November 13th, 2007

Updated: A Local Look at Candidate’s Online Efforts

If you will permit me to dive into a little bit of a new direction I wanted to look at local Illinois politics. In particular I want to look at the online efforts of state level candidates.

I believe that candidates and elected officials making themselves available online is an important part of democracy. It is another forum for them to reach out for support as well as messaging for their re-election efforts. But it is more than that. It is also about creating a forum in which constituents and supporters can engage in a dialogue with the respective candidate/official and their campaign.

That’s why I am impressed with local candidates staking out shares in the online realm with introductions of themselves on sites such as Prairie State Blue. Late last week Tom Allen, who is running State’s Attorney, posted on the site regarding his garnering of the top spot on the upcoming primary ballot. It is a crowded field so it was a good thing for campaign and a nice way for Tom to start a potential dialogue with bloggers. He continued that with some discussion in the comments section from himself as well as his campaign manager.

After Senator Carol Ronen’s retirement announcement a week or two before the filing deadline. Since that time two candidates emerged and both have found themselves on PSB. Suzanne Elder posted first and then went into detail on some of her stances and the reasons why she is running. It is a good post and a great job with follow up on the comments section as she answered readers (read: potential voters/supporters) questions.

The other candidate Heather Steans posted a few days later with a quick introduction of herself and the issues she believes are important. There are some questions in the comments section but she is yet to respond.

Another venue is online video. Daniel Biss, who is running in the 17th district for Illinois House. He has already generated a lot of attention online as he is a blogger himself with raising thousands of dollars through ActBlue. His opponent current State Rep. Beth Coulson has derided his online fundraising thus he created the following video:

This great stuff on our local scale here in Illinois and it continues. State Rep. John Fritchey also writes his own blog (Full disclosure: I work for him). State Senator Dan Kotowski also put up his first blog post on Prairie State Blue as well (full disclosure: I work for him too). Its a great way for a productive dialogue to begin between voters and politicians, an important dialogue for democracy itself. Let’s hope it continues to go this way as more candidates get themselves online.

Do you see any other’s that I may have missed?

October 17th, 2007

Looks like IL-14 will be getting special election

According to Roll Call former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert will announce his resignation tomorrow.

This will lead to a special election no later than 115 days after Hastert’s last day in office. The most likely scenario will be a general election for the congressional seat on Feb. 5 the same day as Illinois primary election.

“The campaign has built a strong, grassroots foundation on Bill’s reputation as an innovative problem solver and his message of change.

We’re confident no matter what election we’re running in that we will be successful,” said Bill Foster’s campaign manager Tom Bowen when I asked him if he viewed this as a good thing for the campaign.

This was widely rumored to be happening so when I interview Bill a few weeks back I asked him about it as well.

Q: With Rep. Hastert deciding to resign effectively November 6th, how does this change the approach to your campaign?

A: So far as I know, Hastert has not yet committed one way or another on resigning. (In case you readers are not familiar, Illinois law requires a primary before any special election, and it’s been speculated that the governor would set the special election on February 5th — the same day as the primary for the “normal” election. That would likely result in a special-election-primary in January and only 1 month to present a unified campaign for the special election.) There will not be much time after the special election primary is over to unify and run full speed ahead for the special election general. There will also be a very strange dynamic in the race in the time between the special-primary in January and the primary & special on February 5th – Democrats and Republicans will be unifying behind a single candidate for the special election, while at the same time the separate candidates will in principle remain competitors for the normal primary. This obviously creates some uncertainty, but I think the main thing is that it raises the premium on civility and on having issue based discussions among Democrats.

The 2008 elections are getting interesting very early. Should be fun times.

September 26th, 2007

Interview: Mark Pera candidate for Congress

Mark Pera is currently challenging sitting Congressman Daniel Lipinski in Illinois’ third district. Pera has lived in Western Springs for the last 25 years raising his family and serving his community. He is a Cook County state’s attorney assistant and has been on the Lyon Township High School Board of Education for 12 years, the last six years of which he has been president.

Q: My first question is a simple one. Why do you want to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives?

A: The 2008 Democratic Primary Election in IL-03 provides a critical opportunity for a change in the direction of leadership in our district. With the voters support, I want to send the message that we will no longer tolerate business as usual.

Q: How have you developed your progressive values? Has it been your faith, friends, family?

A: I grew up in Gary — my father, my brothers and I all worked in the steel mills — and it was a labor town. My family was very much pro-labor. That definitely shaped my values. In my hometown, we cared about our neighbors and they cared about us. That’s influenced my ideas about leadership.

Q: Can you explain to us your strategy on taking on an incumbent Democrat in a primary race, especially with some form of a Chicago machine?

A: While we’re running a traditional campaign and talking face to face with the voters, we’re also to using the Internet to get our message out.

