Monday, January 25, 2010

Lightning Hitting Twice

In November of last year, we shocked Chicago by objecting to my opponent’s petition on the grounds that she was not a registered voter. Of course, objecting to petitions is a common practice in Illinois so that wasn’t the surprise. Instead we turned heads and gained valuable notice because I was a little-known reform candidate fighting machine politicians with their own tactics.

Though the Board of Elections ultimately ruled against our objection, the publicity projected my name recognition status into the sky -- gaining me an incredible amount of unpaid media and positive press.

Now I know that they say “Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice” but we’re about to prove that wrong.

It’s a fact that Mike Kasper and his firm represent Madigan-friendly politicians all the time, both defending them in court and pursuing their opponents in court as well. Many a reformer has been knocked off the ballot by Mr. Kasper’s legal skills. Such expertise doesn’t come cheaply.

Of course you wouldn't know that to look at the Disclosure Filings of those same state office holders, since they seldom report the spending. According to election law, if somebody else pays, the payment by another specified person needs to be recorded as a "contribution-in-kind." The failure of those contributions to be reported is an illegal act of non-disclosure if there ever was one.

That’s why my attorney Rich Means and I went back (with Suzanne's help) to the State Board of Elections on Monday, January 25 and filed another complaint! You see, the only way to reform our political landscape is to yell “The Emperor has no clothes” when indeed he (or she) has none. It’s up to the election board to hold candidates accountable for their disclosure reports and we aim to help them to do so.

Notice, please, that I wrote "candidates." Our filing isn't just against my opponent Ms. Mell, but also against Dan Burke, Michael Zalewski, and Carol Sente. That's right. None of these incumbent candidates reported how much they paid, how much some other named person or entity paid, or the value as a "contribution-in-kind" called "legal services" Mr. Kasper and company gave them. Somebody paid many thousands of dollars for these legal services and the public is entitled to know who.

Incumbents must be made to follow the laws they pass. Honest and full reporting of all contributions is one way to clean our state. Your contribution (which will be reported) will do just that.

You see, neither I nor the other reform candidates who were targeted by Madigan and Kasper have the political clout to get free and unreported legal services.

And there is more to it than that.

I’m not na├»ve enough to think that it’s really free. Yes, there may be no exchange of money but the picture gets even more murky when you see that Kasper is part and parcel of the registered lobbying firm of FLETCHER, O'BRIEN, KASPER & NOTTAGE, P.C. Now what do you think a State Representative does when the lawyer that defended him sends a lobbyist in his employ to ask him to vote for a bill that favors one of his clients?

As it says on their website (www.fokn.com): "Services provided by FOKN to its clients include monitoring and analyzing proposed legislation, passing and defeating legislative initiatives, securing appropriations, rulemaking, public relations and contract procurement."

Will you stand with me and say “Conflict of Interest” when an elected official allows a lobbyist to give him free and unreported legal council? Will you make a donation to say “Enough is enough?” Will you write a check to end the power of big money lobbyists?

Election day, February 2, is coming on fast. We can’t lose this opportunity to show Chicago’s voters why they have to vote the insiders out and the reformers in. Your contribution of $1,000, 500, 100, 50, or 25 will help us fight this challenge against illegal filings and insider conflict of interest.

Your contribution now will give my campaign the boost it needs to put us over the top on Tuesday, February 2. Contribute Here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ready to Go

We’ve spent much of this month getting ready for next month -- the final push toward primary day on February 2. The mailings are at the printer’s and the plans are laid to get out the vote.

Look for another article about me in The Chicago Reader next week as Ben Javorsky discusses Election Board politics in Chicago.

In the meantime, please take a minute to visit http://www.actblue.com/page/joinjoe. We can always use a few more dollars for postage, handouts, lawn signs, etc. Your financial help is needed now.

