I've been walking precincts and helping get candidates elected since I was knee high to a ballot box. I was doing door to door pollster work before I was even in high school. I guess politics has always been in my blood.
1996. John Shimkus was running for Congress. I met him and was impressed by him. Good conservative. Anytime someone would point out what was wrong with Washington, DC in general or Congress in particular, I would gladly point to John Shimkus as an example of what was right in DC. That was then, this is now.
2011. Rep. Shimkus was just elected to his 8th term as Representative for the 19th Congressional District in Illinois (which includes 3 terms as 20th Congressional Representative prior to 2000 Census/redistricting). That is 8 terms despite pledging to serve only 12 years (6 terms). Personally, I'm torn on term limits, but if you pledge you only intend to run/serve x amount of years, you had better live up to it. At this point, I sadly cannot point to Shimkus as someone that is an example of what is right in DC.
Rep. Shimkus has passed into the realm of being part of the establishment GOP. In September, 2009 (but actually August as it was widely known in our area), Rep. Shimkus endorsed Mark Kirk for US Senate. There is nothing new to sitting Congressmen endorsing candidates, but what was really shady about this whole ordeal was endorsing so early - before petitions were due to be turned in. The establishment had selected their Senate candidate - primary voters be damned. Why does it matter? Because by selecting their (GOP establishment) candidate, the money and support dried up quickly for other challengers, thereby clearing the field for the "preferred" candidate.
Mark Kirk had his issues as well with conservatives - he supports supporting gay marriage, is pro-choice, and voted for cap-and-trade, for example. When asked about this in a meeting we had with Shimkus, we were assured that when Shimkus had given a tour of Wood River oil refineries to Mark Kirk, "[Kirk] had hopefully changed his mind" regarding cap-and-trade. All three of the issues I outlined here are complete opposites of Shimkus' positions over the years. But establishment do as establishment do.
Recently, Shimkus made some headlines with his support of Project Labor Agreements and his less than tactful way of handling being called out on his votes. But it goes deeper. After the dust-up surrounding his support of PLAs, another article appeared detailing some relationships Shimkus has had with some former George Ryan people - including a IL GOP State Central Committeewoman/Madison County Chairwoman/Deputy Chief of Staff who testified against George Ryan after being granted immunity as detailed on the The Immoderate Blog and later, Illinois Review:
The situation with now former GOP State Central Committeeman Criag Pesek has been in the news recently, but he is in the 3rd CD. Somehow it just makes more sense when the news is about Chicago or Cook County politics and operatives than when one hears of situations in southern Illinois. I was shocked when I first heard that John Shimkus employed a lady who worked as the campaign finance director for George Ryan and testified against him after being granted immunity. $107,499.96 is a nice chunk of change to be paid by the taxpayers for this lady’s services in 2010. Did I neglect to mention that she is also a member of the Illinois GOP State Central Committee?
It is very disappointing to learn that not only does Congressman Shimkus employ this former Ryan operative (why would one who did nothing wrong require immunity?) but two or three other former Ryan people as well. I say two or three because one of them may now be employed by the state GOP instead. In 2009, the four former Ryan employees on Shimkus’ staff brought home nearly $450,000 between them. It is a further disappointment, unless the numbers at Legistorm.com are incorrect, that in 2010 Shimkus earned fifth place in staff salaries for Illinois’ congressional delegation with $1,167,833. I suppose it costs a lot to hire and maintain Ryan’s former employees. Shimkus’ staff salaries were only exceeded by those of Schakowsky, Davis, Rush, and Gutierrez.
Going further down the rabbit hole, Shimkus was once the head of the House Page Board and badly mishandled Mark Foley's involvement with young pages (Shimkus knew about the inappropriate emails, ordered Foley to cease contact, but failed to notify his colleagues).
Over the last few years, there has been an increasing displeasure about Rep. Shimkus within his district - some justified, other reasons not as justified. What has been the alternative? Vote Democrat? I think not, but there has been no viable GOP alternative. Since the PLA fiasco a few weeks ago, there has been an vocal opposition to Shimkus beginning to rise within his district - especially from the Tea Parties, but more recently from both political and financial supporters of the Congressman. One supporter even crashed the Effingham County Lincoln Day Dinner to distribute fliers about Shimkus' PLA problem and to hold up a sign in protest of Shimkus during his speech. I believe the protester would have been more vocal had the Congressman not had brought his teenage son with him. Believe it or not, there is civility in protesting.
The question remains, what shall Republicans do about Shimkus? The answer at this point of time is simple and complicated at the same time. The simple answer - especially with redistricting taking place - is to primary Rep. Shimkus with a GOP candidate. The complicated answer is who should (or could) primary against a sitting Congressman with just over $1.1 million in the campaign reserve?
My answer is State Senator Kyle McCarter (DISCLOSURE: before Shimkus' people read this and go off and call McCarter, McCarter has no idea that I am writing this). McCarter has proven himself to be a strong conservative in Springfield who at times has butted heads with the IL GOP leadership - and doesn't give two hoots about their displeasure. I'm not sure if McCarter has the campaign cash to go up against Shimkus, but he definitely has name recognition needed and the support of conservatives. In addition, upon talking with a Metro East Tea Party this afternoon, they are gung-ho about challenging Shimkus with McCarter in a primary.
Another possible choice would be Jason Plummer, former Lt. Governor candidate. He has the name recognition and the cash, but he is still relatively unknown politically since running for Lt. Gov. did not give him a chance to really argue the issues. A definite wild card if he entered the race against Shimkus, I am not sure if he could pull it off, but crazier things have happened.
In my humble opinion, if Shimkus is to be primaried, now is the time. The hard part is finding a candidate who is willing to go up against a well funded, establishment favorite, veteran campaigner like Shimkus. However, given the public's mood towards incumbents and an increasing frustration with the GOP establishment in DC blocking real spending cuts, Shimkus could be vulnerable. The redistricted map of Illinois should be out toward the end of the month or early June, so we'll have to see how the boundaries are drawn to see whether the redrawing of the lines helps or hurts Shimkus if a primary race were to occur. Stay tuned ladies and gentlemen...
Crossposted from Downstate Illinois Advocate