It’s been a while since state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, has had an election opponent — 2014, to be precise, when she got 61 percent of the vote against Republican Kristin Williamson.
She has one this year, but Brad Bielert is facing a lot of hurdles.
He’s a Libertarian candidate running in an overwhelmingly Democratic district (Champaign-Urbana) with no money or name identification. He’s never run for office before and he didn’t get certified for the ballot until Aug. 21, when the State Board of Elections finally dismissed a challenge to his candidacy filed by Ammons’ political ally Wayne Williams.
Finally, Bielert has to run during a pandemic, when old-
fashioned door-to-door campaigning is out of the question.
Meanwhile, Ammons has at least $48,000 in her campaign fund and years of name recognition that comes from running numerous times for the Illinois House, Champaign County Board and Urbana City Council and school board.
Bielert, a 49-year-old auto technician who lives in Champaign’s Garden Hills neighborhood, says he’s not discouraged.
“You just do it. That’s one thing my mother and father taught me,” he said. “No matter how hard the job, you just do the best you can and complete it.”
Bielert lives with his parents, both of whom have medical issues. He does auto repairs at his home and also works on the side for Shatterglass Studios.
“While you’re doing all of this (running for office), you have to work during the day and pay the bills,” he said.
Bielert said he’s “leaned Republican” (voting records show he voted Republican in every primary between 2010 and 2020) but that within the last year, he became a Libertarian.
“I started to see that with the Libertarian line, that Libertarians kind of satisfy both sides and that maybe things can be worked through between the two major parties,” he said.
A Libertarian Party member has never been elected to the Illinois Legislature.
“I got into some political discussions between some friends, and it was like, we have this consolidation of power in Springfield with (House Speaker Michael Madigan), and our local government is being consolidated, too,” he said, referring to Ammons being not only state representative but also head of the Champaign County Democrats.
“It’s really disconcerting that the power in politics has divided people,” he said.
He may be a political novice, but Bielert deftly handled the question of whether he would address the prolonged investigation into whether Carol Ammons had stolen a purse from an Urbana resale shop last January.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “It definitely speaks for itself. I am not the jury or the judge, and I’m going to let them decide.”
In fact, no one has decided anything yet. The incident has been in the hands of the state appellate prosecutor’s office since late January, with no decision yet about whether to charge Ammons.
Bielert said he plans to run a “positive” campaign emphasizing traditional Libertarian principles, stressing personal freedoms, term limits, fair maps, lower taxes and consolidated government.
“I believe that everyone should be able to work without government’s thumb on their back, no matter your sexual identity, your race or your religious beliefs,” he said. “You should be able to live the way you want to live.”
Sometimes, he admitted, that commitment to personal freedoms means personal compromises.
“My personal belief is that I am pro-life, but here’s where it gets a little weird,” he said. “I believe that people have the right to decide for themselves. The government should not interfere. I also believe that taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for abortions. Organizations can step up and donate in that case.”
He also wants maps of political districts to be drawn by unbiased, independent people, not politicians. He favors limits of “two or three terms” on state legislators, limited reforms for bail procedures, easier access to medical marijuana and consolidating local governments.
“We are ranked number one in the U.S. for most units of government. Florida has about 1,700 local units of government, and they have about 6 million more people than Illinois,” he said (the population difference is actually almost 9 million). “And their property taxes are lower. Maybe we could put some of that money saved toward education like vocational training.”
Asked how he’s going to campaign with little money during a global pandemic, he had no easy answer.
“It’s really just speaking to groups in an open environment,” he said, admitting that he’s spoken so far only to a group of Young Republicans and has another appearance scheduled before retired Republicans.
“This is all new to me,” Bielert said. “It’s kind of stripping off the blue-collar clothes and becoming accustomed to this kind of atmosphere. My background in politics has just been voting but starting to see how over the last eight, 12 years, the two parties aren’t working together.”
Midwest battlegroundsDon’t expect to see any political advertising by the presidential candidates in East Central Illinois. It’s Labor Day weekend, and if the candidates were going to be on the air here, they’d be on now.
Nexstar Media Group-owned WCIA-TV reports no purchases of air time by the Trump or Biden campaign committees. The Trump campaign apparently has surrendered Illinois to Biden after losing to Hillary Clinton here in 2016 by almost 1 million votes.
But it’s a different tale in Wisconsin and Michigan, two Midwestern battleground states where TV stations are profiting from a closely divided electorate.
The Biden campaign, for example, has purchased 129 spots at Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV (owned by Nexstar) at a cost of $30,187. The commercials will run from Aug. 31 to Sept. 27. Trump’s campaign hasn’t bought any time at the station.
But at Green Bay’s WFRV-TV (also owned by Nexstar), it’s a big-time shootout. For just this week (through Sept. 7), the Trump campaign bought 93 spots at a cost of $26,800 and the Biden campaign bought 71 spots for $22,220.
Tom Kacich’s column appears Sundays in The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.