Don’t put it off, please donate now. http://www.actblue.com/page/joinjoe Thanks. Joe

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Best Birthday Greeting

Last week Suzanne Elder, a very savvy marketing professional with significant campaign experience sent me a birthday greeting on Facebook and lamented my loss in my objection against my opponent’s petition. I replied:

“Although there were times when the idea of getting Mell off the ballot put a big grin on my face, I think it best to defeat her in the voting booth in Feb rather than face her as an Independent candidate next Nov. The unpaid media that the challenge earned me was worth every penny paid to Rich Means (my attorney). Now we need to move ahead. I am desperate for some good political savvy and experienced volunteers. My 15 friends who are working for me are green at it. Any ideas where I can get a campaign manager? I actually have money to pay him or her.”

She replied, “Let's make a time to chat. I may be able to help you for a short period. I can put together some analytics and a canvassing and field plan for you.”

We met on Sunday, after a weekend in which IVI-IPO voted to provisionally endorse me. The meeting went very well and it was obvious that her expertise would help move my campaign up a very big notch. She left me with homework and promised to return with a plan.

On Thursday she did so and it showed that in spite of the naysayers I could win. Later that day, I got a phone call from a significant and well-read Chicago journalist who is writing a full-length article about my race against the Chicago Machine. He thinks it will see the light of print just after the new year, proving that my race is being closely watched.

Yes, I am optimistic and I assure you that I know optimism ought always to be tempered with reality. I also know that my biggest problem is overcoming self-fulfilling prophecy. I had hoped, for instance, to get an endorsement from SEIU. After all, I have strong union credentials and have even participated in several union activities with them. Instead they chose to sit out my contest, endorsing no one.

That’s the rule of political thinking. If you can’t endorse the one you think will win, then certainly don’t endorse someone you think will lose, even if he or she is totally on your side. The lack of endorsement, of course, then helps fulfill the prophecy of defeat.

I had talked to Suzanne about helping me last summer and for a variety of reasons nothing came of it. So we had to mog through the summer on our own (us being me and my volunteers). Persevere we did and no one knocked me off the ballot. The few who really backed me, kept backing me to the hilt, affording me my first two endorsements, in spite of terrific odds to the contrary.

I write all this because each week it becomes more obvious that the original glimmer of hope for my victory shines a bit brighter.

As I write this blog, there are 53 days until the election. We’re on the ballot; we’ve got some money in the bank; Suzanne has put together a dynamite package that will lead to victory; and the folks who laughed at me when I asked them to sign my petition are beginning to think that indeed I just might have the last laugh.

But it’s too early to start laughing, even if a big smile is appropriate. I need volunteers to do the work on the street and money ($15,000) to fund the plan.

OK blog-readers. OK Facebook friends. OK everyone else. Now’s the time to dig a little deeper and help me go for the 3,750 votes I need to win. Repost the link to my blog on your Facebook page. Email your friends to visit my website at www.FriendsForJoeLaiacona.org. Tweet my URL to your followers. Put a check in the mail or go to www.pleasecontribute.com/7689 to add your donation.

If you live in Chicagoland, I need you to commit to working for me between now and the election.

Time is moving toward the big day -- Feb 2. I need the cash now for two very important reasons: First, there are printers to pay so the direct mail part of the campaign can be mailed on time. That part needs to be done now. Secondly, Dec 31 marks the end of another reporting period. When my D2 (that’s what they’re called in Illinois) shows your support, it will be one more nail in the coffin of self-fulfilling prophecy. The naysayers will have to say “Gosh, that guy is doing it. Maybe, just maybe, he might win.”

Every likes to back a winner. It’s up to you and me to show them that I am (and will be) the winner.

Act now and the District 40 machine will tremble and fall on Feb 2. Then you and I will have plenty of reason to laugh the last laugh.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My View of the Endorsement Process

As the male State Rep Candidate that was mentioned above, I have found the endorsement process both fascinating and helpful. I am one of those grass-root politicians who is brand new to being a politician, unless you count three campaigns where I didn’t even make a blip on the charts in Indiana more than 25 years ago.

