Checking the Ballot: Voter Decisions Proving Difficult

With unemployment still looming and party tensions high, voters may be taking a more cautious look at the candidates they place in office. The Perfect Candidate

You’re never going to find the perfect candidate . . .at least in Illinois. After former Governor Rod Blagojevich was ousted for attempting to auction off Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat, constituents hoped change was on the way. But Pat Quinn quickly set tempers flaming as angered voters accosted him for his plan to raise income taxes to quell the record $13 billion state deficit. Alexi Giannoulias, the youngest Illinois State Treasurer now running for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Obama, is also feeling the heat because of Bright Start, a college savings program which cost young people thousands of dollars after its failure.

Across the aisle, Republicans eager to regain control of Washington are already vying for potential House leadership positions, counting on fickle voters to hand them the gavel as history repeats itself.  But constituents voting Republican may be more enticed with the idea of conservative leadership than with the candidates themselves. State Senator Bill Brady, Quinn’s Republican challenger for the gubernatorial seat, has been criticized for his initial failure to release his income tax returns. Representative Mark Kirk, a five-term congressman in a tight race against Giannoulias, grossly exaggerated his military service while denying on the House floor that unemployment is a “big deal.” Other issues—particularly his moderate views on abortion—have irked conservative voters.

“I’m wary of candidates on both sides,” says Woodford County resident Mia, 23. “I think you never really know when you’ve made the right decision. There’s just so much bad stuff out there.”

Lacie, a college student originally from Washington, IL, says she hasn’t thought a lot about the upcoming election. “I usually vote based on the person and not really on the party, and this year it’s like there’s really no candidate in any of the major races that really stands out to me as someone who can be trusted. It’s kind of disappointing.”

Despite frustrations among some Central Illinois constituents, myrmidons and members of the party faithful are turning out to vote. “I’ve always voted Democrat,” says Alan of Peoria. “Doesn’t really matter to me what’s being said about the candidates. My wife votes Republican. That’s the way it’s always been.”

Neck n’ Neck

If candidates fail to arouse much voter ado, perhaps the close races will. Both gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races are in a tight fix, the state deficit acting as a major playing card for Quinn and Brady to sway the masses. Quinn, 61, released a statement last spring asking the public for ideas on how best to decrease the deficit and claims the state has lost over $1 billion to pay for the budget. “If we don’t raise income taxes to help pay for education, we’ll see at least 17,000 Illinois teachers laid off.”

Although the public spotlight may be dimmer than that of the Governor’s race, candidates for Lieutenant Governor also face caviling from opposing parties. Shelia Simon, the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, defends Quinn’s position on raising taxes into the ground, calling the income tax increase “the right thing” for the people of Illinois that “will help get the state budget in order.”

Simon, a 49-year-old university law school professor and former Carbondale City Council member, says a responsible budget is one way to demonstrate that elected leaders can focus on the long-term public good instead of the short-term acquisition of power. “The Democratic Party has the opportunity to show that kind of leadership and restore public confidence in government.”

But Simon’s opposing candidate, Jason Plummer, the Lieutenant Governor hopeful from Edwardsville running on the same ticket as Brady, says an income tax increase would act as a detriment to the people of Illinois and argues raising taxes during a time of economic recession is akin to insanity.

“If you look at the budget deficit and you look at the spending over the last eight years and the fact that 200,000 jobs have been lost under Governor Quinn, you can see that increasing taxes in this climate will drive more people and more businesses out of the state. We’re seeing people leave this state because they don’t have the fiscal discipline they need in Springfield to create opportunity. Raising taxes will do absolutely no good without cutting spending.”

Even with all the solicitude surrounding the Governor race, Lieutenant Governor candidates are being scrutinized for faults. Plummer, a twenty-eight-year-old newcomer to the political arena, has been the target of criticism concerning his age and supposed lack of experience. But State Senator Matt Murphy, who finished second to Plummer in the primary, says he believes the candidate is qualified.

