PEORIA, Ill. – Rep. Aaron Schock’s office in a federal courthouse here – at least the reception area – is extremely tasteful.
It has soothing mocha-painted walls, a dark wood reception desk, three flat-screen TVs and chandeliers. There are framed black and white pictures of Schock with Condi Rice and other GOP luminaries.
Schock’s district director, Dayne LaHood, a cousin of former Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., declined to let me see the interior of the suite.
“It’s comfortable for the constituents,” he said before dashing into a back office.
It’s a sharp and vast contrast to Schock’s garish ruby red Rayburn House office building on Capitol Hill, so tasteless that people gasp in astonishment when they walk by.
If Schock had stuck to the muted discerning decor in his Peoria office — which is not actually in his district — he would probably not be in the trouble he is in today.
The flap over the “Downton Abbey” redecoration of his Washington office — and who paid for the interior decorator and the outlandish furnishings — turned out to be just the start of an unfolding series of revelations about extravagant expenditures that threatens Schock’s career.
In the space of a few weeks, Schock’s rising star — he’s been in elected office since winning a school board seat at 18 — took a nosedive. It’s still tumbling as multiple stories in a variety of outlets have raised potential ethics violations about the use of private planes, free trips and in general improper use of taxpayer and political funds. More revelations may be coming.
But Schock, 33, is not yet fallen.
Illinois Republicans I talked to who are familiar with Schock’s operation — political insiders — are far less charitable than everyday folks in Peoria I talked to on Friday who said they want to keep an open mind.
“The problem with Aaron is that there is no one around him who will tell him no. He doesn’t like people who raise red flags and tell him he can’t do something,” one Illinois GOP insider told me.
Billy Halstead, the chairman of the Peoria County Democrats, asked how the Schock controversy was playing, said, “I think its still growing legs. It’s still somewhat new.”
Schock’s central Illinois congressional district is heavily Republican.
Over at Hoops, a restaurant next to the courthouse serving pizza branded as “Peoria Style,” the folks I talked to were very much giving Schock every benefit of the doubt.
“I think someone is trying to dig up dirt on him and stir the pot,” said Barb Evans, 53, who owns a wedding cake business outside of the city in Peoria County.
“I think this area will support him because he has got such a strong following.”
Katie Ortiz, 30, a high school math teacher who lives in Washington, Ill., the community devastated by a tornado in November, 2013, said she learned through Facebook that Schock may be in a jam over the purchase of Katy Perry tickets. (That’s just one of many issues Schock is dealing with.)
She does not see it as a problem — yet.
“I don’t think so at this point. He’s a politician and these things tend to happen to politicians,” she said.
“We’ve watched him grow up and become a leader in the area at a very young age. He was on the school board out of high school, so he gets a lot of respect from local folks.”
Working on damage control, Schock on Friday repaid the federal government $35,000 from his own money to cover expenses for the “Downton Abbey” office. According to Schock documents examined by the Chicago Sun-Times, interior decorator Annie Brahler wrote checks reimbursing the federal government and then Schock paid her.
“As he said he would, Congressman Schock has fulfilled his commitment to pay for all the renovation costs” of the D.C. office, a Schock spokesman said in a statement. “Even though office expenses are often covered by the Member Representational Allowance, the Congressman believed it appropriate to pay these costs himself as part of the office review process.”