Last night, I attended a legislative forum/meet and greet with our area state representatives and state senators (we have 3 a piece for our little gerrymandered county of 34,000). Also in attendance was our Republican Congressman, John Shimkus of the 19th Illinois Congressional. The evening started out decent enough – light appetizers, drinks, and idle chitchat. After the social, the invited attendees gave brief speeches about issues facing Washington DC and Springfield. One has no idea how bad off Illinois is under Gov. Quinn and the Democrats in Springfield until you hear our state reps and senators explain how Emperor Quinn, King Madigan, and Prince Cullerton refuse to do anything but spend. But that’s for another post…
After the briefs speeches, the floor was open to questions from the audience. Since it was a Chamber of Commerce event, 98% of those in the room were businessmen and women, and/or their spouses. Questions ranged from Obamacare’s tax provisions to government spending in DC and Springfield. However, one particular question rattled Congressman Shimkus really….really bad.
The questions posed that set Congressman Shimkus off was the subject of PLAs or Project Labor Agreements. As stated by the questioner – a local area contractor, one of the first executive orders of President Obama was to require PLAs for contracted federal work. When the questioner pushed Shimkus about his vote against House Amendment 147 to HR 1 which would have blocked the federal government from requiring PLAs, Shimkus got just a little bent out of shape.
Shimkus stated that he felt that the questioner was essentially ambushing him at a public event, stated that he had met with the questioner for an hour over that issue and stated that he felt like he was being attacked. From there, Shimkus admonished the questioner several times for asking the question, then dodged around the entire PLA issue altogether ultimately stated the motion failed on a tie vote anway. Another guest, Dom Durbin (who has had his own recent unpleasant run-in with unions in Springfield, Illinois) sitting at the questioner’s table, tried handing Shimkus a copy of a PLA which apparently Shimkus had agreed to actually read a PLA at some point during their previous meeting.
As I sat in the audience, I was very uncomfortable with the way Shimkus handled himself. At one point, he looked at the questioner and said that we live in a democratic society, and if he didn’t like it, “that’s why we have primaries” and “you’re more than welcome to come at me”. Shimkus also touted his 88% rating with the Chamber and that “I would have 100%, except probably for that vote”. Basically what it boils down to is Shimkus got called out for betraying his conservative credentials…and the questioner never got at the other questionable Shimkus no vote on House Amendment 169 to HR 1, which if I understand it correctly, would have done away with prevailing wage requirements for contractors doing business with the federal government.
There is an understory to all of this as well. Recently, it came to my attention that there is a group here in my area trying to unionize the construction workers in the area. This group goes by a very innocuous name – “A Better Effingham”. The flier they have been distributing looks harmless enough and never really mentions “union” but it is implied all the same within the flier itself (emphasis actually on the flier, not added by me):
“If you are a construction worker in this area, this is approximately what your wages should be $24.40 per. hour.”
“You should have good healthcare for you and your family.”
“You should have a decent pension so you can retire with dignity.”
“You should have better job security on the job.”
“You should have better safety on the job, so you can return home and be with family at the end of the day.”
Sounds ok, right? I mean, who doesn’t want most of those things? But if you go to their Facebook page, you’ll see numerous links to various labor union groups in the Midwest and Illinois.
So between this local development, the US economy, Illinois’ anti-business stances, and Shimkus’ PLA votes, the questioner – a construction contractor – is more than a little on edge regarding his business. Shimkus took the contractor’s question as a public ambush and reacted horribly to being confronted about his votes. I don’t fault the contractor for doing what he did. It seems our side gets bent out of shape very quickly when we hold their feet to the fire, but we elected our people to do a job and for those that claim conservative principles (like Shimkus), we expect them to vote those conservative principles. Otherwise, they shouldn’t get shocked or blow a gasket when they get called out on the mat for voting opposite their convictions.