strength.

Just my two cents.”


I agree, and if I criticized a candidate — especially an underdog — for running a weak campaign, I apologize. 

Generally I like the underdog in sports and politics and I especially respect those candidates who run issues-based, underfunded campaigns that rely on knocking on doors, meeting with groups and individuals and wearing out shoe leather. They’re the ones who deserve special consideration on Election Day, if not our votes.

That being said there are candidates who just put their names on the ballot and leave it at that. Generally they lose.

Finally, props to all the candidates who ran Tuesday, especially those who lost. It’s got to sting to be rejected by voters, no matter how many or what office you’re running for. Thanks for making the effort, for giving the people in your political party a choice and for making a great contribution to better government. 


Election Day winners and losers

“Besides the actual candidates, who were the other winners and losers from Election Day this past week?”


Big winners: the TV and radio ad sales departments at stations throughout Illinois. 

The candidates with the deep pockets won all the big races — Bruce Rauner and Pat Quinn, Dick Durbin and Jim Oberweis, Rodney Davis and Ann Callis. They already have millions of dollars or soon will have that sum, and they’ll be spending it in prodigious amounts soon after Labor Day. Quinn already has begun a limited media buy.

Channel 3 got a nice new set after the 2012 election. Maybe it can get a new building with proceeds from this one.

Other winners: the local Democratic Party’s unusual decision (along with the newly formed Champaign County Young Democrats) to endorse in two county board races (the Al Kurtz/Pius Weibel showdown and Ralph Langenheim/Shana Harrison) paid off since both Weibel and Harrison defeated the incumbents. We won’t know until November whether there is any fallout in those districts from allies of Kurtz and Langenheim, but I’d doubt it.


Losers: The labor unions that poured millions into anti-Bruce Rauner advertising and didn’t derail the Republican gubernatorial candidate. They came close (about 23,000 votes) which makes the investment even more painful. They’ll long be asking themselves if an earlier entry into the race, or more money or some other maneuver would have helped Dillard finish first. The state senator from Hinsdale ended up a lot closer than expected, with wins in nearly every downstate county, including Champaign where he got 40 percent to Rauner’s 33 percent. Dillard also won Piatt, Douglas, Edgar, Coles, DeWitt, Vermilion, Iroquois, Ford, Moultrie and Shelby counties. He had an enormous advantage in Sangamon County, home to so many state employees, where he got 62 percent to Rauner’s 17 percent. But Rauner won all the big suburban counties where the biggest bloc of GOP votes are, Rauner’s 27,000-vote advantage in Cook County, for example, made up for numerous smaller losses like Champaign County’s 1,000-vote gap.


House Speaker Michael Madigan’s vaunted political operation: whoever was calling the shots in Champaign-Urbana’s 103rd House District race between Carol Ammons and Sam Rosenberg (Madigan’s candidate) badly misread the district and wasted thousands of dollars on bad radio ads and mail pieces. Ammons’ superior ground game neutralized the Madigan money. And this wasn’t the only race the Speaker’s organization lost on Tuesday. 


Late spring break?

“Why Is Spring Break so late this year?”


This may be late, but get used to it. Next year’s spring break starts on the same weekend, with classes resuming March 30.

Last year spring break started March 16.

In 2015-16 it starts March 19. Looking ahead to 2018-19 it begins again on March 16.


Illini hoops

“Do you think the Illini men’s basketball team have a shot at winning the NIT?”


Illinois definitely has a shot, but I don’t expect it to happen. If they can get past Clemson — a big if, since Clemson will be home and the Orphans, I mean Illini, are on the road in an unfamiliar setting at a ridiculously early time (10 a.m.) — they certainly can get into the NIT’s Final Four.

I haven’t seen odds yet but I believe Clemson’s probably at least a 5-point favorite over Illinois, which was only a “pick-em” against Boston University.

