Tuesday, March 06, 2018

A Pleasant Surprise In Illinois' 6th Congressional District


Tony Sterbenc is a regular guy, a progressive in a Republican suburban Chicagoland district (IL-06). He grew up in a union-heavy working-class neighborhood, and told me he took Poli Sci simply because he cared about it, then settled into a white-collar corporate career and has just kept watching all his life. He wrote a guest post for us about how he sees the crowded IL-06 primary shaping up. In the last few years the district, which includes red-leaning parts of Cook, DuPage, McHenry, Kane and Lake counties, has started trending bluer and the Republican incumbent, Pete Roskam, is considered endangered. Obama won the district with 51% in 2008 but lost it in 2012 with 45%. In 2016 the district swung back towards the Democrats and Hillary beat Trump 50.2% to 43.2%. The PVI was R+4 then; now it's just R+2. Amanda Howland was the Democratic candidate then and with no support at all from the DCCC she was defeated by Roskam 208,555 (59.2%) to 143,591 (40.8%). She spent $98,179 to Roskam's $3,331,980. This year there are 7 Democrats competing for the Democratic nomination, including Howland, who by the end of December had already raised more than she raised by the end of the 2016 cycle. But 4 more establishment Democrats have raised even more than she has. And Roskam has already banked $2,475,565 this year.

Tony and his wife went to a forum that all 7 of the Democrats participated in and wrote the following form DWT readers. Tomorrow is primary day in Texas. The next state is Illinois-- March 20. He told me he considers Roskam "despicable."


Went in wondering whether to vote for Howland or Cheney, and prepared to hate EMILY's List-endorsed Kelly Mazeski (who's been bombarding us with nearly daily postcards bragging she had breast cancer, seemingly the only thing she has a position on). Here's what we actually saw of the seven candidates on display. They sorted themselves out neatly into two serious contenders, four pretenders and a revelation.

The contenders:

Amanda Howland:
Legitimately pretty good. Calls herself "unapologetically progressive" and supports single payer. I could live with her, certainly over Roskam (remember, you can't spell "Roskam" without "skam"). A college trustee with a background in teaching, school administration and legal mediation. She was the nominee last time against Roskam and got 40.8% of the vote, actually better than other recent challengers, which she's claiming makes her a credible opponent. She does seem credible, just not terribly exciting or dynamic.

Carole Cheney:
No relation I know of, certainly not spiritually. Most of her resume is as a staffer to Rep. Bill Foster, a New Dem. Revealed last week at a local forum that Roskam not only is avoiding town halls and reporter's questions, his staffers are refusing to answer the phone OR record constitutents' calls, which may actually be illegal. She sounds like a system lifer who retains a conscience, which is a good thing. Takes pride in knowing the minutae of issues and of Roskam's record so she can answer him, and shows some real passion while doing so. Unfortunately, her byword on every issue is "incremental" (perhaps why the corporatist Chicago Tribune endorsed her), including a wuss-out on single payer because she thinks it'd be hard to pass. Overall, a technocrat who seems too timid for these times. As Michael Corleone says in dismissal of his aide before the Vegas massacre: "Tom, you're not a wartime consigliare."

Kelly Majeski:
Every bit as repellent as I expected. Embarrassingly endorsed by the pro-Democratic, union-owned Chicago Sun-Times as well as EMILY's List, and some have depressingly cast her as the favorite. Openly opposes single payer. Could be seen nakedly cribbing her answers to forum questions from other candidates at the dais. Talked about the importance of defeating Roskam and Trump and getting a Democratic House majority as the end goal, pointedly never saying why, in the great DCCC tradition Howie's articulated so often. A wealthy dilettante who's visibly dead inside.

Sean Casten:
Businessman turned Mr. Smith candidate. Good, smart guy who's a smart technocrat. Ideologically, would have made a good, respectable liberal Republican in the era before money wrenched our nation's politics to the right.

Becky Anderson Wilkins:
A well-intentioned and energetic Naperville council member. Like Casten, she's under the fatal Obama misimpression that the fascists will play nice.

