|Take Back the House is a great slogan and a noble goal, but unfortunately not likely in 2016.|
Note—I apparently have more to say about the races this year than I thought, so this series is going to run longer than the projected three days. Today is already the third installment, and we have only gotten to the Congressional races. I am only covering contests in the two Congressional Districts that include portions of McHenry County, Illinois—suburban/exurban districts normally considered solidly Republican.
Nothing in recent politics—until Donald Trump crawled out from under his rock—has been as discouraging as the iron grip Republicans have on the House of Representatives and the sharp right turn that party took with the rise of the Tea Party. Thanks largely to gerrymandering reapportionment after a Republican wave took many state legislatures and governorships in 2010—at the bottom of the economic collapse—the Republicans now hold scores more safe seats—nearly unassailable seats—than they did before. Enclaves of White Suburban voters in the suburbs of major metropolitan areas were preserved intact while Democratic areas and especially minority communities were sliced and diced every which what with small pieces thrown into hostile new Districts.
As a result Republicans now hold 247 seats to 188 for the Democrats despite actually getting fewer votes for their candidates nationwide in the last two elections. That’s because the majority of Democratic votes come from urban districts with huge majorities while the Republicans control the geography of the House, if not the total population.
The increasingly shrill and militant Tea Party dominated House has been lashed to a frenzy of opposition to everything Barack Obama stands for or opposes. They literally foam at the mouth at the mere thought of a Black President. They have not only killed his budgets and agendas they have worked with single-minded obsession and scores of useless, symbolic votes to kill the legislative triumph before Democrats lost the House—the Affordable Care Act or, as they call it, Obama care. They destroyed previously bi-partisan immigration reform. And they passed, over and over, legislation to restrict abortion, de-fund Planned Parenthood, and attack Gay rights and Marriage Equality. Almost all of their most draconian legislation, died in the Senate either to the narrow Majority or tie Democrats held until 2014 or to the threat of filibuster the last two years. If all else failed there was the sure knowledge that Obama’s veto could almost always be upheld.
The Democratic minority in the House was systematically stripped of many traditional courtesies and procedural input, their staffs slashed, and minority members literally locked out of being able to call witnesses in many committees. Traditional negotiation and compromise between parties completely broke down with Republican legislation rammed through without even allowing consideration of Democratic amendments. It was the back of the hand and my way or the highway.
The result has been confrontation, government shutdowns or threat of shutdowns, and absolute legislative gridlock. The American people have noticed and approval ratings for Congress have fallen off the charts to the low single digits. Despite this, thanks to the gerrymandered districts, the majority of voters say they like their Congressman. The system favors incumbents of either party. Districts now usually only come into play when a seat opens up due to a retirement, death, or indictment and the population is relatively closely divided between parties.
To regain the House this year, Democrats need to win 30 seats—not unprecedented. They picked up 31 seats in 2006 at the nadir of George W. Bush’s popularity. But that was before reapportionment. It was also a so called wave election, phenomena that generally occurs in midterm elections when the party of an unpopular President loses seats. It is what happened to Obama and the Democrats in 2010 and to a lesser degree in 2012. In Presidential years, even a landslide White House win only results in modest Congressional gains.
So most experts see retaking the House this year as a virtually impossible mountain to climb. At best, Democrats hope to hold on to the seats they have, and pick-up a dozen or so seats in potential swing districts. The hope is that they can retake the Senate and with a big win by Clinton somewhat chastise and tame a narrower Republican majority in the House.
In Illinois, the reapportionment was still in the hands of Democrats who controlled the state House and Senate and thus the majority on the reapportionment commission. But their main interest was preserving most of their seats while the Illinois delegation was set to lose two seats due to population stagnation downstate and explosive growth in Texas, Florida, and other Sunbelt states. They did an act of magic gerrymandering themselves to do that, dramatically revamping Congressional District boundaries to intentionally throw two Republican incumbents into the same district, for instance. As note yesterday, they also reshaped the 8th District to accommodate the expected candidacy of Tammy Duckworth.
