By most any standard, the campaign waged by House Speaker Michael J. Madigan against Democratic primary challenger Jason Gonzales was brutal, at times even vicious.
Through television commercials, yard signs and mailers, Madigan savaged Gonzales as a “convicted felon” who “can’t be trusted.”
Were the attacks unfair? Perhaps, considering that the 41-year-old Gonzales’ legal transgressions took place when he was a teenager and that Gov. Pat Quinn had granted him a full pardon.
But illegal? Extremely doubtful, at least not under the rules of the game in Illinois as we have come to know them.
We usually refer to the type of lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court against Madigan by losing candidate Gonzales as a “sore loser” case, and historically, they don’t get anywhere.
Courts are understandably loath to referee the fairness of charges and counter-charges in an election campaign. They prefer to leave that up to the voters, a difficult job to be sure in a low information election receiving little attention.
But Gonzales was a well-financed challenger backed by many of the same donors who have contributed to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and had ample opportunity to tell his own story.
And the voters’ decision was loud and clear.
Madigan received 65 percent of the vote or 17,155 to 27 percent or 7,124 for Gonzales. Two other candidates split the other 8 percent. More on them later.
My own belief is that the results had as much to do with Gonzales being an outsider who parachuted into the district for purposes of taking on Madigan instead of the home-grown product he pretended to be. But that’s me.
As far as Gonzales’ criminal record being fair game, he often referenced his troubled past as a positive in his own campaign in an effort to show how he had turned his life around by getting a good education.
Gonzales argues his pardon wipes the slate clean from a legal standpoint. True, but that shouldn’t make it off limits in a political campaign.
Notably, Gonzales tended in interviews to gloss over the details of his problems involving the use of forged and stolen credit cards, in very much the same manner as Madigan glossed over Gonzales’ pardon by noting it only in fine print with an asterisk in his campaign materials.
Slightly more intriguing is Gonzales’ other main accusation, that Madigan put up two phony ghost candidates with Hispanic surnames in the race to siphon votes away from him. He contends this violated the federal Voting Rights Act.
Although it was never conclusively proven, there’s really little doubt the two candidates, Grasiela Rodriguez and Joe Barbosa, were Madigan stooges. They made no effort to campaign and received 2,041 votes between them.
This is an old political dirty trick that is a mainstay of Democratic Machine politics.
But it is hardly unique to Chicago either, and I don’t see the courts wanting to decide who is a legitimate candidate and who isn’t, as long as they met the legal qualifications to get on the ballot.
Gonzales assured reporters he is no sore loser and vowed that he is not finished in politics, although he said he has not decided whether to run again against Madigan in two years.
Gonzales turned to former Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, a Republican, to file his lawsuit. Gonzales said he couldn’t find a Democratic lawyer to take the case, much as he had trouble finding any Democrats to contribute to his campaign.
Gonzales would attribute their reticence to fear of the long reach of the vindictive Madigan, which probably has some truth.
Just as likely is that the lawyers came to the same conclusion about Gonzales’ lawsuit as the donors concluded about his election chances: slim to none.