The Phil Hare vs. Tea Party Republican challenger Bobby Schilling in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District race is getting very interesting. Jim Gerghly in the National Review Online (Aug. 3, 2010) wrote, “This race has been one that I’ve been shouting has enormous upset potential — ” (www.nationalreview.com). In “Race of the Day, Illinois 17 — The Hill’s Ballot Box” (www.thehill.com/blogs/ballot) it was phrased this way, “If there’s one race that could tell the true size of the expected Republican wave this fall, it may very well be Representative Phil Hare’s re-election bid in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District.”
That’s what they’re saying on the blogs. In the Republican National Review (www.nationareview.com) the comment was, “When only 25% say they definitely want to re-elect you — well, this Hare might be cooked.” And to make matters worse, a new factor entered the race on Oct. 7, as the Des Moines-based American Future fund has just unleashed a half-a-million dollars worth of anti-Hare television ads running in the Quad Cities, Quincy and Springfield for 2 weeks. The political arms of both Republican and Democratic parties are becoming more interested in the race as it nears the finish line, the Democrats with an $89,000 ad criticizing Schilling. Politico reports that the National Republican Congressional Committee has the 17th District in its sights. (American Future Fund is a non-profit, one of the kind that doesn’t have to disclose the identities of donor; most of the money is going to fund Republican candidates.)
But a toss-up is not what the incumbent’s camp is saying we have in this race. When I spoke with both Tim Schlittner at Friends of Phil Hare and with Joseph Livoti, Finance Director for Hare’s campaign, their take on the race was quite different. Phil Hare is seeking to retain the seat he inherited in 2007 from Lane Evans. Hare took office on January 3, 2007, after Representative Lane Evans (D, IL) (who suffers from Parkinson’s disease) stepped down in March because he was too ill to run for re-election.
Andrea Zinga, a local anchorwoman for all three networks in the area and an Emmy-winning CNN anchorwoman in Atlanta, ran against Lane Evans as a Republican newcomer. I know Andrea personally. She had great name recognition, was a college graduate, pleasant, attractive, personable, smart.
However, Andrea made the mistake of pointing out the truth: Lane Evans was very ill and unable to serve his constituents any longer. Phil Hare was Evans’ assistant for 24 years. Apparently, (according to the barbershop trio I spoke with who flank the current Republican challenger’s office above Hignight’s Florist in East Moline, Illinois), mentioning that elephant on the table was a big, big mistake for Ms. Zinga. When I said to these Everymen, getting haircuts, “Well, things are very different now,” one of the men said, “Oh, yeah, Big Time different.”
Andrea lost to Lane Evans by a landslide: 61% to 39% on November 2 of 2004. However, a review of the records shows that when Republican challenger Andrea Zinga, ran for a second time, against Phil Hare (after Evans stepped down on March 28, 2006), she received 85,734 votes (43%) while Phil Hare garnered 114,638 (57%). Hardly the landslide that Evans had pulled off, when in failing health. (www.wikipedia.com).
By the point he had to step down, Lane Evans had been the Congressional representative for the 17th District since 1982. The 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 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.
I spoke with Jonathan Schweppe, a Bobby Schilling spokesperson. He said, “Congressional District 17 in Illinois is one of the 5 most gerrymandered districts in the nation.” My comment: it actually looks as though a drunk drew it up, with the area that makes up the 17th District meandering 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, says Schilling’s spokesman Jonathan Schweppe; the idea, he claims, was to keep the district in Democratic hands.
If Jonathan Schweppe and Bobby Schilling have anything to say, that won’t happen. Schilling is a Tea Party candidate 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 Glen Beck (Project 9/12 candidate) and by the Republicans in the House, which named him a Young Gun. (NRCC designation).
Schilling, who lives in Colona (not really very much “in” the Congressional District), has been married for 24 years and has 10 children, including a child born in February. He has one grandchild. He is 46, photogenic and founded a pizza parlor, Guiseppi’s Heavenly Pizza in East Moline. When asked why he was running (by Mike Kroll of “The Zephyr,” Dec. 31.2009) in “Politics, Pizza and Promises,” Schilling said: “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.”
Phil Hare, whose 2 children are now grown, resembles 10 pounds of sausage stuffed in a 2-pound casing. (Sorry, Congressman Hare). He is 61 years old and inherited the seat from Lane Evans (as mentioned above). When the two candidates debated at Rock Island High School at a candidate’s forum on September 19th, Representative Hare seemed to know what he was talking about and have a much better grasp of the issues, which seems natural if you’ve been at it for over a quarter of a century. Hare inherited a very liberal Congressman’s reins, an ex-Marine who could count on veterans to support him, and Hare has retained most of the flavor and endorsements of Lane Evans. The Republican candidate seems to be trying to link Mr. Hare to Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, while Mr. Hare groused, somewhat testily, “I wish Mr. Schilling had read the (Health Care Reform) bill.”