In the process McHenry County, which had previously been almost entirely within the 8th District was carved up between the radically alerted 6th and 14th Districts, both considered Republican bastions.
One of the things that happens when Congressional Districts are declared a lock for the GOP is that money dries up for potential Democratic challenger. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) don’t want to waste money on a losing cause, but concentrate their resources on competitive contests. They even discourage major Political Action Committees (PACs) from doing the same. Even progressives PACs like Emily’s List, the Brady Campaign often follow along, although they will sometimes pick a few longshot races key to their interests.
Money is the lifeblood of politics and despite extolling the virtues of volunteer driven, shoe leather, door to door campaigns, it is almost impossible to be competitive without heavy spending on things like literature, direct mail, polling, phone campaigns, and, of course, TV, radio, and social media advertising. There are staff salaries to pay, office rent, travel, and event expenses. It mounts up fast. And in the bastion of another party, no matter how much money is raised, it will usually be matched and topped.
Without outside support only wealthy candidates who can self finance campaigns stand much of a chance. The Republicans have lots of those. In Illinois, at least, they have been scarce on the Democratic side. Only Congressman Bill Foster comes to mind recently.
Despite these odds and obstacles ordinary Americans, citizen activists, bravely step up to the plate to run long shot campaigns. Most have little political experience beyond the most local level or none at all. They are people of modest means who can only afford limited funds from their own pockets, often tapping life savings or even mortgaging their homes. They don’t have wide circles of wealthy family and acquaintances to tap. If they are not retired, they can expect that their occupational income will be disrupted for a year or more.
Yet these citizen candidates feel that their most deeply held beliefs and convictions must be upheld in the public forum and that voters must be given a choice—especially where the status quo represents oligarchy, belligerence, and bigotry.
In the 6th and 14th Congressional Districts which each include portions of McHenry County, two such citizen candidates have stepped up. Each is earnest, thoughtful, and ready to both put forth fresh ideas and support the progressive programs of the next President. They deserve your attention and votes. A few bucks thrown into the hats they tossed into the ring would not be unwelcome either.
|The Illinois 6th Congressional District.|
Amanda Howland for the 6th Congressional District
Peter Roskam, the man who beat Tammy Duckworth in her first run for Congress, could be the poster boy for entrenched incumbents. Since that he has trounced four Democratic challengers by wide margins despite having his district dramatically redrawn. In 2014 he won by the widest margin yet—67% to 33%—against the largely symbolic candidacy of retired postal worker Michael Mason.
Despite the national attention he received for his contest with Duckworth—probably the most watched race of 2006, Roskam quickly became a classic back bencher. Very conservative, he was never quite a Tea Partier. He was elected Chief Deputy Majority Whip, the fourth ranked GOP leadership post, in the 112th Congress, but was ousted in the Tea party putsch in the next Congress. Since then he has survived by keeping his head down and loyally following leadership. He currently serves on the Ways and Means Committee and as Chair of its Subcommittee on Oversight where he occasionally draws attention for hectoring Obama administration officials. He was also on the Benghazi witch hunt special committee.
Roskam is known as a reliable water carrier for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun lobby, opposition to Obama Care, calling climate change “junk science”, and as a neo-con hawk on Iraq and against the Iranian nuclear deal.
Amanda Howland represents a break from all of that obstructionism Republican dogma.
Howland, of Lake Zurich in neighboring Lake County is a former teacher and education administrator who is now an attorney specializing in protecting the rights of people in both civil rights cases and employment law. She has long been active in her community in numerous capacities, including being a high level gymnastics judge. Howland serves on the Board of Trustees of The College of Lake County and was formerly Chair of the Board. In 2012 she ran for the 24th District Illinois Senate seat.