Having served as Vice President for corporate development at R.P. Lumber, his family-owned company, Plummer isn’t shy about touting his leadership experience. “I’ve worked as an executive at my family’s business, and I’d gladly match my leadership skills up to most anybody’s.”

Illinois Senate races are also ramping up voter attention. The Kirk campaign recently released an ad flaunting the failure of Giannoulias’s Bright Start Program while several stories have spotlighted Kirk’s numerous exaggerations of his military service.

Giannoulias is taking it all in stride, criticizing Republican opponent Mark Kirk whose last ten years “stooped in D.C. politics,” Giannoulias claims, have made him a Washington “insider.”

“He’s been an insider for a decade,” he says. “Because of the terrible decisions he’s made in D.C. touching jobs, the economy and bank bailouts on Wall Street, he’s helped contribute to one of the worst economic recessions since the Great Depression.”

Kirk claims his party has been anything but torpid toward the country’s need for employment. The candidate says he has worked with his colleagues in Congress to help bring jobs to the American people.

“I voted against Pelosi’s trillion-dollar stimulus plan, and I will continue to fight against pork barrel projects that are of no use in creating good-paying jobs,” he says.

Building Bridges

Local races are also hotly contested this year. The State Representative seat for the 92nd District currently held by Jehan Gordon is being challenged by Peoria City Councilman Jim Montelongo. Gordon won the seat by a narrow margin against Joan Krupa in the 2008 election. Before her election, Gordon’s service encompassed work at Bradley University’s Small Business Development Center where she helped provide assistance to local entrepreneurs. She also served as Director/Developer of Peoria’s Emerging Leaders program.

Gordon’s present focus? Excellent constituent service.

“We have to really begin to build bridges and find areas where we agree,” she says. “Only then can we best serve our constituents.”

Sponsoring numerous bills and enhancing committee productivity with the fresh ideas and spirited optimism of a young woman in her twenties, Gordon is well equipped to begin a second term in office. One of the pieces of legislation Gordon is most proud of having sponsored during her first term is HB 4445. Rumors among constituents regarding cost-of-living increases for legislators can inflict serious damage on politicians—especially during campaigns when opponents wave pay-for-play tactics like red flags hoping to sway undecided voters by blinding them in a fog of dirty politics. In an effort to create greater transparency in the political arena, Representative Gordon co–sponsored HB 4445 with House Speaker Michael Madigan. The legislation is written to suspend a cost-of-living increase for lawmakers.

“In a way, the Compensation Review Board did the dirty work by recommending cost-of-living increases for legislators and elected state officials,” says Gordon. “These pay raises automatically take effect unless the legislature stops them from being implemented. My bill requires pay raises to receive both House and Senate approval as well as the governor’s signature before they can go into effect. The bill also eliminates a pay raise this year.”

An entrepreneur and small business owner, Jim Montelongo is running for State Representative as a candidate who knows what it takes to create jobs and to encourage businesses to invest in Illinois and in its people. Shortly after graduating from Bradley University with a degree in engineering, Jim saw a growing need among local manufacturers for high-quality, cutting-edge design and engineering support services. For this reason, he and his business partner created Advanced CAD/CAM Service (ACCS) Corporation, which employs more than 80 people throughout the Peoria-area.

Since 2007, Jim has served as an At-Large Peoria City Councilman. Drawing from his experiences as a businessman and as the former Board Chair of the Peoria Chamber of Commerce, Jim has worked to strengthen Peoria’s economy by promoting business-friendly policies that encourage job growth.

The Peoria City Councilman recognizes the importance of having a balanced budget and has worked with the Council to develop a budget that cuts waste. He has also developed a reputation on the Council as a watchdog for taxpayers.

Jim believes that a fiscally responsible government lives within its means and will go to Springfield with a commitment to stop the failed tax-and-spend policies that have created one of the biggest financial crises Illinois has ever faced.

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