Ever since I started this blog over at LiveJournal ten years ago, it has been a tradition to endorse candidates in the Illinois Democratic primary from the top of the ticket down to the local McHenry County Board level. During most of that time I was also a precinct committee person and often an officer of the Democratic Party of McHenry County although the endorsements were my own and not the local party which had a tradition of not endorsing in primaries to make it easier to unite behind nominees in the November General Election. I am retired now as a shoe leather politician but like to cheer from the sidelines.
Endorsements will be from the top down. For those of you who do not live in Illinois or McHenry County, you can stop reading when it becomes irrelevant to you unless you are just a hard core political junkie.
Also, my apologies. With early voting now well established and increasingly popular, this post should probably have gone up two weeks ago. But, alas, I am such a relic that my biorhythms are set to go-to-the-polls-on-election-day.
First, vote! Second, take a Democratic ballot! In Illinois any voter can request a Democratic ballot no matter what your voting history. It doesn’t even make you a registered Democrat—a status that doesn’t exist here—and you will have a clean slate next time out. Surely you weren’t seriously thinking of voting Republican for the opportunity to pick between the vultures and jackals represented by crypto-fascist Donald Trump, religious zealot and Dominionist Ted Cruze, lazy pipsqueak Marco Rubio, and I’m-not-really-as-crazy-as-those-guys John Kasich.
Of course last week Jason Schaumburg, edited by our local daily newspaper the Northwest Herald told readers flatly that they had to vote Republican. His reasoning was that there are no Democrats running in county-wide races or have contests in County Board races. McHenry County is so overwhelmingly Republican that if you do not vote in the GOP primary that anoints the winners in November, you wasting your vote and have no voice in local government. But I don’t really care which vicious faction of the bitterly divided McHenry County Republicans wins the races for County Board Chairman, States Attorney, or Recorder. I wish there were Democrats to vote for in those races, but I know that many potential candidates sit out the primary to preserve the limited financial resources local Democrats face. Candidates for any or all of these races my yet be placed on the November ballot by caucus. There are single Democratic candidates on the ballot for most County Board races and could use the encouragement of votes now.
Local Democrats are in fact much more numerous than the Northwest Herald would have you believe, but have an unfortunate habit of showing up at the polls only in Presidential years like this one. In fact in the last two elections Barack Obama carried the county and state-wide candidates like Senator Dick Durbin have also won here.
Now down to the nitty-gritty.
For President Heretic, Rebel, a Thing to Flaunt proudly endorses Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. No Presidential candidate in my life time has more closely mirrored my values. This unapologetic socialist has resurrected that identity and movement from the political purgatory to which it has been confined since the era of McCarthyism. Not only that, but he has struck a deep cord with millions of disenfranchised Americans by offering real solutions to decades of rampage and pillage by corporate elites and their political stooges. He speaks to the same alienation which has driven other into the arms of an authoritarian demigod but instead of hate and fear offers hope and unity across racial, ethnic, language, religious, gender, and other divisions. An importantly, Sanders does not pretend he can deliver alone but stress the need for a broader and genuine political revolution.
This is not to disparage the talent, accomplishments, and extensive experience and service of Hillary Clinton. It is a tribute to the Democrats that they can offer two such fine candidates running on platforms offering clear policy alternatives in stark contrast to the Republican zoo. Clinton was long considered by virtually everyone the presumptive Democratic nominee and one which no foreseeable Republican had much of a chance of defeating. I myself repeatedly made those same predictions well into last year. But the early bandwagon to convince Senator Elizabeth Warren, the popular champion of banking reform and enemy of big business oligarchy and then the rise of Sanders offered real alternatives to Clinton’s instinctive cautious approach to reform and her real ties to the financial establishment. In addition Clinton is more hawkish on foreign policy and actually implied after leaving office as Secretary of State that her former boss Obama was soft in his anti-terrorism stance. Essentially she offers more of the same—continued and expanded drone wars, interventionism, and a dangerous deference to the bellicosity of the current Israeli government. My choice for Sanders over Clinton was ultimately made on these policy grounds, not out of animus to her or disrespect for her character.
Nor am I unmoved by the sentiment of many women I admire that it is past time to elect a woman President and the real and symbolic significance of that is on a par with making Barack Obama the first Black President. I recognize that much of the opposition to her is rooted in the deep seated cultural sexism and misogyny that dwells covertly under the surface of many liberals and progressives just as it is overtly displayed and flaunted on the Right.
In fact I am deeply dismayed by the venom displayed by some Sanders supporters although pointedly not by their candidate. Some are ideological purists who have slipped easily into slash-and-burn zealotry. They have eagerly adopted the old canards and smears and turned them into memes of their own. Worse, they have circulated and encouraged pledges never to vote for Clinton if she wins the nomination even if that hands the White House to Donald Trump or some other troll. It matters little that such folks are a tiny percentage of Sanders supporters. They are loud and obnoxious and have befouled the rest of us with their stench.
