Do they have your attention yet? The candidates running in the 2018 primary, I mean.
Perhaps that controversial ad from Republican governor candidate Jeanne Ives that many find racist, anti-feminist and homophobic did the trick.
Or maybe it was the transcript of Democrat J.B. Pritzker telling former Gov. Rod Blagojevich that Secretary of State Jesse White is “less crass” than former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones as they chatted about possible black candidates to appoint to Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat.
Whatever it takes to get your attention, good. It’s time for you, for all of us, to start doing our election homework.
Yes, Illinois politics is frustrating and depressing. Yes, the politicians have set up the system to make participating in the process difficult. (Let’s hope there isn’t another major snowstorm on Primary Election Day, March 20.) Yes, figuring out which box to check often can feel like a less amusing episode of the old tic-tac-toe game show “Hollywood Squares.” As one of my favorite voters mused the other day, “Center square for the block, please, Peter.”
Still, it’s time. And the work must be done.
If you think it’s pointless and you’re on your own, you’re wrong. There are plenty of tools available to assist you.
The Better Government Association, the Chicago Sun-Times and many other professional media organizations now are publishing questions and answers from the major candidates for office. The Sun-Times’ voting guide has biographical and background information for a bevy of candidates, and questionnaires from candidates for governor and for Congress. The BGA’s Policy & Civic Engagement unit focused its questions for contested statewide and Cook County-wide offices on fair, accountable, corruption-free and transparent government.
One of the most significant offices that addresses ethical and transparent government is attorney general — and Illinoisans haven’t elected a new one in 16 years. The BGA has responses you can compare easily from all eight Democrats and the two Republicans seeking to succeed Lisa Madigan.
Campaigns hate questionnaires because they get asked to respond to bunches of them, but what I love about them is they give you an unfiltered look at the candidate and the process. You see what was asked and exactly how it was asked. And you see how the campaign responded — usually unedited — without any filters or varnish. Everyone is asked the same thing, giving you the opportunity to compare and contrast their answers.
Of course, in a primary election, oftentimes candidates from the same party frequently share the same major views or approaches to certain topics, and this year that’s also the case. All the governor candidates say they’re for term limits, for example, but that’s always easier said than done. Still, candidates’ answers can reveal to you subtle nuances and shadings if you read closely and carefully.
What are their priorities? In the BGA’s questionnaire, I see different areas of emphasis on consolidating government, dealing with the pension crisis, and opening up government among the governor candidates’ answers.
Some candidates are much more specific — and perhaps honest — than others when they’re asked about taxes and budgeting. Do we reward or punish them for that? It’s up to us.
Some governor candidates support term limits. Others mention small-donor democracy efforts to try to even the campaign spending playing field, while still others talk about improving ballot access or the statements of economic interest Illinois public officials must complete. Which idea means more to you?
Likewise, the next attorney general could be a partner or foe to President Trump and some emphasize that more than others. Some place more emphasis on fighting for transparent government and offer different answers about how they will tackle or fight to broaden their ability to go after public corruption.
Questionnaires are not your only tools, either. The Sun-Times Facebook page offers the video of the Democratic governor candidates’ endorsement session. The Springfield State Journal-Register and WMAY are hosting a governor’s forum Feb. 21, WBEZ has one March 1, Pritzker is skipping one organized by WCIA-TV in central Illinois March 5, ABC7 Chicago has one March 2 and WTTW is bringing the candidates together on March 14.
There’s a lunchtime forum for attorney general candidates hosted by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform at the Union League Club of Chicago March 7, and separate, free sessions with the GOP and Democratic candidates for attorney general hosted by the BGA and ABC 7 Chicago from 6 to 8 p.m. that night in Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University. Those will be livestreamed and carried on their websites and Facebook pages, as well as in Spanish by Univision Chicago.
Some media outlets also provide fact-checking and the BGA now is the home of PolitiFact Illinois, so be sure to follow those to help you separate truth from spin.
It might sound daunting, but it’s not. Completing a bit of voting homework can help all of us strategize and mark a better ballot this primary season. If we’re going to demand the government we deserve, focusing our attention and doing the work of democracy is our duty.
Madeleine Doubek is policy & civic engagement director for the Better Government Association.
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