It’s beginning to look like both a beauty pageant and a horserace out here in the Heartland.
Is Phil Hare a vulnerable candidate for an attractive, energetic upstart Tea Party candidate?
The Schilling camp feels Hare is vulnerable, although the Hare camp pointed out on Monday, “Hare’s ahead in all the polls.” That comment came to me, in person, from Phil Hare’s Director of Finance, New York campaign organizer Joseph Livoti, on Monday, October 3, 2010. Livoti also pointed out the Veterans of Foreign Wars support Mr. Hare, to rebut one of the points that has been used against Hare by Mr. Schilling, that Hare claims to be a veteran but he was only in the Army reserve for several years. It’s little things like this that are dominating the campaign, a campaign which has become exceedingly nasty.
At one point, a very uncomplimentary billboard with unflattering images of Congressman Hare urging that he be defeated appeared near the entrance to the I-74 Bridge (a high traffic area) and on 11th Ave. in Rock Island. The billboard was finally taken down, but only after a James L. Moody filed a complaint (the implication being he was working on Mr. Hare’s behalf). The complaint was made on August 27th, according to information from bobmccarty.com, who also wrote a story on October 3, 2010, entitled “Labor Union Desperate to Save Phil Hare’s Seat.” There was also a charge that Hare tried to find out who a heckler was by using license plate records (his daughter works in a licensing bureau). This story went nowhere and missed the very real and substantive issues facing the district.
Both men have legitimate claims to labor experience and support. Schilling was a union steward for Local 191 of United Paperworkers International Union from 1983 to 1987 and was a Treasurer for United Food and Commercial Workers Union from 1987 to 1995. Hare, who began his career cutting linings for men’s suits at a factory now gone (Seaford’s Clothing) was also a Union man, and has a long history with organized labor, which seems to be the touchstone for success in this district — .(or was, in the past.) Hare has been endorsed by labor and by NARAL Pro-Choice America, and is a supporter of Health Care Reform.
Hare said, in a position piece in the Sunday, October 3, 2010 Moline Dispatch newspaper: “I know some of you opposed health-care reform. I understand your concerns. But my opponent’s plan to repeal the law is irresponsible.” He cited ‘˜a staggering +129% in the last decade” increase in small business health care costs and “an additional 32 million Americans insured” because of the Health Care bill. Schilling, on the other hand, has vowed to repeal the bill entirely.
Hare held 24 town hall meetings across the 17th District, but neither candidate can now agree on a debate format, which earned them both Jeers in a column in the October 2 Dispatch, when the local Moline paper wrote, “Their fight over debates appears to be far more important than actually working toward agreement.” Hare wants to debate on the public television station (WQPT) two times, but Schilling favors the Town Hall meetings, like the ones that devolved into shouting matches and spawned phrases like “pulling the plug on Grandma” when another Republican (Charles “Chuck” Grassley) toured Iowa conducting town hall meetings.
There is a third-party candidate in the race, Roger Davis, the Green Party candidate. In the October 3rd Dispatch (Brandy Donaldson, “Davis Proposes Yet Another Format for Debates”) Davis said he had contacted Terry Schilling, Bobby Schilling’s campaign manager, and was told, “We’ll get back to you. They haven’t.”
I can understand Mr. Davis’ frustration. I sent both candidates 10 general questions over a week ago by e-mail after speaking personally with each candidate’s representatives on the phone. I’d not heard a thing since, which caused me to go out in search of each candidate’s headquarters, to see if I could get either side to promise to answer the questions put together my editor at Yahoo.com and I composed. No dice. Mr. Schilling was not in at his headquarters in East Moline on Saturday, Oct. 1st. However, Mr. Schilling’s representative did contact me by e-mail today, promising a position paper to address the 10 generic questions, and I will be writing another article when I get the responses from the candidates.
I did get a photo op of phone bankers working the phones for Phil Hare at his headquarters inside a Rock Island bank at 224 18th Street, but it wasn’t easy. I had phoned ahead to find out if the campaign workers were on the job. Eric told me they’d be there till 9 p.m., However, the USA bank (within which Hare’s headquarters reside) had closed its doors for the day. I phoned upstairs again to ask for admittance and reminded Eric that I had just told him I was on my way from East Moline and would be there in 15 minutes. I think I’d still be standing outside leaning against a telephone pole if another volunteer hadn’t arrived with a key to the outer door.
From there on, it was smooth sailing in getting a picture and speaking to Finance Director Joseph Livoti, who noted that the huge amounts of cash the Republican candidate claims to have can’t be true, because they have no TV ads running. That was a day before the announcement of two rather large amounts today (Oct. 7th) I naively said, “Maybe they’re waiting to hit you with their best shot using them right at the end?” Livoti responded, “They haven’t made the buy and the spots are gone.”
