Bill Knight column for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, 7-31, 8-1 or 2
Fifty-three-year-old Gregg Johnson (right) is a 35-year member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), where he was a steward and president of his union local.
“The role of organized labor in creating a level playing field for all has been a driving force in my efforts to protect my co-workers and all workers,” Johnson said. “Each generation has a responsibility to ensure that for the next. Here in Illinois, however, our legislators are neglecting this responsibility. We need to do better by demanding more.”
Johnson and his wife Celia have four children.
“I am concerned about my young daughters and their future education,” he said. “I worry about my grown children and how our lackluster economy will affect their jobs and whether my four grandchildren will have the same opportunities that I had.”
Johnson’s entry into the race might be part of Democrats finally investing in candidates and messaging, seen in efforts at state and national levels. In Illinois, Democrats this year picked up seats in areas where they’d struggled, possibly a result of increased activism after Donald Trump won, or from support from incumbents and the party.
Some Democratic candidates benefited from a program launchd by Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-Moline), “Build The Bench.” Her day-long “boot camp” offers tips for campaigning, and a dozen “graduates” from the program ran for local offices this year, with eight winning. (A ninth, Peorian Rita Ali, lost by one vote in her City Council race.)
“If we want to be successful in the heartland,” Bustos has said, “we need to connect Democratic candidates for office at all levels with the best practices, skills and expertise needed.”
In Washington, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on ABC-TV July 23 said, “Economics is our strength, and we are going to get at it. Democrats will start presenting that Better Deal to the American people.
“First, we’re going to increase people’s pay,” Schumer’s said. “Second, we’re going to reduce their everyday expenses. And third, we’re going to provide workers with the tools they need for the 21st-century economy.
“We’ll offer additional ideas, from rebuilding rural America to fundamentally changing our trade laws to benefit workers, not multinational corporations,” Schumer continued. “In the last two elections, Democrats failed to articulate a strong, bold economic program [and] failed to communicate our values to show that we were on the side of working people. We will not repeat the same mistake.”
Back in northwestern Illinois, Johnson’s opponent will be one-term conservative Neil Anderson, a 35-year-old former firefighter. In 2014, Anderson defeated 10-year state Sen. Mike Jacobs 54 to 46 percent after campaigning on reducing spending, cutting taxes, and reforming the judicial system to reduce victims’ ability to sue or to lessen potential damages.
Anderson’s credited Ballotpedia ywith sponsoring seven bills over the last two years (including two benefiting firefighters), plus 18 memorials to area residents. However, two bills originated in the House in February, and Anderson became a co-sponsor in May, weeks before they passed. Gov. Rauner signed insurance reform to help families facing pediatric autoimmune disorders (which passed unanimously). The other, establishing a veterans’ suicide task force, awaits Rauner’s response.
Anderson – who in 2014 stressed, “We need to give employers more of an incentive to do business in Illinois” – in legislative scorecards is a business-oriented conservative. The National Federation of Independent Business gave Anderson an 88%; the American Conservative Union gave him 69%, and the progressive Civic Action Illinois scored him as “poor.”
Meanwhile, Anderson showed 2014 campaign contributions of $1.8 million, according to “Follow The Money” data, with considerable funds from GOP power brokers. The Republican State Senate Campaign Committee of Illinois gave Anderson $1.3 million; the Illinois GOP $243,000; former Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno $52,600; the House Republican Campaign Committee of Illinois $35,000; U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) $25,000; the 18th Congressional District Republican Central Committee of Illinois also gave $25,000 and that District’s Congressman, Darin LaHood, had his campaign committee donate $10,000; Bruce and Diana Rauner together gave $10,600; and lesser contributions came from Citizens for [state Rep. Norine] Hammond, Ameren, the Illinois Merchants Association, the Illinois Manufacturers Association, and the Illinois State Medical Society.
Despite such resources against him, Johnson sounds upbeat reaching out to everyday working people.
“We can do better,” he said. “But positive change occurs at the grassroots level, and as I undertake this difficult journey, this is where this race will be won.”