Saturday, January 19, 2008

All Politics Is Local

Back in November, I berated Illinois State Representative Greg Harris for, as I called it, "lying for a worthy cause."

I'm not backing away from any of that. Just one thing in that post was wrong. I said Harris is my State Representative and he isn't. He represents the 13th District and I'm in the 12th. I don't know which of us is worse, him for sending me a constituent newsletter or me for reading it and not automatically knowing what district I'm in.

With the primary coming on February 5, I looked it up to make sure I don't waste any time on races in which I can't even vote.

To that end, I've gotten a lot of mail from candidates for State Senate, 7th District, even though I'm in the 6th. Direct mail, by its nature, should be able to pinpoint voters exactly. There may be some overlap in a mailing piece shared by several candidates, but when it's a single candidate mailing, why would they waste a penny sending fliers to people who can't vote in that election? I'm close to the border, but it shouldn't matter. The address is the thing and when I look it up to see what district I'm in, I'm using the same database they used to get my address.

Primaries in Illinois usually aren't this early, but they moved it up this year so Illinois would be part of Super Tuesday. Unfortunately, the local races, for offices like state senator, are being overshadowed by the presidential primaries.

As other people worry about the presidential campaign, or the state of democracy in the Middle East, I worry about the brand of it we get here in Chicago. A favorite trick is for organization office-holders (i.e., office-holders that are part of Daley's Democratic Party organization) who are not going to run for re-election to quietly resign before their term ends. A suitable replacement is chosen by the organization and appointed to complete the term. That person then, low and behold, becomes the incumbent seeking re-nomination.

Does it go without saying that, in most of Chicago, the Democratic primary is the election, so scarce are Republicans in the city? My actual Senator and Representative are unopposed in the primary.

These resignations and appointments are always timed so potential non-organization candidates don't know that the real, known incumbent has been replaced by a new, unknown incumbent who might have been vulnerable to a primary challenge, if you had known about it in time to get on the ballot. That's how Harris, the rep for the 13th (not my district), got his job and candidacy. Heather Steans, who is running for senator for the 7th, hasn't been appointed to fill her predecessor's term yet, because Senator Ronen merely announced her intention to resign this year, but Steans reportedly had the inside track, although she denies it.

The only reason I know about this is because another candidate, Suzanne Elder, did move quickly to get on the ballot. Now Steans, the organization's choice, is calling herself an "independent Democrat."

Since I can't vote in that election, I thought I'd write about it. This early resignation thing is SOP here. The senator who is resigning, Senator Ronen, got the job the same way. Recently, a couple of local officials used the same trick to pass their office down to one of their children. You know, like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is trying to do.

The way democracy works in Chicago is that if you want to run for public office, you join the party, work hard for the organization's candidates and causes, "don't make no waves, don't back no losers," and wait your turn. For the most part, candidates are chosen by local committees, I'm not saying they're all picked by Richard M. Daley himself, but they sure aren't picked by the electorate in an open and transparent democratic process either.

That would risk too many unintended consequences.

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