Howland’s varied life experience has made her especially interested in education. Still paying off student loans from her return to law school in mid-career she is especially concerned about the burden of loans and a whole generation. As a civil rights advocate she is a strong defender of a woman’s right to choose and an opponent of all attempts to restrict or make difficult to access abortion services and contraception. She supports the Equality Act aimed at strengthening civil rights across the board.
Howland stands for a tax system that protects the middle class, and raises enough money for vital infrastructure improvements and educational opportunities like Pell Grants by making sure subsidies to billion dollar corporations are slashed and the wealthy pay their fair share. She will protect Social Security from Republican schemes slash benefits, dismantle it, or shovel money to Wall Street in risky privatization.
He opponent is a well known climate change denier but Howland pledges to support ending oil and gas subsidies and implementing the Paris climate change agreement.
Polls show that item by item the American people—even Republicans—support this agenda. Howland has to get the word out.
Although her race is difficult, Howland good get a major boost if women turn out in big numbers to vote against Donald Trump.
Jim Walz for the 14th Congressional District
You wouldn’t think that folks would line up for what pundits said was a suicide mission. But three citizen activists ran in the Democratic primary for the 14th Congressional District for a crack at Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren. Jim Walz of Gurnee was the walk-away winner of the primary based on a solid progressive platform.
Walz is an outside sales representative to a major wholesale company with deep ties to his community and a call to service. He was elected to the Warren Township High School District #121 School Board. Both of his children attended and graduated from the high school. Among his accomplishments on the board was advocating the addition of solar arrays at both campuses of the school, convincing the Board to sign a letter of intent to install them.
Walz dipped into activism in 2012 when he worked to the Move to Amend advisory referendum on the Warren Township ballot. The referendum supported an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to overturn the disastrous Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court. The question passed by a 2 to 1 margin, a testimony to his tireless work.
That experience sparked a deeper interest in tackling progressive reform blocked by the Republican House. He became a Democratic precinct committeeman in Lake County and after consultation with his family decided to enter the 2016 Congressional Race.
Walz’s solidly progressive platform resonated with many Bernie Sanders supporters. His program includes limiting the influence of dark money in politics by standing on the principles that corporations are not people and money is not speech. He pledges to protect Social Security from right wing attack and insure its continued solvency by removing the payroll cap for incomes over $500,000 per year, to broaden the base of this tax and make it fairer and more evenly distributed. He proposes expansion of programs to assist and protect veterans and advocates tax credits to encourage the employment of veterans.
Despite taking zero dollars from big PACs and struggling with small donor fundraising, Walz has conducted a vigorous campaign relying on door to door contact with voters and public appearances in parades, forums, and community events across the district. But he could use your help.
|Illinois 14th Congressional District.|
Walz face Randy Hultgren who came to the House in the 2010 election by defeating Democratic incumbent Bill Foster—who later returned to Congress from another District. Redistricting put Tea Party ranter Joe Walsh into the 14th District. Walsh considered challenging Hultgren, but was muscled aside by state GOP heavyweights and deep pocket donors. Walsh was forced to run in the drastically redrawn 8th District where he was a sacrificial lamb to Tammy Duckworth.
Hultgren fared better. He beat retired health care administers Dennis Anderson, who ran credible but cash strapped campaigns in 2012 and ’14.
In Congress Hultgren introduced legislation to gut the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act by allowing banks to use risky financial derivatives known as Swaps as a Hedge tool. He further evidenced his fealty to corporate greed by signing the Americans for Prosperity pledge to oppose Global warming legislation that would raise any taxes. He attacked the Americans for Disabilities Act with the benign sounding Hire More Heroes Act that would have allowed employers to exclude veterans receiving health insurance from the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans' Affairs from their list of employees which would allow many smaller companies to dodge the 50 full-time employees line that would require them to provide their employees with healthcare. Needless to say Hultgren also voted for all of the scores of attempts to repeal Obama care.
Hultgren is intensely hostile to public education and leads the Congressional drum beat for special privileges for home school families.
Hultgren is as nasty as any House Republican and sorely needs to be retired from Congress. Help Jim Walz do it.