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Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010 01:01 am

Brady needs to learn a new language

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Sen. Bill Brady
One of the biggest doubts about state Sen. Bill Brady’s gubernatorial campaign — assuming he survives a potential recount of the Republican primary — is whether he can transform himself from a primary candidate into a serious general election candidate.

Like most members of the state House and Senate, Brady has never once faced a real general election opponent.

Brady, of Bloomington, focused almost solely on his Downstate base and barely campaigned at all in the suburbs during his Republican gubernatorial bid, so independent suburban women might as well be foreigners to him. Since Illinois is such a “blue” state, he’ll have to convince thousands of Democratic-leaning voters to cross over for him.

After almost two decades of “speaking Republican,” Brady essentially needs to learn how to speak the language of a general election.

One thing he’ll need to do with that new language is explain his voting record. My interns Barton Lorimor and Dan Weber helped me scour Brady’s legislative record last week. Here are some of the results.

Many of the bills Brady introduced since 1993 show he can make a good case that he is a reformer. He has sponsored legislation to limit campaign contributions, for instance.

Brady sponsored a bill to prohibit state contractors from contributing to legislative campaigns. He put forward a bill to prohibit any reimbursement for out-of-state travel if a campaign fundraiser was involved in the trip. He also sponsored a bill to shine some light onto the always controversial legislative pork program.

Brady sponsored several bills that will probably appeal to independents. Brady was chief sponsor of a House bill in 2005, for instance, that created an Illinois Conservation Corps for young adults. Brady co-sponsored a bill (along with Barack Obama) for seniors to make sure they didn’t lose any benefits under the federal prescription drug program.

On the other hand, there are plenty of bills and votes lurking in Brady’s record that could hurt him this fall.

For instance, Brady sponsored legislation that allowed pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception based on their religious beliefs.

Sen. Brady is 100 percent pro-life, so he sponsored legislation to ban the use of state funds for stem cell research. Brady has sponsored legislation to repeal the state’s Firearm Owner’s Identification Card. And he has repeatedly introduced constitutional amendments to do away with the State Board of Education.

Sponsorship is only one aspect of a legislator’s history. Their voting records are often more important and usually contain far more land mines.

Brady voted voted against a bill requiring a state insurer to cover mammograms and pap tests, probably because the coverage list also included emergency contraception. He voted against the statewide smoking ban.

Sen. Brady voted against a bill creating a physician loan repayment program for doctors who agreed to practice in Illinois for at least three years. Brady has consistently voted against increasing the minimum wage. He voted against a bill to ban large-capacity magazines in certain guns.

A couple of years ago, state Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) was attacked by the Republicans for voting in favor of a few tax exemptions. An exemption on certain vehicles was deemed a “tax break for the rich so they can get deals on their limos.” Tax exemptions for racehorses and planes were portrayed in a similar manner. Like Holmes, Brady voted for all three bills.

The Quinn campaign believes they can easily portray Brady as an out-of-touch, wealthy ultra-conservative this fall.

To overcome this, Brady needs to make this race essentially a rerun of the 1980 Carter-Reagan campaign. Carter, after all, was overjoyed when the Republican Party nominated that unelectable right-winger from California. But Reagan’s strong personality, the tanking economy, rising crime, Carter’s bumbling and a huge overreach by the Democratic congressional majority, along with the twin international embarrassments of the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan combined to override the ideological divide. Democrats voted for Reagan in droves.

If you substitute “Rod Blagojevich” and “Scott Lee Cohen” for the USA’s international humiliations of 1980, our current Illinois situation looks eerily similar.

Late last week, Brady again proposed permanently outlawing gay marriages and civil unions. That sort of thing will be great for the Republican base, but it’s time Brady started learning to speak to everyone else.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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