Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Republican primary election in the newly-drawn 11th Congressional District is that it may not happen at all.
Next Monday, the State Board of Elections is expected to decide whether Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham can remain on the ballot. It’s been a long road to get to this point, and with less than two weeks to go before the election, the outcome remains uncertain.
When the filing period for congressional candidates ended on Dec. 27 of last year, there were three Republicans vying for the seat: Rep. Judy Biggert, who currently represents the old 13th District; Cunningham; and Diane Harris of Joliet. But then, a flurry of objections to the nominating petitions were filed: Cunningham challenged Biggert and Harris, and Biggert supporters challenged Cunningham.
In the end, the State Board removed both Cunningham and Harris from the ballot. In Cunningham’s case, he said, one of his petition circulators transposed two numbers on his own address on 31 sheets of signatures. Only 526 of the 1,265 signatures he handed in were considered valid, and the minimum required is 600.
Harris is still running as a write-in candidate.
But Cunningham challenged in court, and won—he cited previous cases in which courts had decided that candidates should not be thrown off ballots for clerical errors. He was reinstated on Feb. 21.
The Biggert campaign appealed that decision, and on Wednesday, the appellate court suspended Cunningham’s candidacy again, and remanded the issue back to the State Board.
In the order, judges noted that the Biggert camp raised issues at the initial hearing that the State Board did not rule on—namely, the accusation that two of Cunningham’s circulators were not present when the petitions they handed in were notarized.
“The real issue is a pattern of fraud,” said Biggert’s attorney John Fogarty.
Reached on Wednesday, Cunningham said he would continue to campaign until the State Board’s decision is handed down. He said an outside group circulated petitions for him in this race, and admitted they may have made a mistake.
“If we made an error, we made an error,” he said.
Ken Menzel, deputy general counsel for the State Board of Elections, said the board will meet on Monday and take up the issue of Cunningham’s candidacy. The real question, he admitted, is what to do about early voting ballots between now and then.
It’s a problem county election authorities are wrestling with. Rennatta Mickelson, chief deputy in the Kendall County Clerk’s office, said it would take at least a week to reprint ballots and change over the electronic voting machines, which would put early voting on hold.
“We’re looking for more guidance from the State Board of Elections,” she said.
Menzel said one possible solution, should Cunningham not make it back onto the ballot, would be to post signs at polling places informing voters of the situation. Early voting has been underway since Feb. 27, and if the State Board keeps Cunningham off the ballot, votes already cast for him would likely not count, Menzel said.
But Menzel did not predict how the board would choose to handle the issue. He, along with the candidates and voters of the 11th District, will simply have to wait for the board’s decision.
For Cunningham, the court battles have taken away from his ability to campaign—he called the objections an attempt to reduce the amount of time he would have to mount a challenge to Biggert. The winner of this race, should there be one, will go on to face the victor in the three-way Democratic primary between former Congressman Bill Foster, Orland Fire District President Jim Hickey, and attorney Juan Thomas.
Patch asked both candidates what sets them apart, and makes them the best choice for Republican voters. Here’s how they answered.
For Judy Biggert, it’s all about experience and track record.
Biggert, 74, has been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1999, currently serving the old 13th District, which included parts of Aurora, Naperville, Joliet, Darien, Plainfield and Romeoville, among other communities. But last year’s redistricting moved the 13th downstate, and split her old district between the new 11th and 5th.
The 11th, she said, contains about half of the old 13th, but she said she’s been pleased to find out that she’s well known even in areas she’s never represented. Biggert describes herself as a center-right moderate, and she’s proud of the votes she’s cast in Congress, and her ability, she said, to reach across the aisle to get things done.
Her top priority, she said, is the economy, a problem with no easy solution. Biggert suggested a multi-pronged approach: cut spending, end borrowing, cut taxes, extend the Bush-era tax cuts, and reduce the amount of regulation on businesses. Additionally, she said, she would favor repealing the 2010 health care law, which she said leaves businesses in a state of uncertainty.
Biggert said she would lower the corporate tax for all businesses, and would repeal farm subsidies, since they often go to “megafarms” instead of smaller, family-owned ones.
She also keyed in on education as an important component, and said she supports the proposed at Aurora University. And, she said, she would like to see more investment in green energy, and a reduction in America’s dependence on foreign oil.
Biggert has already come under fire in the primary election, from Bill Foster. The Naperville Democrat has taken aim at Biggert for supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline while her family owns stock in TransCananda, the company that wants to build that pipeline. But Biggert said that stock was purchased in 2004 by a broker, as part of her husband’s 401k, and has nothing to do with her support of the pipeline.
“The residents in our area want jobs, and lower gas prices,” she said. “That’s why I support the Keystone XL.”
Biggert is essentially running on her record for the past 13 years in Congress, and she believes it portrays her as a moderate who can make things happen.
“I don’t really care about sound bites or political bickering,” she said. “I do what’s right and I get the job done. That’s what I’m known for.”
For Biggert’s answers to our questionnaire, click .
Jack Cunningham has waited a long time for his chance to serve in Congress.
At age 73, he’s lived a long political life. He remembers listening to political debates at nine years old and being inspired. Much of what he has done since then, including earning two doctorates and starting his own business, has been in preparation for higher political service, he said.
Cunningham has made several runs for Congress, and even took a shot at running for mayor of Aurora in 2005. He’s served as Kane County clerk since 2002, and he said he has been biding his time, waiting for an open seat. With the newly-drawn 11th District (which has no incumbent), he sees an opportunity.
Cunningham said he represents strong conservative values. He is anti-abortion, he said, where Biggert is for abortion rights. He is a strong proponent of the 2nd Amendment. And, he said, where Biggert is “a wealthy individual from Hinsdale, I worked for everything I have.”
Cunningham described himself as “the people’s candidate,” and said this election will allow voters of the 11th District to “send a message, and send one of our own to Washington.”
Like Biggert, Cunningham would cut down on federal regulations for businesses, which he says are “killing the little guy.” He said the bailouts proposed by President Barack Obama (which Foster voted for) have done nothing—“He probably should have sent each of us $20 grand,” he said jokingly—and Congress needs someone with “common sense” to sort it out.
Cunningham said his government experience has shown him the effect federal regulations can have. He also serves as the chair and president of three banks, he said, and has owned his own businesses, which gives him a strong perspective on the economy.
And he also pointed to his track record in the clerk’s office, where he instituted electronic voting, thereby cutting down drastically on paper costs, and spearheaded a project to scan in all of the county’s vital records, which had previously existed only on paper.
Cunningham believes an outsider is what’s needed in Washington.
“If you are happy with what Washington, D.C. is doing, and you’re doing well under this economy, vote for Judy Biggert,” he said. “She’s one of the people who put us in the position we’re in.”
Cunningham has not yet returned his Patch questionnaire.