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Wednesday, June 7, 2006 01:54 am

The Hype

The alternative in the race for Illinois governor

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SEEING GREEN The political dynamics of Illinois’ 115th House District are somewhat unusual. A former Democratic stronghold, the 115th elected conservative Mike Bost as their state representative in 1995. However, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, many believe, provides a solid base of liberal-minded folk in the district as well. So in 2002 when Carbondale attorney Rich Whitney, running on the Green Party ticket, challenged Bost for his seat, the incumbent kept his job, but Whitney wangled 6 percent of the vote — enough to give the Greens “established” party status in the district. As a result, the Green Party has a permanent line on ballots there. Now a gubernatorial hopeful on Illinois’ first-ever Green Party slate, Whitney, 51, wants to do the same thing across state — or at least in as many legislative districts as possible. “Apart from wanting to live a mansion?” Whitney replies when asked why he wants to be governor. In a more serious vein, he adds: “I have devoted most of my adult life to the cause of progressive politics, and the times demand that we make some pretty substantial changes.”
Illinois is as progressive a state as you’re going to find in the Midwest, but even here politics rely less on ideology than where the concrete is poured, as University of Illinois at Springfield political-studies professor Christopher Z. Mooney notes. Further complicating matters for the Greens is the fact that the inescapable pay-to-play nature of Illinois politics doesn’t at all jibe with the their refusal to accept corporate campaign contributions. It’s akin to a person starving because they don’t like food containing preservatives. This week, responding to President George W. Bush’s support of a constitutional ban on gay marriages, Whitney proposed a ban on marriage between government and corporations. Yet one gets the sense that, unlike halfhearted challenges to Gov. Rod Blagojevich by Ed Eisendrath and, more recently, state Sen. James Meeks, the Greens are after more than pure symbolism. Meeks, Whitney says, “sold out for a mess of pottage,” calling off his gubernatorial bid just before kicking off a statewide petition drive when Blagojevich announced that he’d come up with a way to beef up education funding. Whitney is also annoyed at the suggestion that Meeks’ abandonment of his candidacy has left voters without another third-party option. The Green Party, he points out, committed to running its slate months before Meeks even considered the idea. Plus, they’re further along in the process that would allow them to appear on the statewide ballot than Meeks was when he dropped out. At last count, the Green Party had collected 24,500 signatures — 500 shy of the amount required and almost 10,000 fewer than the number the Greens want to get as they’re expecting legal challenges from Democrats and Republicans. In any other election cycle, this would be a sound strategy — but not this one.
The stakes are simply too high. A handful of elections decided in the Democrats’ favor could lead to serious discussions on impeachment and the Iraq occupation. Turnout of the party faithful will be critical for both sides. Still, Whitney’s confident that, at least in Illinois, there are swing votes up for grabs. “You can’t do worse than Mr. Blagojevich,” he says. “All I can say about [Judy Baar Topinka] is that she’s less reactionary than some of her colleagues in a hopelessly reactionary party. There is no spoiler here.”
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