Lawmakers' class of '88: one bona fide surprise
By MICHAEL D. KLEMENS
A week and a half before the general election, Lt. Gov. George H. Ryan flew into Macomb to present a $15,000 check to start the Rural Studies Center at Western Illinois University. Bill Edley, the Democratic candidate in the 95th House District, saw partisan politics in the timing and suggested that state taxpayers would have been better served had the check been simply mailed. Edley was also insulted: "Fifteen thousand dollars it's not even a down-payment. It won't even pay for a secretary's salary for this thing. It's patronizing. That just burns my buns."
Edley bumed a few buns himself this fall. He mounted an aggressive challenge in the heavily Republican 95th District and bested former state Sen. Ken McMillan for the seat in the Illinois House that had been Kent Slater's. Edley, who wrested a Republican seat from a Republican candidate, was the sole bona fide surprise winner in an election where voters overwhelmingly embraced the status quo.
On Election Day, Edley was one of eight House candidates who won a seat he or she did not occupy when the General Assembly adjourned for the summer on July 2. (By contrast, all 39 Senate incumbents won reelection.) The new lawmakers are a mixed lot. There are six men and two women; five Democrats and three Republicans; two blacks, one Hispanic and five whites. They are:
Besides the eight truly new representatives (including the almost truly new Shirley Jones), two other representatives won election for the first time. Louis I. Lang (D-1, Skokie) successfully defended the seat he had been appointed to when Alan Greiman resigned to accept a judgeship. And John (Phil) Novak (D-86, Bradley), appointed to replace Chuck Pangle, similarly defended the seat.
The changes did not end with the election. Sen. Glenn Poshard (D-59, Carterville) won the 22nd Congressional District seat of retiring Kenneth Gray. On December 10 the Democratic chairmen of the 11 counties in the district tapped Rep. James F. Rea (D-117, Christopher) for Poshard's seat. Sen. Rea will be the only new face in the Senate. And the two Democratic chairmen in the 117th House District will select Rep. Rea's replacement.
Edley's path to the Illinois House may have been the most unlikely of the lot. It began with a switch from the Republican to the Democratic party. As a college student he was cochairman of the young Republican organization, but Richard Nixon started him down the road to the other party. "Nixon didn't make me a Democrat, but he made me an independent and kind of a skeptic," Edley says. In 1974 when he bought an auto parts store in Macomb he says he saw a region suffering from lack of a two-party system. But he contributed, for example, to his Republican predecessor Slater's 1984 campaign, seeing him as a good young legislator. By then he had spent 10 years building up the Macomb auto parts business and bought a second store in Monmouth. About five years ago he became active in the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce, a bastion of Republican types. In 1985 Edley assumed the presidency of the Macomb chamber. Somewhat ironically, Edley says that it was his chamber of commerce experience that got him involved in Democratic politics.
"One of the problems we suffered from in western Illinois was for years they put this 'Forgotonia' label on us. It was kind of a novelty in the early '70s, and politicians, when they came to Macomb, would be really patronizing: 'We know you're Forgotonia blah blah blah.' " To combat that Edley set up sessions
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with politicians where local citizens would point out specific problems to the officials. "I could see the change from being patronizing to talking about our real problems, like Route 67 north of Macomb being four lane. I could see where I made a difference."
In 1985 and 1986 Edley also helped organize and chaired the McDonough County Democratic Coalition, a group that worked on gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional campaigns. In 1986 Edley managed Democrat George A. Lipper's challenge to Rep. Slater. Edley says he had become disenchanted with
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Slater because he spent too much time on judicial issues and too little on district needs like roads, school funding and job creation. During the Lipper campaign Edley says he became bitter about the lack of support from Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-30, Chicago). Lipper lost by more than 6,000 votes.
When Slater announced last fall that he would run for circuit and Ken McMillan announced his candidacy for the House seat, Edley saw an opportunity. "We Democrats sat down and said, 'If we're going to maintain our credibility, we can't let somebody like Kenny run without putting forth a candidate,''' Edley recalls. He was the candidate. He pulled together a team, raised some money locally and went at it with the attitude that he would have to go it alone.
