CN Feb. 13, 2014


Dan Rutherford has some explainin’ to do. He’s obviously correct in stating that he hasn’t been found guilty of any wrongdoing, and the charges of sexual and business misconduct brought forth by a subordinate remain only charges.  But the State Treasurer’s in a tough spot just a couple of weeks out from the primary election.

Steve Edwards, Executive Director of the U of C’s Institute of Politics, has some thoughts on this political situation.

“I think these questions that have surfaced around Dan Rutherford, he’s come out and he’s done what he could do,” he tells us. “The only thing he had to do on this issue was to try to refute them with whatever evidence he has, but there’s no question that this is now the focus of the conversation – at a time when the issues in  Illinois are very, very pressing.”

But as the Chicago Reader’s Mick Dumke points out, it’s complicated. “This is a workplace issue,” he asserts. “The allegations are about his role as a supervisor of employees, so  that is an important distinction.  The Sun-Times a couple of weeks ago did a story about his travel schedule. Why is the Treasurer of Illinois, which is, in a lot of ways a clerical job, why is he traveling all over the world? So all this stuff has come up about his performance in the job.”

Edwards agrees. “I think these allegations are damaging. It’s about the workplace, it’s about leadership. And it’s also about competence in the job, which was the one thing he was advocating. That was his calling card. I’ve run statewide, I’ve run a State agency, I’m an executive. I’ve been in the State Legislature. I know how to do this.”

So that brings us to the new clear frontrunner, Bruce Rauner. Rutherford has tried to hang the harassment flap on Rauner, claiming that Rauner engineered it. But he hasn’t, so far, been able to prove anything. At this point, the Republican nomination for Governor could be Rauner’s to lose. “He’s certainly brought in a very sophisticated campaign organization, so for a guy who’s never run for office before, he is running a top-flight campaign.” says Edwards.

So if Rauner gets the nod, does that mean Pat Quinn is in trouble? Neither of our guests thinks so. “It’s easy to underestimate this guy. He’s a pretty wily politician in his own right, and I think there are going to be a lot of people rallying around Pat Quinn just because he’s not Bruce Rauner,” Dumke says.

And what about Paul Vallas? Other commitments have kept him out of Illinois until next month, but then he hits the campaign trail full force, stumping as Quinn’s Lt. Governor.

“Paul Vallas is somebody who is very smart, very loquacious, and doesn’t wait to be asked for permission to speak on things,”according to Edwards. But he brings good and bad to the ticket. There’s always the chance that he’ll go off-message, and that he’ll suck all the oxygen out of the room, upstaging the boss. And he was the earliest energetic advocate for charters, seen by many today as having lost their luster.

However, according to Edwards, his positives are important. “Vallas had strong appeal when he ran for Governor himself among suburban voters. He won the collar counties. He’s someone who has an issues set that appeals to many voters in that part of this region – that’s an important area for the Democrats to be competitive in. And he’s also someone who brings gravitas around budget issues and education issues.”

“As time has gone on,” Dumke injects, “I think he’s remembered fondly by a lot of people, even in education circles,  because, especially up against Bruce Rauner? Are you kidding me? He started some of this (charter) stuff, but he hasn’t called essentially for the demise of the Teachers’ Union. He’s still thought of fondly by what I think of as the “Rainbow-PUSH set”, these kind of old African-American activists in the City. He’s still considered a person they can work with, I think.”

In the most recent Reader, Mick Dumke wrote a profile of Gerald Vernon, an NRA-supporting former college administrator who came of age in the Malcolm X and civil rights era, and who says that, despite disagreeing with the NRA on most issues, he believes passionately about private ownership of firearms and the right of his community to defend itself against the epidemic of  gun violence in which he and his neighbors live.

Dumke said interviewing Vernon broadened his own understanding of the issue.

“Traditionally this debate has come down as, you’re against gun violence, therefore you’re for gun control, or damn it, I want to carry my gun. You’re not gonna pry it out of my cold, dead hand. You know, Its a lot more complicated than that.”

Dumke explains that Gerald Vernon puts it pretty succinctly: “I live in a high crime area. Are you gonna look me in the eye and tell me that as someone who’s never broken the law besides maybe a speeding ticket, that I can’t carry out my constitutional right to bear arms?”

But, as Dumke says, it’s more complicated than that. “Let’s just break it down,” he says. “If there aren’t guns, there’s not gun violence. That is true. There is something to be said for the argument that as you open access to guns, you do increase the possibility – the probability – that they’re going to be misused and fall into the wrong hands. That people are going to slip through the cracks in the registration process. Human nature being what it is, when there’re weapons around, things can get more dangerous.”

But Steve Edwards cautions that we in Illinois might be getting a little too agitated. “We’re talking about a state of affairs that’s dramatically new in Illinois, but not in most other states in the nation,” he reminds us, pointing out that we were the last state to allow legal concealed-carry.

Both panelists have reason for guarded optimism. “Maybe that sign that says ‘no guns allowed’ is not a concession to the law, but actually an affirmation about the role guns should play in our lives,” Edwards asserts. “And I think if we could actually figure out how to have a new kind of conversation, it might help all of us get to the underlying question of violence.”

“I assume people have been carrying and concealing forever,” says Dumke. “In certain neighborhoods violence is very visible and the numbers are higher, but I think a lot of people do have guns at home and a lot of people carry them with them even when they are not supposed to.”

And Steve Edwards gets the final word. “Whether you are adamantly against it, or adamantly in favor of gun ownership rights, there needs to be a coming together around the issue of how do we adequately insure that those with access to guns are doing so in a way that’s responsible to each other.”

And, by the way – take some time and check out Mick’s spectacular reporting on the west side heroin trade that he did in a partnership between the Reader and WBEZ.


About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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