Q: If you had been serving in the new Congress since January what would you have done differently that current Congressman Dan Lipinski when it comes to Iraq?

A: Well for one, I would have pushed legislation requiring the military to initiate a troop withdrawal.

I have been saying for months that it’s past time that we brought our soldiers home. Congress has the power of the purse and I believe legislators should use that power to put an end to this disastrous war and protect the safety and security of the troops. Congressman Lipinski has voted five times to fund the war, a total of more than $260 billion in war funding. He voted against setting up a timetable.

Q: The netroots have labeled Mr. Lipinski a Bush Dog Democrat, what are your thoughts on this label and the approach the progressive blogs are taking to your race as well as others?

A: This campaign is receiving more blogger support than any other primary campaign in the country as far as I can tell. As an example, on Sept. 23, Markos Moulitsas wrote a piece on DailyKos endorsing our campaign. Over the next 24 hours, we received more than $10,000 from more than 200 people. In early September, we had a similar experience. That kind of response tells us that our message is resonating and gives the campaign a big lift.

The blogs, sites like Act Blue, these are communication modes that were in their infancy in 2004, made a major impact in the mid-term elections in 2006 and are now an invaluable tool for campaigns. We’ve made a quality, up-to-date Web site and blogger communications a campaign priority. That sets us apart from other candidates.

A number of folks out there, such as the people at Prairie State Blue, Larry Handlin, Howie Klein, Eric Stoller, David Sirota and others, deserve credit for boosting this campaign’s profile. They’ve helped get our message out and clue people in on Congressman Lipinski’s background and voting record. Their hard work compliments the work we do everyday at our campaign office. We hope they keep it up in the months ahead.

As far as “Bush Dog,” I think that as long as people use it as a play on the “Blue Dog” Democrat tag that some members of Congress have adopted, it’s appropriate.

Q: Where among Illinois’ political players are you finding your support?

A: In terms of volunteers, much of my support is coming from the voters themselves. Chicago’s Northside DFA has endorsed our campaign and we’re anticipating additional endorsements. I think we’re going to see more names emerge as the campaign moves forward. Locally, we’ve been a feature candidate for bloggers such as Larry Handlin from Archpundit. Overall, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of online support for the campaign.

Q: When you are going out in the district what has been a typical response by voters?

A: We’ve been received very warmly. A couple weeks ago my wife Leslie and I attended a 100th anniversary event in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood. Now that’s an area that political insiders would say is very favorable for the incumbent Congressman, but I can’t tell you how many people approached me to say they were happy I am running. Some said to me, “Gee, you mean your father couldn’t get you a seat in Congress.” I told them the thing my father ever gave me was a job in the steel mill.

In general, people are very unhappy with how Congress and the Bush Administration are running this country. Voters called for change in 2006 and they didn’t get it, so they are rightfully upset. They want accountability and that’s one of the major themes of our campaign. I want the people I talk with to understand that a vote for me is a vote for change. “More of the same” politics has put this country in a critical position. Just look at issues like Iraq, health care, energy policy and the environment.

Q: On your website you list out the differences between you and Lipinski, cleverly his are in red, how are these issues resonating in this southwestern suburban district?

A: Again, voters are unhappy with Congress. They want change. If you take stem cell research, for example, the overwhelming majority of not just Democrats in this district, but also Americans as a whole, want the federal government to invest in embryonic stem cell research. Nearly everyone knows someone who suffers from the intractable diseases that may be treated or even cured by this new medical technology. Yet President Bush and Congressman Dan Lipinski let their ideology trump the needs of the American people and blocked legislation to develop this technology.

On Iraq, voters believe that we need to begin a troop withdrawal and set a date to complete it. Congressman Lipinski agrees with and votes with President Bush on Iraq. He believes that we need to have a long-term commitment to Iraq. These kinds of votes simply frustrate the electorate.

Q: What exactly do you propose to restore basic rights that the Bush Administration has trampled over in his tenure, such as Habeas Corpus and FISA wiretapping, among others?

A: We are a nation of laws and citizens and government alike should respect these laws It was shocking to see such blind trust from “Democrats” like Congressman Lipinski.

I believe we can establish security and successfully fight terrorism without sacrificing our Constitutional rights. The next Congress, and the Democratic President we elect in November 2008, need to make the restoration of our civil liberties a priority.

Q: If elected to the House of Representatives what would the first bill that you introduce entail? And what would it mean to the American people as a whole?

A: We have a race in win on Feb. 5, but my legislative priorities would absolutely include Iraq, stem cell research, developing a sensible energy policy and health care.

September 24th, 2007

Help a Candidate Out (or two)

The third quarter of the political season is about to end on September 30 thus campaigns are in full swing to up there numbers. Two candidates that I like have some nice drives to help them out.