If they really have as much money as they said they had, it is odd that Schilling’s camp hasn’t purchased television, because, in this area, it is relatively inexpensive to do so when compared with other areas (I used to purchase television spots for my 2 businesses) and the conversation I had with Jonathan Schweppe within the Schilling camp specifically referenced record-breaking fundraising, which seemed to be borne out in public documents.
Third party candidate Roger Davis complained in print on October 3 in the Moline Dispatch, “Mr. Schilling doesn’t want the 2 debates on the public broadcasting stations because he can’t get the questions in advance or bring his cheering section with him so they can disrupt and antagonize the other candidates.” That certainly seems to be a pattern for Tea Party candidates. It has caused Congressman Hare to refer to Schilling’s insistence on Town Hall meetings as “shout-a-thons.” Hare also has said, “I look forward to having a frank and open debate with voters about my record and these important issues between now and November.” Not likely that this will occur, from all appearances, but there are Hare ads attacking Schilling for letting jobs go to South Korea running now.
Tim Schlittner, a Hare campaign spokesman, with whom I spoke (phone conversation) about my “10 Questions for the Candidates”, said, “Mr. Davis does have a point. Debates are not campaign rallies. That’s our objection with Mr. Schilling’s proposal.” (Hare would like to debate two times on WQPT, the public television channel; Schilling wants the Town Hall format.) From what I saw in Rock Island on 9/19, the debate substance would, indeed, favor Congressman Hare, who seems to know the issues best, whereas challenger Schilling seemed to be vamping and Davis — who had 7% of the vote total at one point — .wasn’t even there.
Each candidate can be accused of talking out of each side of his mouth on certain issues. For example, Schilling clearly said at a Quincy rally (of Health Care Reform), “When I am elected next fall, voters will be able to count on me to repeal this law.” However, during the Rock Island High School debate — apparently one of the few times voters will get to see the candidates side-by-side — Schilling waffled and talked about “pulling out the good things” in the bill before he segued into a barely-related rant about tort reform and 16,000 new IRS agents that would need to be hired for financial reform. He also decried the “total destruction of the private insurance market in America,” in his response to issues raised in the October 3, 2010, Sunday Moline Dispatch. The total destruction of the private insurance market in America seems unrealistic, when private insurance companies have been profiting mightily at the American public’s expense for years. Schilling also railed against the requirement that small businesses “pay $2,000 per worker per year beginning in 2014” for insurance for their employees.
I was a small business owner in this area, CEO of two such small businesses, for close to 20 years. I voluntarily insured my three full-time staffers; I don’t see that this is an unfair requirement. It seems a question of morality. I do see Schilling’s point about how some employers might try to dodge the bill’s requirements, since they only apply to businesses that employ over 50 employees. Schilling said, “Since the rule applies only to businesses of more than 50 workers, every 50-person business is trying to figure out how not to hire any more workers, and every 55-person business is trying to figure out how to lay off five workers.” Maybe. Maybe not. There are a few business owners (like me) who have a conscience; I speak from experience. But Schilling is speaking as a politician to make a questionable point that new jobs would be lost if the Health Care bill remains in force, despite the good it will do for millions of uninsured Americans. (Definitely not a perfect bill, but the first time any bill for Health Care Reform has come down the pike.)
Hare, too, has some ‘splainin’ to do in regards to differing pronouncements on the more local level of the Triumph Hog Plant bill (see my previous AC article on same), since he once said the pig processing jobs (16,000 kills a day) should be welcomed to the area and gave the impression that, if anything went wrong, it could be fixed after it went wrong, a la the British Petroleum strategy in the Gulf Oil Spill disaster. Exact quote: “There is 25% unemployment in the building trades right now, and this (Triumph plant) would put at least 600 people to work on construction. We shouldn’t summarily thumb our nose at these jobs because of something that potentially might happen. We can act out of fear again or we can act out of trying to improve our economy.”
However, in a New York Times quote (www.nytimes.com/2009/10/16) from an article entitled “EPA Vows Better Enforcement of Water Act,” October 15, 2009, Congressman Hare responded to Judy Treml of Wisconsin, (whose 6-month old daughter was sickened and hospitalized by a huge manure pond that seeped into the family’s well and contaminated it), “I just can’t imagine turning on your faucet and manure coming out. We’ve got to fix this and we’ve got to fix it quickly. It’s shameful that your family has got to go through this.” Experts on groundwater contamination from large hog plant facilities warn that families living near the proposed Triumph Foods plant in East Moline stand a better-than-even chance of experiencing many of the same problems as the Tremls. Hare is in favor of the hog plant in East Moline, because it will bring new jobs to the area but seemed to have a different opinion when listening to the sad story of the sick six-month old daughter in Congressional testimony.
