On Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 5:09 PM, I sent 10 questions to both candidates running for Congress in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District. The two candidates were incumbent Phil Hare (D, IL) who had spent 24 years either assisting the previous office-holder, Lane Evans, or inheriting the seat from Evans in 2007, when Parkinson’s Disease forced Evans from office and Bobby Schilling.
Challenger Bobby Schilling, a Tea Party Republican who had never held office and who is now the Congressman from the 17th District after defeating Hare in the recent mid-term election, did not answer the 10 questions, but spokespeople answered 5 of them and the others are on record with various interviews and statements Schilling has made.
Prevailing wisdom, according to an article in the New York Times was that all Democratic candidates were being punished for supporting the bail-out of big businesses like General Motors and Wall Street and the fiscally conservative Republicans are riding in to save us from the national debt incurred under 8 years of a Republican regime that started wars on 2 fronts and borrowed money from other countries to finance same (sort of like the Cavalry coming to the rescue of the soldiers in the fort in those old westerns). If you have established a successful business, even though it’s only a pizza parlor in East Moline, Illinois, or you have been Mayor of a town like Wasilla, Alaska, that qualifies you for national office these days. Who needs 24 years of Congressional experience when you have mastered pizza, paper union positions, and perky?
Listed below are the ten questions I asked each candidate back in September, with the 5 answers that could be obtained from the 17th Congressional District;s newly-elected representative’s (Schilling’s) camp:
1) What inspired you to run for this office?
Congressman Schilling told Mike Kroll (“The Zephyr,” Dec. 31.2009) in “Politics, Pizza and Promises,” “I was recruited by my wife the day after the Presidential election. My daughters were visually (sic) upset at the results and asked, ‘”What are we going to do?’ I told my wife Christie that they were right. I had to do something. It was my time to step up and serve.”
2) What previous experience makes you the best candidate for the job?
Schilling’s experiences and Hare’s experiences (age aside) were remarkably similar, in terms of education (2 years of junior college at the local Black Hawk Junior College in Moline), both having been union men, and both being Catholic. Schilling, 46, has10 kids and one grandchild. Hare, 61, had 2 grown children. Schilling made some unusual vows, including one that he would not take Congressional insurance, for instance, but keep his own.
After the education each received and their union roots, the candidates were nothing alike, with Phil Hare and Lane Evans (his predecessor) firmly in the Obama liberal camp and Schilling at the opposite “Turn the bums out” extreme. The Schilling campaign took a snippet of a Phil Hare comment about the Constitution out of context and created a damaging attack ad that claimed Phil Hare “doesn’t care about the Constitution.” The Democrats tried to hang outsourcing of jobs around Schilling’s neck. The whole campaign was not pretty on either side.
The Constitution ad reminded of the Howard Dean self-destructive moment in Des Moines, sort of a “Wish I hadn’t said that” moment. Or, more to the point, “Wish they would have put that in the context of the moment.” [I was there for the Dean debacle at the Val-Air Ballroom. He could not be heard in the room at all. The “scream heard ‘˜round the world” only lived on in infamy because the opponent (Kerry) double-miked Dean and took the results viral. Entire books have been written on the subject and a movie is in the works, of the misrepresentation of the “rally the troops” gesture of enthusiasm by Dean in the face of caucus defeat.]
Neither side was particularly “nice” or “fair” to the other here in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District in ads that ran on television. And that’s putting it mildly.
One thing is for certain: thanks to new rules that allow Big Business (corporations) to come in and contribute, Schilling had $675,899 on hand to spend in his campaign as of October 6, 2010 (this according to Jim Geraghty of “The Campaign Spot”). The “National Review” (www.nationalreview.com) said Schilling raised $375,000 in one quarter, giving him $420,962 cash that had been raised since June 30th, 2010. The American Future Fund (corporate business interests, et. al.) unleashed half a million of attack ads against incumbent Hare in the waning hours of the campaign, and the anti-incumbent sentiment abroad in the land was particularly effective here, where jobs are scarce and Republicans have gone without much power since 1982.
The Illinois 17th Congressional District had been in Republican hands for all but 2 of the years since 1939, so Evans’ election in 1982 (he defeated Tom Railsback) was a change of direction. Redistricting in 2000, with Dennis Hastert (D, IL) and others gerrymandering the district, changed the game forever, it seemed. The redistricting went after the cities and ousted the rural component of the district. But the pendulum always always seems to swing. And, as the old saying goes, “Money talks and B.S. walks.” There was definitely a lot of B.S. walking during this last election cycle, from many,… and not just in Illinois.
The New York Times touted Schilling’s credentials as ” a successful businessman” (he owns Guiseppi’s Heavenly Pizza in East Moline). One source reported that John Deere corporate money came on strong to back Schilling; [John Deere is the biggest employer in the area.]