Bill Foster who is running for Congress in Illinois’ 14th district is asking for a mereFoster $14 from 140 different donors. So go help fill that beaker and help a scientist out. It will also go a long way to turn former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert’s district blue. Plus I am sick of having my old hometown represented by someone who has stood by and helped the Bush administration so much in the last seven years. Want more info on Foster? Check out the interview that I had with him last week. Please consider a donation.

The 3rd Quarter is ending and the campaign will be judged on how successful we have been at building a movement. We firmly believe that a grassroots campaign with a significant number of regular people donating will send the loudest message to the powers that be in Washington.

PeraMark Pera is taking on Congressman Daniel Lipinski in a primary challenge that is sure to be a tough fight. Lipinski was awarded this seat after his father retired and named his son as his replacement, literally. Pera is challenging him because Lipinski hardly represents Democratic values and has done everything to continue dragging this war in Iraq on and on.

Pera’s campaign has come up with another cleaver donation hook. $30 by September 30th. They are looking for 50 people each day to donate $30 towards their ultimate goal of $20,000. Plus what is $30? Dinner for two? A little sacrifice and it could put a true progressive in office.

September 19th, 2007

Weller may not run?

The last week or so for Rep. Jerry Weller of Illinois’ 11th district has not been the best. The Chicago Tribune has had a few articles on Weller and some possible conflicts of interest.

In 2002 Weller made his first official congressional trip to Nicaragua. Before the year was over, he had bought his first lot and eventually began looking for land he could subdivide into parcels that would attract buyers looking for prime ocean-view property at a relatively low price. It is an unusual investment for a member of Congress, and Weller’s foreign land holdings seem far more extensive than any other House member’s.

His investment got a boost from the narrowly passed Central America Free Trade Agreement, which Weller pitched in 2005 as a tool to enable businesses in his hard-pressed district to sell tractors and food to Latin America. CAFTA also includes additional legal protection for American investors, including those who have purchased lots from Weller.

What he didn’t say was that, while he publicly pushed CAFTA, Weller privately was pursuing his land development, some 2,000 miles away. The House approved the trade pact in July 2005 by only two votes, 217-215.

Besides not mentioning his Nicaraguan investments during the CAFTA debate on the House floor, Weller did not give anywhere close to a complete accounting of them in his required 2005 financial disclosure statement. House ethics rules require representatives to disclose all property they own except for their personal residences.

Weller has not been speaking to the media for weeks now and it is fulling speculation that he may not seek reelection next year. Reportedly nomination petitions are currently not being circulated and many top donors have been phoned as to him potentially not running. Also aiding the decision is the fact that his family lives in
Guatemala.

John Kerry lost the district by seven points and Al Gore lost the district by a mere two points. Thus the district is competitive with strong Democrat running. Currently Kankakee Community College president Jerry Weber is the highest profile Democrat in the race. But all that could change. Emily’s List is heavily recruiting Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson to run. Emily’s List would help garner establishment support and some much needed money.

Bottom line is that it looks like Illinois could have another competitive race including IL-10 (Dan Seals (D) challenging Mark Kirk (R)), IL-3 (Mark Pera challenging Dan Lipinski in the Democratic primary), IL-14 which has multiple Dems vying for Hastert’s seat in which he is retiring, IL-18 where incumbent Ray Lahood is retiring. Seems to me that Illinois could be one of the states to watch in 08.

H/T: The Capital Fax Blog

August 28th, 2007

Poverty Day reveals little change

The last Tuesday of August means just that to many people. But to many activists and economists it means the release of the latest poverty data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Five years after a recession, one would think that things should be much better but they just don’t seem to be.

Real median household income in the United States climbed between 2005 and 2006, reaching $48,200, according to a report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. This is the second consecutive year that income has risen.

Meanwhile, the nation’s official poverty rate declined for the first time this decade, from 12.6 percent in 2005 to 12.3 percent in 2006. There were 36.5 million people in poverty in 2006, not statistically different from 2005. The number of people without health insurance coverage rose from 44.8 million (15.3 percent) in 2005 to 47 million (15.8 percent) in 2006.

While the percentage of people in poverty did decline by 0.3 percent, it does not mean that there are less people in poverty. The total number remains essentially unchanged. Meanwhile, people without health insurance continues to climb, this year by nearly five percent. This is at the same time when the President wants to veto legislation that would strengthen child health care through SCHIP.  Which you can take action on here.

Speaker Pelosi chalks up the correlation pretty well:

“The new Census report illustrates why Congress needs to immediately pass legislation to strengthen … SCHIP to ensure that more of America’s children have health insurance.”