If Illinois beats Clemson they get either Robert Morris or Belmont. Both entered the tournament as lower seeds with much longer odds (Robert Morris was 250-1), so Illinois would be a favorite although they’d be on the road again.

The NIT’s Final Four would be a much different story, however, as Illinois would be destined to play a host of superior teams, including SMU, Florida State and Georgetown. But anything  can happen in sports — well, almost anything except the Cubs winning the World Series in my lifetime.



Lisa Geren resignation

“Hmmm. Something is not right with the Lisa Geren departure. Between Schlarman and Centennial, she was an awesome dean at Urbana High School. Great person. Might mention that (I’m pretty sure) she worked with Laura Taylor at Urbana High School and was Judy Wiegand’s assistant at Centennial. Hmmm, I wish her well in life beyond Unit 4.”


“I’m not sure why Ms. Geren is being paid for the remainder of the school year. I do happen to think principals in Champaign County are underpaid, in my opinion. I come from Jasper County, IL and the principals in that district make well over $99,000 per year.”


I know nothing more about this situation than was reported in The News-Gazette this week (

I’m told it is not a health issue, but that’s about all. Perhaps the full story will come out in the future.


Thanks again for your questions and comments. Enjoy your weekend, go Illini and, best of all, Opening Day is just 10 days away. That’s good news, even if the Cubs’ outlook this year is rotten.

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31416 wrote on March 21, 2014 at 6:03 pm

I submitted a question this morning that I was really hoping Tom might take a shot at answering, because it seemed to me that it could be a really newsworthy-type of question -- you know, the kind of question that used to be asked  a long time ago, back when investigative reporters used to try to drill deep into interesting issues and topics and then attempt to give their readers a more detailed picture of what was going on all around them...rather than just writing short little items that often appear to be little more than tarted-up PR releases for people and issues they like or dislike, and related things like that.

The way I saw it, my question hoped to take a look at a very fundamental issue that could go right to the heart of the form of representative democracy that we've professed to believe in so strongly for so long now.  For example, how do we even know that the voting tabulating machines that we've come to rely upon in our elections are even counting the votes that we're casting?  And, closely related to that question, if there were compelling evidence that voting tabulators were at times producing results that were highly likely to not faithfully represent the votes we had cast, would our  media today be able to detect that that was indeed occurring and then cover the issue in a meaningful sort of way?...Or would there instead be a tendency to consider that type of issue as "not newsworthy" by today's standards, so that it would be pushed aside, in favor of more potentially profitable topics for news coverage?


31416 wrote on March 21, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Here was the question I submitted:

There are some rather strange vote totals in last Tuesday's Democratic Primary for Jayne Mazzotti, an unopposed candidate for a seat on the Democratic 13th State Central Committee.  She finished up with 450 votes, but supposedly had 7,325 undervotes!  When you check out this link:

you find that in over half (42) of the 83 precincts tabulated in Champaign County for the 13th district, she supposedly did not receive a single vote! How could that possibly have happened? Did even the precinct committeemen for those precincts fail to mark the oval next to her name, in her uncontested race?

Or was there some problem with the tabulating equipment failing to process that particular race that we haven't been told about?

eastsideexp wrote on March 22, 2014 at 3:03 am

I have voted in every election for over four decades, but I leave all uncontested races blank.  I think most voters do the same thing....

Political Observer wrote on March 25, 2014 at 7:03 am

"I have voted in every election for over four decades, but I leave all uncontested races blank.  I think most voters do the same thing...."  -- EastsideExp

Well, EastsideExp, that's a pretty funny statement.  When you write, "I think most voters do the same thing," you're giving us a prettty good example of a common statistical fallacy that many people fall prey to, when they tend to say things like, "I think most people do pretty much the same things I do," without their ever bothering to look at any data whatsoever, to see if available data actually back up their claims.

rsp wrote on March 25, 2014 at 5:03 pm

I don't vote for people if I have never heard of them before. That could be the case here. You don't bother to tell people who you are and why your name is on the ballot, can you expect any votes?