Jennifer Zordani:
A regulatory lawyer who should remain one. Obviously intelligent, but wholly lacking an overarching vision for government, unable to think on her feet and visibly miscast as a candidate, to the point where she was naive enough to tell an all-Democratic crowd that Dodd-Frank should be weakened in places to ease paperwork burdens on small businesses-- unfortunately toxic to say in a campaign context, even if true.

Ryan Huffman:
The mammoth surprise of the evening, and the reason I wrote this. Huffman, 31 and unsung, describes himself as a data analyst, policy expert, and former White House intern (Obama) with a Northwestern journalism degree and a U. of Chicago master's in public policy. All those smarts were on display in a performance that never put a foot wrong. Even his opponents basically admitted out loud that he stole the whole debate (one said outright, correctly, "You're smarter than I am") with a series of brilliant, bold answers that sliced right through all the usual mealy-mouth "pragmatic" bullsh!t and went straight for the Bernie positions on campaign financing, single payer, Wall Street and the need for Democrats to declare without shame that big government can be a force for good. He reduced the whole rest of the field to a bunch of visionless incrementalists by comparison. He was so obviously superior intellectually that the others were comfortable praising him, disturbingly secure that his superior ideas didn't give him any chance to, y'know, win.

I came away feeling all my speeches to my teen son would be hollow hyprocrisy if I didn't vote for Huffman. Then I looked up the respective candidates' campaign finances. The guy, who's sworn off dark money, hasn't received any kind of money at all. He'd reported literally tens or hundreds in total funds, and admitted to $100,000 in college debt to get his obviously well-used public policy MA from the U. of Chicago. Only some love from the likes of you can give this district even a shred of awareness of the superior option available to them (whom I'd never even heard of before, itself a symptom of this broken system).

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At 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in IL-6 and would vote for Huffman based on this. You're right, I hadn't heard of him before and that's symptomatic of a system driven by access to campaign funds.

However, I think Casten was sold a tad short here -- he has some serious environmental cred, having headed up green energy companies and bagged endorsements from people like Denis Hayes and Bill McKibben. To your writer's point, however, Casten is mealy mouthed on health care -- he wants "universal coverage," whatever that is, but not single payer. He'd be my second or third choice.

I can also testify to just how badly DCCC/ DNC has neglected our District, which lies west of Chicago, including cities like Naperville and Wheaton. Roskam is an abomination and while he might have reflected the District 10 years ago, he has gotten re-elected based on name recognition and LOTS of big corporate money. And maybe because Obama did such an awful job for most of us. Before our District lines were redrawn a couple cycles ago, Roskam campaigned even more virulently as an anti abortion nutjob -- which probably doesn't play here quite as well as it used to. Hopefully some people remember this.

I'd like to think there is some real anger about pocketbook issues here in IL-6 that the Dems can use. The tax bill is bad for higher tax blue states like IL, and lots of people here in DuPage County are self employed and are outraged about how much we pay in health insurance premiums. If you want to know how ACA screwed the middle class, come here. Before ACA, Illinois had a "high-risk" state insurance pool that was better for middle class people than ACA is now, even if it was certainly not cheap. In a state that is basically blue, but is ambivalent about IL House Speaker Mike Madigan's Dem machine, ACA was really bad policy and really bad politics; ACA provided an opening for Republicans to get low info swing voters and might have helped Roskam. The challenge is to direct this anger toward passing single payer and at Republicans for trying to take away our remaining access to health care. And to pass a fairer federal tax structure.

At 4:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the writer is selling Casten short. While the other candidates "talk green," Casten is making fighting climate change the central issue in his campaign. I also think he has very well-reasoned thoughts on healthcare. Here is the webpage with his stance on the issues: https://www.castenforcongress.com/healthcare-and-insurance-reform/

I do agree with the writer’s comments about the “me, too” aspect of Kelly Mazeski’s campaign, though. Howland talks about being a cancer survivor, so Mazeski does, too. Because Casten bills himself as a scientist, Mazeski does, too. (She used to work as a chemist, I guess, but she made her money as a financial consultant.) I’ll certainly vote for Mazeski over Roskam if she wins the primary, but I have much less optimism about beating Roskam than I would if Casten wins.


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