Clinton has had her own problems with her supporters including a mini-generational war in which old line feminists, including Gloria Steinem and Madalyn Albright have accused younger women of being traitors or “just not getting it” for their preference for Sanders. The young targets of the derision not unsurprisingly took offense.
As for me, I stand strongly for Sanders but will unhesitatingly and proudly vote for Clinton if she is the eventual nominee. Just as I have with Barack Obama who I have supported through two terms, I stand ready to be a vocal opponent on issues where we differ. I would hope that Clinton supporters, even those who have been singed by the lowest of the rhetoric coming from corners of the Sanders camp will do the same if he wins the nomination.
It is not enough to cast a ballot for President and walk away. The Illinois presidential primary is a beauty contest meaning unlike most states convention delegates are not automatically assigned to the winner. Here you have to vote separately for Delegates to the Democratic National Convention. There are slates of candidates for Delegate for both Clinton and Sanders as well as for candidates who have withdrawn from the race. But here is where it gets complicated. Only four delegates are elected from each Congressional District. But through some snafu or—in the minds of the paranoid—sabotage five candidates have been listed for Sanders in each Congressional District. If votes for four are scattered among them, it is possible that one or more Clinton delegate could slip by and be elected even if he wins the primary. Since it is almost impossible to research and vet delegate candidates my strong recommendation is to simply vote for the first four listed. Sorry Nos. 5 you’re out of luck.
The race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Mark Kirk is one of the most closely watched in the country because it is one of the best chances to pick up a critical seat in the upper chamber. Illinois was a traditional swing state that has been trending increasingly blue in recent elections. Kirk won the seat in a fluke by beating Roland Burris who had been appointed to fill out Barack Obama’s unexpired term by Governor Rod Blagojevich in a scandal plagued process. He finished the last few month of Burris turn and survived a challenge for a full term by Comptroller Alexi Giannoulias for a full term. He ran as moderate North Shore Republican who broke with his party on environmental and some cultural hot button issues. He has always been despised by the Tea Party and is being challenged in the Republican primary by James Martner but is expected to at least eke out a victory there.
His tenure has been bumpy. As a Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer he was accused of exaggerating combat service and twice disciplined by the Navy for conducting political business while on active duty in Afghanistan. His ex-wife accused him of concealing a payment of $143,000 to a former girlfriend Dodie McCracken, who had worked on his 2010 Senate campaign. He never denied the payments, but the Federal Election Commission ruled that they were legal because she was a contractor of the campaign.
The same year Kirk suffered a devastating stroke that kept him from returning to Senate for a full year. Even after coming back he was hampered by partial paralysis, usually confined to a wheel chair, and continues to have some trouble speaking clearly. Although he earned considerable public sympathy for a brave fight to resume his duties, questions about his health and stamina linger. He is clearly limited in conducting a rough and tumble reelection campaign.
More troubling for the Republicans has been a series of highly publicized gaffes—that press-speech for a gotcha moment that they will not let go of and he can’t shake. He trod on racial and gender sensitivities when he joked that bachelor Senator Lindsey Graham was a “bro with no ho.” Similarly he touted his support of efforts to help African-American entrepreneurs “so that the Black community is not the one we drive faster through.” He made several over the top analogies in discussing the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran the worst calling it “the greatest appeasement to come from the mouth of at since Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler” and calling the President Barack Hussein Obama, the full name usually reserved to the most belligerent right wing radio and cable ravers and not expected from supposedly classy moderates.
But the media in Illinois always swoon over a supposed Republican moderate and voters here have often elected them. He will be backed by a ton of money and carefully stage managed to keep him from routinely inserting his foot in his mouth. Even if the most rabid Tea Paritiers sit the race out, Kirk will still be a formidable candidate.
State Democrats, the Democratic National Committee, and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee have all strongly backed Representative Tammy Duckworth to challenge Kirk. And I, for once, concur, lending my own endorsement for what it’s worth.
Duckworth is an attractive candidate—a young woman who pulled herself out of poverty by grit and determination and who was an Army Captain and helicopter pilot when she was shot down over Iraq losing both legs and most of the use of one arm. He struggle through physical rehabilitation was documented on national TV and inspired thousands. She has in spades the military service credentials Kirk had to exaggerate. Duckworth lost her first bid for the Congressional seat held by retiring anti-abortion zealot Henry Hyde but lost to Peter Rostrum in 2006 in the heavily Republican district. Later that year was appointed Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans by Blagojevich, an association that might have been fatal—the Republicans certainly used it as a bludgeon against her—except that she was one of Blago’s rare blue ribbon prestige appointments, she had no prior political relationship with him, and she ran the department with effectiveness. In 2009 Obama appointed her Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs. She resigned that position in 2011 for her successful run for her current seat as Representative for the 8th Congressional District.
Duckworth has always been a moderate liberal and has sometimes disappointed the liberal activist wing of the Party which has also resented the boosts she has always gotten from what they consider to be a corrupt national Party apparatus. These activists are backing former Urban League leader Andrea Zopp, a strong progressive who I also admire. But winning back the Senate, hopefully with a veto Duckworth is by far the best opportunity to win the seat.
