March 02--The Tribune concludes its endorsements today for contested U.S. House races in the March 18 primary.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis is a man with a target on his back. He's a freshman Republican lawmaker in the 13th Congressional District, one of only a handful of districts nationwide in which neither party has an electoral advantage. Come November, this race will be among the most competitive and closely watched in the country. But first, there are three-way battles on both sides of the primary ballot.
Democrats who redrew the maps after the last census eyed the 13th as a potential "pickup" seat, and they've been licking their chops ever since six-term Republican Rep. Tim Johnson retired, weeks after winning the 2012 primary. GOP leaders named Davis to replace Johnson on the ballot, and Davis won the seat by 1,002 votes.
That didn't earn him a pass in this primary. Erika Harold, an Urbana lawyer and former Miss America who was passed over by party leaders in 2012, says voters should pick their own nominee. Michael Firsching, a veterinarian from Moro who lost two primary races to Johnson, also is running.
Davis, of Taylorville, is running a cautious race. It's not an inspiring act. Harold is more passionate and forthright -- unafraid, for example, to argue for specific (and unpopular) changes to Medicare and Social Security benefits. Yes, it's liberating to be the underdog. But Harold is saying things that need to be said, and Davis -- the incumbent -- isn't. Harold is endorsed.
A similar scene is playing out in the Democratic primary, where Sen. Dick Durbin's chosen candidate is carefully insulated from anyone who might ask her a tough question. Former Madison County chief judge Ann Callis sticks to safe talking points, occasionally name-checking Durbin. Her answers to our survey are carefully scripted, heavy on promises to protect seniors and middle-class families without explaining what she'd actually do. She would not agree to be interviewed by the Tribune.
Our pick is George Gollin, a physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He's a good fit for a district that is home to nine colleges and universities, including U. of I., Illinois State University and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. He has experience writing and advocating for federal legislation on higher education and made headlines in 2008 for helping to expose and shut down diploma mills across the country. We disagree with many of his positions, but at least we know where he stands.
The long-shot candidate is social policy analyst David Green of Champaign. He's a committed leftist who says the federal government should spend $1 trillion a year to create "a living wage job for everyone who wants one," and we might as well stop right there. He's not our kind of candidate. But we give him credit for the scope of his knowledge and for his unflinching defense of his positions. Voters would do well to demand that of all their candidates.
Dennis Anderson of Gurnee was the Democratic nominee in the 14th Congressional District in 2012. He's back for another try -- motivated, he says, by frustration with continued legislative dysfunction in Washington. He's a retired medical research administrator with a degree in political science. He knows his way around topics like Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act -- and holds predictably liberal positions -- but feels he can help facilitate compromise in a House that "everyone knows is broken." He would cut defense before social programs and says the way to control the cost of Medicare is to control the cost of health care. John Hosta, a small business owner from Spring Grove, says his No. 1 reason for running is to correct the trade policies that he blames for the decline of manufacturing in the U.S. He says tariffs on foreign goods would solve the deficit and bolster Social Security. Anderson is endorsed. The winner takes on the impressive Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren.
Two years ago, the Republican primary in the 16th Congressional District was an ugly battle between two incumbents pitted against each other by Democratic mapmakers. Veteran Rep. Don Manzullo was forced into retirement by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of the party's most promising young guns. This year Kinzinger faces a primary challenge from the right. David Hale, a registered nurse and tea party activist from Rockford, criticizes Kinzinger for voting for a two-year budget compromise, postponing the spending reforms needed to address the government's debt and deficit crises. Hale expressed the frustration of a lot of voters.
But Kinzinger's constituents should be proud to have him. Halfway through his second term, Kinzinger is growing in confidence and influence. As a pilot in the Air National Guard who has flown missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has the credibility to challenge the president on foreign policy, as he did in January on the House floor, calling for airstrikes against al-Qaida targets in Iraq. Lately he's ventured into the immigration reform debate, where he could be a constructive voice on make-or-break border security provisions. Kinzinger is endorsed.
Democrats know they face long odds in the 18th Congressional District, where Republican Rep. Aaron Schock won a third term with 74 percent of the vote in 2012. That frees the candidates in the Democratic primary from meddling by party leaders, and the results are refreshing. Darrel Miller, a farmer from Danvers, has run twice against Schock as a Republican. Rob Mellon, a high school history teacher from Quincy, says he's "not interested in a party platform at all." Both are opposed to abortion, "and that irritates people," Miller says. "They want their Democrats a certain way."
Mellon also is commander of the local Army Reserve unit. He got in the race because he didn't get a callback when he phoned Schock to warn that the looming government shutdown would have a costly impact on the reserves. As a civics teacher, he's rankled that the district is essentially a gimme for the incumbent. Both candidates are well-educated on the issues and realistic about the need to adjust benefits to preserve Social Security and Medicare. Miller won us over with his selfless assessment of the recently passed farm bill, which protects needless subsidies to growers while cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- barely addressing eligibility requirements. "We get more crop insurance while people on food stamps get less," he says. "That makes me as a farmer kind of red-faced." Miller is endorsed.
Watch the Republican candidates in the 13th District debate before the Tribune Editorial Board at chicagotribune.com/13thdistrict. Learn more about all the candidates at Chicagotribune.com/opinion.
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