Our local political system is prone to a couple of quirks that really annoy me in that they fail to bring balance to the electoral force. Since an example of both events has recently come to pass, I thought it was time to have a discussion about them!
Teacher’s unions shouldn’t be allowed to support school board candidates
This phenomenon reared its ugly head is the 2019 Geneva D304 school board race where the Geneva Education Association poured $12,500 into their three handpicked candidates’ campaigns. That backing came primarily in the form of mailers featuring the entire slate.
The only reason one of the union-backed candidates lost is board incumbent Mike McCormick matched the GEA’s effort by pouring almost $9,000 of his own money into three separate mailers.
The problem is, McCormick, the managing partner of a LaSalle Street law firm, is the exception that proves the rule. He’s that rare school board candidate who can count on virtually unlimited financial resources, while most will spend no more than two grand on a campaign, if that!
Yes! I understand unions pump all sorts of money into countywide and state rep/senate races, but that cash tends to be offset by competing financial interests that generally don’t weigh in on the school board level.
But more importantly, while that labor money is vastly diluted in a 200,000-voter county or 100,000-voter state senate district, it wields a singularly disproportionate effect in a meager 3,500 voter school district.
Then there’s the irony of the taxpayer covering teachers’ salaries, only to have that money turned against them in the form of union dues.
To be clear! I spoke with Ken Menzel, Lead Counsel of the Illinois State Board of elections and the GEA was well within their right to put their money where their mouth is. But the fact that something’s legal doesn’t it right.
If you recall our most recent First Ward theme, politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. So, I would warn the GEA that if they continue to subvert the process this way, some group or wealthy individual will eventually rush in to level the playing field, or perhaps even tilt it against them.
Should they require my assistance, I’m already planning on supporting the three best non-union backed candidates in 2021 with cash and campaign management.
Should those who lose judicial elections subsequently be appointed judge?
Now, I’m not nearly as adamant as one of my regular readers who firmly believes that associate judges who lose a circuit election should resign their position. Since, all associate judges are appointed, I don’t see any problem with the runner up retaining their seat.
To wit, Associate Judge Marmarie Kostelny lost to D. J. Tegeler in 2014, but she currently presides over Kane County Drug Court, and from what I hear, she’s doing a good job.
For the electoral novice, circuit judges are those who, at some point, had to win a countywide or districtwide election. Then they run for retention every six years. Meanwhile, associate judges are appointed by the circuit judges, they serve at their behest, they make a little less money, and they are on call some evenings and weekends.
The bottom line is, most associate judges want to move up to the circuit level for the perks and job security. As we’ve previously discussed, it’s virtually impossible to remove a sitting circuit judge.
To be fair, appointments aren’t uncommon at any political level. If an elected official steps down with less than half their term remaining, someone will be appointed to finish it. But those appointments happen with a far greater frequently in the circuit court realm.
To wit, Kane County Associate Judge Elizabeth Flood lost her 2018 circuit run only to be appointed to fill Judge Bob Spence’s seat when he retires to run for Kane County State’s Attorney in October. And Spence himself was appointed after he lost his first 16th Circuit judicial race.
Spence did win his race (it’s much easier to win when you’re the incumbent), and Flood will have to repeat that feat in 2020. But when you consider her abysmal 2018 campaign, she’s bound to have some real competition, and if she loses this race, she’s out of a job – unless she gets appointed again.
But what really bothers me about this judicial process is, though it’s not the case with Spence and Flood, the timing of these retirement is often suspicious. Circuit judges tend to step down in such a way that provides a protégé with a leg up.
For example, former Kane County Judge David Akemann retired at the last minute which greatly shortened the potential campaign season giving his chosen candidate the opportunity to prepare their ground game months before anyone was aware of the vacancy.
But that potential candidate couldn’t keep their mouth shut and everyone knew about the plan and prepared accordingly. Former Elgin State Senator Michael Noland eventually won that seat in 2018.
And speaking of the bizarre Mr. Noland, there is another irony here.
Though he was appointed, Spence turned out to be a stellar judge. Flood, who now has been appointed both associate and circuit judge, has her moments, but where she truly excels is in the comportment department, something you can’t say about most 16th Circuit judges.
Meanwhile, Noland and Judge John Dalton, both elected, are horrific judges generally loathed by their counterparts as indicated by their abysmally low peer ratings.
So, while I’m not too fond of this process, my fear is, as judicial races become more and more politicized, the rabble will continue to elect idiots, something that seems to be their specialty.
I’m gonna have to think about it for awhile – and I’m open to suggestions – but there’s gotta be a better way of choosing the men and women in black.