The only other state-wide slot on the ballot is for Comptroller considered an entry level Constitutional office which has often been the stepping stone to bigger things. The only candidate is Susana Mendoza, Chicago City Clerk and a former State Representative and Alderman. An easy endorsement for this office.
McHenry County is divided by two Congressional Districts, the 6th and the 14th. Both are considered safe Republican seats especially after the last gerrymandering or reapportionment if you want to be technical. That means that the DNC, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and fat cat national donors won’t spend money on them, preferring to husband their resources for more competitive seats. That makes the uphill climb for Democratic candidates, who tend to be woefully underfunded to begin with all the steeper.
So it is a tribute to the courage of the multiple citizen politicians who are competing for the privilege of perhaps being annihilated in the General Election. Each and every one of them are heroes. They are taking a gamble that in a strong Democratic year with the Republicans forced to run with Trump or Cruze if the entire Party does not find some other way to implode enough people will also recognize that the hyper-conservative House of recent years is a huge part of the reason the country is now in such desperate shape. Maybe, just maybe, the can confound the experts and catch lightning in a bottle.
In the 6th District the easy choice is Amanda Howland, a former special education teacher, administrator from Lake Zurich in Lake County who made a mid-career change to become a lawyer practicing in employment and civil right law. She is an elected member and former Chair of the College of Lake County Board of Trustees. She is a solid progressive with a good grasp of the issues. This is Howland’s second race for the Congressional seat, which means she knows exactly what she is in for and has presumably learned a thing or two about running an underdog campaign.
Her worthy opponent is Dr. Robert Marshall, a Vietnam veteran and Harvard educated radiologist who has been active in supporting progressive Democrats since John F. Kennedy. His expertise in health care issues is certainly a plus. We just think Howland is a stronger candidate.
Three Democrats are seeking the nod in the 14th District which makes an odd c-shaped swath through the out northern and western suburbs through DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will Counties. Democrat Bill Foster won the seat in the Obama landslide year of 2008 but most Democratic strongholds were excluded and heavily Republican rural areas added in redistricting. Conservative Randy Hultgren, who once swore he would leave office after three terms is running for a fourth.
My pick to level his lance at the Republican is Jim Walz, a sales representative from Gurnee and a former elected school board member. Although this is Walz’s first foray into a “big time race” he is well grounded in the issues and takes progressive positions that have won the support of many Sanders backers.
John J. Hostra is a former Merrill Lynch account executive, and a manufacture who is currently trading in stocks for private accounts. His main issue is opposition to so-called Free Trade and the Transpacific Partnership. He is understandably more business friendly than Walz. He earned the endorsement of the Northwest Herald, a staunchly Republican rag with no particular interest in seeing Democrats succeed.
Jesse Lee Maggitt is a Black retired senior Army officer and currently a business operations efficiency manager. He emphasizes that his skills and experience make him the best problem solver in the race. As a Black in an overwhelmingly White district, he faces an exceptionally hard path to the nomination.
Jack Franks in the 63rd District is the most successful McHenry County Democrat in modern history and one of the most recognized legislators state-wide. He has a knack for snaring face time on Chicago TV stations for his numerous “reform” campaigns. He is noted for his epic feuds with both of the last two Democratic Governors and is easily the most conservative Democrat in the House. But he is a shrewd politician and has the best constituent service operation I have ever seen. He was first elected back in 1998 and has easily held his seat ever since. Jack personally vexes me more often than not. He has the thinnest skin of any politician I have ever known and holds grudges. He often avoids being seen with or identifying with other local Democrats preferring to position himself as sort of an independent. But Jack surprised many of us when he came through and made the decisive vote to pass Marriage Equality in the House, where it had long been languishing. He even made a surprisingly moving and impassioned speech on the floor of the House. That made up for a lot. I hope there is more of that in the future. So Jack deserves another term, especially because any conceivable Republican would be infinitely worse.
Nancy Zettler of Algonquin is running a longshot campaign to unseat Republican Barbara Wheeler in the 66th District. Zettler is an economic populist in the mode of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. She is especially troubled by wreckage to community institutions and families brought about by Governor Bruce Rauner’s virtual blackmail of the entire state to gain passage of his union busting, benefit slashing, tax breaks for the wealthy agenda. She has a hard road ahead, but deserves support.
Finally, Democrats are seeking seats on the McHenry Country Board in all but one District. All are first time candidates. I urge you to support Kerri Barber—an active Sanders volunteer—in District 1, Dominique Miller in District 2, Ken Miller in District 3, Alex Wimmer in District 5, and Allison Barnard in District 6.
I am making no endorsement for judgeships or in any local referenda.
One more thing though. Go all the way to the bottom of your Democratic ballot. If you see a candidate for Precinct Committeeman there, please vote for her or him. The weighted votes of elected committee people are based on the total Democratic vote in their precinct. They use the weighted votes at the County Convention two weeks after the primary to organize the Democratic Party of McHenry County and elect its officers.