Illinois’ data is inline with the rest of the nation.  Roughly 12.3% of the state lives in poverty.  But think about that in numbers… 1.5 million… you can fill Wrigley Field 37 times over.  These are human beings that are suffering because there are not enough jobs out there… and many of them are not paying enough to even make ends meet on a monthly basis.

The 1.5 million composes 285,000 families. Mothers, father, sons and daughters, not having enough food on the dinner table.  Children going to bed hungry, going to school with an empty stomach and trying to learn.

Its dispecable and it should be unimaginable.  Sadly, we need to imagine it, we need to visualize the people in need and we need to take positive steps forward to end poverty.

August 23rd, 2007

Hastert to resign early, what’s my old district to do?

Well this is news from yesterday but I am glad to see it.  Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is getting set to resign effective November 6th according to columnist Bob Novak. (Via Capitol Fax)  I grew up and went to high school in the rural western part of the district.  I know it fondly and I have the memories (and scars) of how conservative the vast majority of the district is, sadly enough.

Much of my family and friends vote Republican year in and year out.  My county hasn’t voted for the Democratic nominee for President in well over 100 years.  Hastert has been very good to much of the district with many pork projects that tend to bring in some money here and some jobs there.  Senator Durbin tends to do this very well all over the state too.  But Hastert has the legacy and that legacy resides in Ronald Reagan country, where a high school teacher of mine called him one of the greatest presidents.   On to the meat of the story:

An Illinois Republican source tells us former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) plans to resign November 6 this year instead of finishing out his term. This would create a vacancy and trigger a special election in the 14th District.

Under Illinois statute, the governor, Rod Blagojevich (D), would get to pick the date of both of the special general election and the special primary election (with separate ballots for each party). The general election would have to be within 120 days of the vacancy (meaning by early March, if the November 6 resignation date holds). February 5 is the date for Illinois’s presidential and congressional primaries, and slating the special election — either the primaries or the general — on that date would save state money.

The effect of the placing either the special primary or the special general on the same day as the presidential primary is impossible to determine at this point. If one party is seeing a more competitive presidential primary by that date, it could benefit from boosted turnout. The presence of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) on the primary ballot could help Democrats.

In any event, a special election would entail a much briefer campaign, which would favor the more well-funded candidates. That would be businessmen Jim Oberweis (R) and Bill Foster (D).

On net, Hastert’s early resignation, by stirring the pot, gives Democrats a slightly better chance in this Republican district.

Despite the conservativeness of this district even Oberweis looks a little too far right.  When Jack Ryan was forced to withdraw from the 2004 Senate race against Barack Obama the Illinois Republican party gave the nod to Alan Keyes instead of Oberweis who finished second in the primary.

I have met Bill Foster and he seems very down to earth and potentially a good match if voters just get to know him.

In my opinion, there are two things that can resonate with voters in the western part of the district.  The war in Iraq and jobs.  People in this district are tired of seeing young men and women dying for what seems to be nothing.  And they are also worried about making ends meet in their own homes.  Those are the two things to drive home by any candidate.

August 20th, 2007

24 homeless in Chicago?

A recent city conducted census of homeless living in downtown Chicago showed a paltry 24. My initial reaction was what did they do only count two or three blocks worth?

The downtown count was released on the same day Mayor Daley claimed homelessness across the city was down 12 percent — from 6,715 in January 2005 to 5,922 at the same time this year — marking progress in his 10-year Plan to End Homelessness.

Snip…

The 15-week “foot poll” found an average of 92 people on the streets at the noon hour, some panhandling, others just wandering around. But only 24 of those people were sleeping downtown when the weekly count was conducted again at 5 a.m.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless maintains that the number is over 21,000 because of households doubling up and people who are more invisible than being counted in a foot patrol survey.

The city retorts:

“The public perception is it should have been a higher number, but we couldn’t find it,” said Acting Housing Commissioner Ellen Sahli.

A few days later the city puts the picture in the right context. The foot patrol survey was actually done over a small 12 block area. Another census study shows a much larger number of homeless living downtown.

Acting Housing Commissioner Ellen Sahli said a separate count conducted between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. on a cold night in January — in a much broader swath that includes all four community areas that take in parts of downtown — turned up 995 homeless people.

Of that number, 352 people were living on the street and in public places. The remaining 643 people were staying in shelters.

The fifteen-week “foot poll” that started in May and turned up just 24 people living on downtown streets was confined to a 12-block area stretching from Columbus Drive to State Street and Wacker Drive to Randolph Street, the acting commissioner said.

For the most part, homeless people are lost and forgotten, not seen and not heard. This sadly continues with the City of Chicago attempting to sweep the problem under the rug. Homeless advocate groups claim that the city is doomed to not fulfill its goal of ending homelessness in the city.  Especially in time for the International Olympic Committee’s decision late next year.

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