Edley bought voter lists from the state board of elections. From those the campaign drew a sample and did some polling that, Edley says, showed McMillan's support overwhelming among conservative Republicans but very soft among the more numerous moderates and among liberals. The problem was how to take advantage of the opportunity in the 95th District that sprawls more than a third of the way across the widest section of Illinois from just west of Peoria to the Mississippi River. In June Edley began going door to door, starting at 2 p.m. and continuing until dark. He says he knocked on at least 13,000 doors. No single newspaper covers the entire district, and telephine comes from stations on the fringes, so Edley used direct mail to carry his message.
After building his name recognition and working quietly through the summer, Edley went on the attack in September. McMillan had run in the Republican primary as a supporter of education and in favor of a moderate tax increase. Edley charged that as a state senator McMillan had voted against education. Edley also attacked his opponent's support for a tax increase: "We tied him to the Thompson tax increase and beat him that last week." And with polling showing Edley doing well he got help from Madigan in both cash and people. McMillan got 1,000 less votes than Slater did in 1986. Edley got 7,000 votes more than Lipper had.
Madigan helped Edley get elected, providing cash beginning in October and workers at the end of the campaign. Now Madigan provides a potential problem for Edley. Both know it was a seat Democrats should not have won. "If I'm going to keep it, I can't be perceived as a Chicago Democrat," Edley says. Edley has met with both Madigan and Madigan chief of staff Gary LaPaille and sees no problems. His perception: "They seem to be very serious business people. They run this like a business, and I appreciate that." And he says he will not sit in a corner and talk to himself but plans to work with Madigan.
His time on the campaign trail also gave Edley respect for Madigan's political judgment. Particularly in Macomb, home of Western Illinois University, residents resented the Madigan opposition that killed last year's tax increase. Edley says he found going door to door in the district that Madigan was simply reflecting the will of voters: "They weren't going to give Thompson more tax money when they felt he wasn't spending the tax money he already had efficiently."
Edley took other impressions from the campaign. He says he is haunted by visits in smaller towns where young children played in the yard, looking like children anywhere. But those who answered his knock were often in their late 30s, looking like they were 60. "What happens between the age of 4 and 5 and 6 years old to people that they age so prematurely, that they're disinterested, apathetic?" Edley asks.
His agenda for his district, Edley believes, will address those problems. He sees need for good roads, adequately financed schools that do not break the backs of hard-pressed farmers and improvements that make business expansion possible. Statewide the biggest issue he sees is Thompson's lack of credibility. "He's somewhat of a pseudo lame duck. . . . I think that he lacks the ability to lead and that's why his
And Edley is critical of the way that Thompson has operated his economic development efforts. Edley prefers a free market approach where government provides public services like roads, sewer and water systems, and good schools. Business is left to create the jobs. "I'm very skeptical of business tax incentives, enterprise zones and TIF [tax increment financing] districts. I think business is best equipped to create jobs and government should, especially with the limited resources available, concentrate on those things they're asked to work on."
That free market approach and the notion that western Illinois must set its own agenda spawned one of his campaign promises to return $5,000 of his salary to the district's five counties. Edley has promised $1,000 to each of them as a match to local funds and suggested that it be used for community priority sessions. Those, like the ones he held while heading the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce, would set a regional agenda.
Edley also plans a business approach to constituent service. He compares lawmaker Edley's constituents to businessman Edley's customers, and he plans to visit them in nursing homes, public aid offices and in city and county offices. Edley will hire a full-time staffer and have office hours in each of his district's five counties. He plans to make a record that he can run on in 1990, buoyed by his conviction that most voters aren't partisan and instead vote for the individual. He can begin to make that record when he takes office on January 11. Edley will technically succeed LeRoy A. Ufkes, a Carthage Republican selected for the seat when Slater was sworn in December 5 as a circuit judge.
Edley will face a stiff challenge in 1990. So may one or two others of the class of 1988. But few will be picked off. All 13 House members first elected in 1986 won reelection in 1988. The 14th, Weller, who was elected and unseated in a challenge heard by the House, won election again. But 1992 will be a different story. There will be new maps and new challenges.
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