Political Observer wrote on March 25, 2014 at 7:03 am

So, Eastside Exp, how about if we translate your claim into something we can actually look up, using real election data?  Here's an argument that's a slightly-edited adaptation of something an acquaintance recently sent around in an email:

Suppose in a single, uncontested race, MOST voters left the oval for that candidate blank, like you've been doing for over 40 years now.  That would mean that that candidate had over 50% "under votes," so we could say that he was "Outpolled by Under Vote!" -- since the majority (MOST voters) are doing like you, and leaving the uncontested candidate's oval blank.

Now, since the candidate was unopposed, he'd still win his race, because there's nobody running against him...But think of the indignity he'd suffer when his constituents would sarcastically joke that, "Why he's so well-liked that he 'lost' to Under Vote!"

Your claim, as you've stated it, is that you think most voters leave all uncontested races blank.  That means you're predicting that every single uncontested candidate in the election would "Lose to Under Vote!"

As my acquaintance said in the email, "Would you like to bet some money on that?!"

Political Observer wrote on March 25, 2014 at 7:03 am

These election results are really starting to look like a scandal-in-the-making!

It's not only fairly rare for an unopposed candidate to "lose an overall election to Under Vote," it's even quite rare for an unopposed candidate to lose even a single precinct to Under Vote (as long as you have some minimum of, say, perhaps 50 or more ballots in the precinct in question.)

If you don't think so, go ahead and take a look at some election data and find me a case. (Other than the cases of Jayne Mazzotti and Lynn Foster, the two women candidates for Democratic State Central Committee in last week's election.)

Political Observer wrote on March 25, 2014 at 7:03 am

Now, given that it's unusual to lose even a single precinct to Under Vote, just think how rare it must be for someone to get "Shut out by Under Vote!" in a particular precinct.  That would mean that every single person in the precinct in question would have to leave the candidate's oval blank, and if you had 50 or more ballots in the precinct in question, that would be quite unlikey, indeed.  (If you don't think so, go find me an example other than the afore-mentioned cases of Jayne Mazzotti and Lynn Foster.)

What 31416 has pointed out in a reader comment above is that Jayne Mazzotti was "Shut out by Under Vote" in over half of the precincts in which she was listed on the ballot!

My friend, the odds of that occurring, other than by some type of mistabulation of election results, are what my acquaintance calls in his email, "Vanishingly small!"

Political Observer wrote on March 25, 2014 at 7:03 am

So, the real question is, "When is the News-Gazette going to stop ignoring this major, major story...which they apparently could have had a major scoop on last Friday at 2 pm, when Tom Kacich opened his mailbag and started replying to reader questions?"

In other words, when is the Snooze-Gazette going to stop being "Asleep at the Wheel" again?

Mr, Kacich, isn't it time to stop hitting the Snooze Button, to instead wake up and report something about there being a major Election Scandal that you should have been writing about since last Friday?

Political Observer wrote on March 25, 2014 at 7:03 am

Word is that "Today's the day!"... when there will be a routine re-tabulation of the votes of selected precincts of Champaign County, as a prelude to the certification of the votes.

So, will the Snooze-Gazette finally wake up and "discover" the shocking truth in the election data that nobody, absolutely nobody, could have known about in advance?

Or are we still supposed to be keeping this all a "state secret?"

Political Observer wrote on March 25, 2014 at 8:03 am

There was a tweet on Gordy Hulten's twitter feed a few days ago about the upcoming re-tabluation process, scheduled for today...but apparently the tweet was scrubbed from his twitter account???!

What's up with that?


Political Observer wrote on March 25, 2014 at 8:03 am

Here's a saved notice of today's retabulation process:


Notice is hereby given that the Retabulation of results for the March 18, 2014, General Primary Election, will commence on Tuesday, March 25, 2014, at 9:00 AM in the Champaign County Election Supply Building, 202 South Art Bartell Road, Urbana, Illinois.