New jobs in the area are, indeed, a big issue. There have been massive jobs lost in the 17th district , which includes Case IH, Maytag in Galesburg, Quad City Die-Cast, Seaford Clothing, Container Corporation of America, and Norcross Boot Company. Another G.E. plant in Burlington announced its plans to close its doors yesterday. 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).
The problem is that Schilling talks a very good game, making some unusual promises, such as his promise that he would donate any pay raises received, limit himself to no more than 8 years in office, not vote for any bill he hasn’t read, and not take part in the Congressional insurance program, and would keep his own private insurance. [I remind that Mayor Bloomberg of New York City made similar promises about term limits, but then dispensed with them at crunch-time.]
The ideal thing in this district would be for the less photogenic Hare to debate Schilling (and Roger Davis, the Green candidate, another less-photogenic candidate who might go along with this plan willingly) on the radio. Hare could certainly score points on both candidates with his superior knowledge, gleaned from over a quarter century working in Congress. He could point out that Bobby Schilling has said things like, “The worst thing we could do right now is to let those tax cuts expire.” [The tax cuts in question are Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans.]
Schilling’s spokesperson (Jonathan Schweppe), commenting on the make-up of Schilling’s team said, “We can’t just be, ‘˜We’re Republicans.’ We are a broad-based campaign. We consider ourselves conservative, especially fiscally.” I said, “From what I’ve seen, a lot of the Tea Party candidates seem nuts.” Schweppe said that he had just spoken at a Tea Party rally. He added that his candidate wouldn’t support the stimulus plan or Health Care reform. He made an off-the-record comment about the sanity of Tea Party candidates, which I shall not repeat.
Hare’s response has been, “Mr. Schilling has a very different view of how to get our economy back on track. He supports lowering corporate taxes at a time of record profits and lavish bonuses. He opposed additional regulation of Wall Street’s risky behavior and excess, saying the problem will fix itself. He opposed federal money brought back to the 17th District and is opposed to the 3,000 prison jobs at Thomson Prison (to guard Gitmo prisoners).” (Galesburg.com, Eric Timmons for “The Register Mail,” Feb. 3, 2010).
Despite what sound like some boneheaded ideas on Bobby Schilling’s probably earnest part, Shane d’Aprile noted (9/23/2010), “But Republican Bobby Schilling is making a race of it in the 17th District and the contest has quickly moved into tossup territory.” There was a downgrading at the national level of polling from “safely Democratic” to a 74% likelihood of Hare’s retaining his seat, to “probable Democratic.” (“New York Times House Race Ratings,” Sept. 11, 2010, elections.nytimes.com).
When you actually live here, however, (and not in New York City) you pay attention to the feeling on the ground. One anonymous poster (identified only as “John”) wrote, “I live near the Illinois 17th District and all the excitement is for the Republican. The We Ask America poll (which gave Schilling +3 points over Hare, but was conducted by GOP pollster Glen Bolger) called Hare ‘˜one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country’ and the Schilling excitement on the ground does not bode well for Hare — Joblessness is even higher in Illinois District 17 than the national average. Hare is in trouble.”
(SOURCES: National Review Online, Aug. 3, 2010, Jim Gerghly, www.nationalreview.com; “Race of the Day, Illinois 17 — The Hill’s Ballot Box www.thehill.com/blogs/ballot; www.bobmccarty/2010/10/03/labor-union, “Labor Unions Desperate to Save Phil Hare’s Seat,” Oct. 3, 2010; Republican National Review, www.nationalreview.com; www.wikipedia for Lane Evans; Galesburg.com, “The Register Mail,” Eric Timmons, Feb. 3, 2010; www.nytimes.com/2009/10/15, “EPA Vows Better Enforcement of Water Act,” Oct. 15, 2009; NY Times House Race Rating, Sept. 11, 2010, elections.nytimes.com; www.thehill.com/blogs/ballot, “Race of the Day: Illinois 17 — The Hill’s Ballot Box”, Shane D’Aprile, 9/23/2010; Cook Political Report; Moline Dispatch, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010, “Before You Vote, Throughout Campaign, Visit Election Central,” by Roger Ruthhart, QCOnline.com/elections; Dispatch, Oct. 3, “Election 2010 Candidates on the Issues;” Dispatch, Oct. 3, 2010, “Davis Proposes Yet Another Format for Debates,” Brandy Donaldson; Monday, Oct. 1st discussion with Jonathan Schweppe at Bobby Schilling Campaign and Tim Schlittner at Friends of Phil Hare campaign headquarters; Tuesday, October 2 interview with Joseph Livoti, Finance Director for Friends of Phil Hare campaign; Quad City Times, Thursday, October 7, 2010, “Advocacy Group Takes Aim At Hare” by Ed Tibbetts.)