Bad news and more bad news: of 435 Congressional districts, the 17th district in Illinois ranks 25th in population decline. (Galesburg.com, Eric Timmons, in “The Register Mail,” Feb. 3, 2010). There have been huge job losses in the 17th Congressional district. Among the companies closing or cutting back: Case IH, Maytag in Galesburg, Quad City Die-Cast, Seaford Clothing, Container Corporation of America and a G.E. plant in Burlington. One ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak job prospect for the area was an announcement earlier this week that Alcoa Aluminum planned to hire back about 101 jobs. Some of the Alcoa jobs were in areas like “maintenance,” from the radio broadcast I heard, but if this area is desperate enough to put up with thousands of smelly hogs daily to gain jobs, doing some maintenance within the factory at Alcoa in Pleasant Valley, Iowa should be a piece of cake by comparison.
3) What are the 5 most important issues facing Rock Island County and the state of Illinois, in general?
No response given by election time.
4) In your opinion, what are the 5 most important issues facing the nation?
No response given by election time.
5) How would you create new jobs in this area? (Be specific)
No response given by election time.
6) What is your position on the Triumph Hog Plant that is to be constructed in East Moline?
A Schilling spokesman gave the impression in a telephone conversation that the Hog Plant issue would be looked at after the election was won. As I have been a vocal opponent of the Triumph Hog Plant, (which the incumbent supported because of the jobs it would bring to the area), this answer was encouraging. Slaughtering thousands of hogs a day and having feeder farms spring up near the slaughtering facility is not going to be a pretty sight — .or smell. And that is assuming there is no leakage from sewage ponds into groundwater.
7) What is your opinion of the Tea Party and its officially backed candidates?
The first question I asked on the phone to Communications Coordinator Jonathon Schweppe was, “Your candidate isn’t one of those Tea Party candidates, is he?” I added that I had just been in Iowa City with some very unusual-looking (and acting) members of the overly vocal Tea Party bunch, many of whom acted nuts outside the Fieldhouse when Obama was announcing the passage of the Health Care Bill in Iowa City. “Oh, only about 10% of them are nuts,” I’ve been reassured. Bobby Schilling (R, IL) gave a speech to the Quincy (IL) Tea Party group, and that group endorsed him for office. That’s your answer to the question of whether the new Congressman from Illinois’ 17th Congressional District accepts or rejects the Tea Party movement and candidates.
Schilling is a Tea Party candidate who was officially endorsed by, among others, the Quincy Tea Party, Joe the Plumber, Representative Michelle Bachmann (R, Minnesota), the Catholic Vote PAC, former Governor of Michigan Mitt Romney and Medal of Honor winner Sergeant John F. Baker, a Quad City native. Schilling is pro-life, pro-gun, for the troop surge in Afghanistan, for expanding the missile defense system, fiscally conservative, for repealing the Health Care reform bill, against opening the already-built-but-empty Thomson prison to house Gitmo prisoners, singled out for praise by both Glenn Beck (Project 9/12 candidate) and by the Republicans in the House, which named him a Young Gun. (NRCC designation).
8) What is your opinion of President Obama’s performance in office, to date?
No official answer by election time.
9) What is your response to charges that Rock Island County is “one of the 5 most gerrymandered districts in the nation?”
“Congressional District 17 in Illinois is one of the 5 most gerrymandered districts in the nation,” said Communications Director for Bobby Schilling for Congress, Jonathan Schweppe. He added that the idea was to keep the district in Democratic hands. The area that makes up the 17th District meanders down the left-hand (western central) side of the map of Illinois, taking in mainly cities, even when the city had to be snagged by really reaching into the interior of the state for it, like Springfield.
Major cities of the district include Sterling, Rock Island, Moline, Kewanee, Galesburg, Canton, Macomb, Quincy, Springfield and Decatur, making the district 71.15% urban and representing 653,647 Illinois citizens who are 89% white. (7.2% black, 3.7% Hispanic and .6 Asian). (www.wikipedia.com). Rural voters were purposely excluded, said Schilling’s spokesman/Communication Coordinator/Press Secretary. With re-districting scheduled to be done in the future, the plan will be to give Democrats payback for that previous odd apportioning of the state’s votes.
10) What would you like voters to remember most about you as they go to the polls?
No answer by election time.
The questions were fair and general. I waited patiently for answers from each camp. I knew from a conversation on the phone with Jonathan Schweppe that he considered Bobby Schilling’s story (i.e., the answer to Question Number One about what inspired someone who had never run for office before to run) to be “inspiring,” so I made sure to find out what that story was. Sounds like Schilling’s kids were visually upset that an African-American had won…so Schilling (a pizza parlor owner with no political experience) “stepped up” to run. “Inspiring” was not the adjective I would have selected.
Most of us who live in the area already knew that the Democratic Powers-That-Be put their heads together and decided, when Lane Evans stepped down due to ill health, his long-time loyal aide should inherit the post. That may not have set well with voters, as we have had other instances of nepotism amongst our local officials. And, yes, Rock Island County, especially recently, has proven as corrupt as Cook County.
I will deal only with the answers to five questions, Questions 1, 2, 6, 7 and 9, based on official spokesman responses and research because the Schilling camp never responded to all 10 of the submitted questions, surprisingly. I did receive a response from the Hare camp, although it,, too, was fairly late in coming.
I also listened to the candidates’ debate at Rock Island (IL) High School, and there did not seem to be any specifics given by either man as to how new jobs would be created in this area, but new jobs are certainly THE major issue here on the banks of the Mississippi. I hope all the new blood gets cracking on that project ASAP.