The precincts and machines randomly selected by the Illinois State Board of Elections are:
Champaign 5
City of Champaign 19
City of Champaign 29
Ludlow 1
Rantoul 6
Early Voting Machine #1 (Brookens Early Voting Center)

The retabulation will be open to candidates, the press, representatives of political parties and the public.

Political Observer wrote on March 25, 2014 at 8:03 am

Now here's something that's interesting!  Suppose you desired to see if anybody's written anything at all about today's important retabulation of results, so you did a web search using the following as your search inquiry term:

"Champaign County" "Election Supply Building"

Well, it turns out that one of the search results that pops up in that search is an item that was posted to the website of the Champaign County Democrats web page (over 13 hours ago, according to Google!):




The state mandated retabulation of results from the March 18, 2014, General Primary Election will occur Tuesday, March 25, 2014, at 9:00 AM in the Champaign County Election Supply Building, 202 South Art Bartell Road, Urbana, Illinois. The retabulation will be open to candidates, the press, representatives of political parties, and the public.

In past years this process has found no serious issues, but this will not be the case tomorrow. Examination of the Unofficial Results reported on Election Night revealed implausible results for five positions on Democratic ballots: State Central Committeeman (13th & 15th Congressional Districts), State Central Committeewoman (same districts), and Precinct Committeeperson (all precincts). It is now acknowledged that these implausible results are indeed incorrect. The errors were not detected during the routine tabulation process on election night. They will not be detected tomorrow during the initial phase of the retabulation procedure. Only when we attempt to reconcile the reported results with the actual paper ballots from selected precincts (see below) will we “discover” the discrepancies. The fault is so pervasive that it affects election results throughout
Champaign County.


Say, what?!

"The fault is so pervasive that it affects election results throughout
Champaign County."  (!!!)

So, when is it time for people to start caring about something like this?  If not now, then when?

Sure, we all passionately love our Election Super-Hero, Gordy Hulten - possibly the greatest thing on Planet Earth since the Human Invention of Sliced White Bread! [Please excuse the slight sarcasm here, as I appear to agree with the "conventional wisdom" of our Fierce Watchdog Media!)

But when does it become time to break total radio (and TV and newspaper and blog) silence, and reluctantly report on the Gordy Boo Boo Story?

Political Observer wrote on March 25, 2014 at 9:03 am

It just occurred to me...I think I still have an old rubber chicken in a props box in the back of my dusty attic's broom closet!

Would it help any if we awarded a "Pullet Surprise" to the first member of the Honey Boo Boo Media to breathe a single word about the Gordy Boo Boo Story to their audience of news-consumers?

alabaster jones 71 wrote on March 27, 2014 at 2:03 pm
Profile Picture

Oh my god, I can't even...............................


Have you ever considered finding a more interesting hobby than posting essays to yourself on the News Gazette comment pages?


Maybe collecting stamps?  Your local postmaster can help you get started.  Best of luck.

31416 wrote on March 28, 2014 at 3:03 am

Here's the question I submitted for the March 28th edition of Tom's Mailbag:

I'm not sure I really understand all the silence from Gordy Hulten on the problem of counting the votes, Tom.  He said he originally knew about the problem on Wednesday the 19th, the day after the election, but the first public word about difficulties of any kind (other than in reader comments in last week's Mailbag [see above]) came from Al Klein in a press release on Monday the 24th.  Then, the first public acknowledgement from Gordy didn't come until his statements to the News-Gazette that finally appeared late in the day on Tuesday the 25th, a full week after Election Day.

Now it's some 10 days after the election and we're still waiting to hear if the votes have been counted and verified.  Why has there been so much silence from Gordy on all this?

And, further, what about any reactions from other public officials who might have some oversight responsibilities with regard to the conduct of our elections, like the State Board of Elections, Julia Rietz and even Al Kurtz (who, in the latter case, might want to determine whether county funds are being appropriately spent on administering our elections)?