In this, my almost-virgin campaign, I have been part of four endorsement processes: Northside Democracy for America, IVI-IPO, the PACs and Unions, and the Regular Democrats. It has been an advanced lesson in Chicago politics, one that more voters ought to experience.

The most clamorous process is NDFA, where progressive, ethical, and fiscally-responsible candidates are asked to present themselves. OK, it is exclusionary since you have to have those qualities AND be a Democrat. It also differs from IVI-IPO and the PAC/Union process because it is without questionnaire. That leaves the decision to be based on the literature the candidate presents, the reporting done by Steve, who does a write-up after talking with the candidate, and the candidate’s actual presentation. There is then a month’s wait to vote. The free-form works well and offers a real challenge because the questions are often very pointed and the rivalry between supporters is both friendly and serious.

For me, just listening has been a learning experience since it gives one the opportunity to hear real answers to the concerns of specific voters. Likewise it gives a chance to hear the fluff, when the candidate delivers it.

IVI-IPO, on the other hand, is long on the questionnaire. Unfortunately they are also very slow in making the completed ones available, so much so that my opponent’s answers were only available on the website at 10 pm the night before (when mine was up there too). The difficulty here is understandable since volunteers have too much to do. My questionnaire had sat with them for a long time. I heard that my opponent’s had only been received the night before, in spite of stern warnings that if you missed the deadline (she had) there was no forgiveness.

Since there were only three voters from my district (myself, my partner, and another resident/activist) the chair appointed a few others to vote as well, a process that could be fraught with the smell of machine politics, but since I won the vote, I won’t complain.

I liked the short intro and short after-word, since I enjoy answering questions. For my part, I found the questions really well thought and a bit challenging, which I think is important. Unlike at NDFA I wasn’t allowed to hear my opponent. That speechifying was followed by discussion without the presence of the candidates and I hear it was lively and interesting, though it turns out one-sided since the non-binding vote was 5 to 1. I am now awaiting the certification by the State Board, since less than 15 votes were cast. The nearly two-week wait is way too long, but again you are relying on the “kindness of volunteers” to paraphrase Blanche DuBois.

I had always wondered how the IVI-IPO endorsements were made and to finally find out was a good thing. It is unfortunate, though, that it doesn’t include hundreds more voters, such being the sad state of (non) participatory democracy in America today.

The third group, PACs and Unions, to which I might add Editors, seems mostly to be about paper. It is also a process that begins too late in the primary election cycle to make much difference, as they say they are waiting for the petitions to be certified. Really, then why were the candidates for governor and other high-ranking officials endorsed so much sooner? It’s also obvious that PAC and Union money is saved for the perceived-to-be winners. Disclosure here: that became clear when I read the book “Reforming State Legislative Elections” by William M. Salka.

I know, I know. It’s called betting on a sure thing. I see that merely as a great way to preserve’s one’s ability to influence AND to preserve the status quo. That, I think, is the big difference, as NDFA and IVI-IPO seem to care less about the status quo and more about good government or at least their brand of it. And yes, I am prejudiced here, since even the unions that would seem to have been naturals to endorse me decided (so far at least) to endorse no one.

And then there are the regular Democrats. Twice I tried to meet my Ward 39 committeeman and twice I was unable to get an appointment. The third time I went and sat in the reception area of his office for two-and-a-half hours, having been told my name was on the list and he would see me. Closing time for the office is posted for 9 pm. At 8:30, when my turn came, I was told that Mr. Committeeman was leaving and couldn’t see me. The party looks out for its own, especially when its own are in-laws, children, cousins, or big contributors.

Now I will give up my rant if someone tells me that the Committeeman has no responsibility to see that his/her Ward elects the best candidate as determined by open debate among competing and competent candidates. Never mind, I’ll win the really old-fashioned way, by knocking on doors and gaining support of the voters one hand-shake at a time.

As my friend Chuck me told at the very beginning of this run “You cannot fail.” This education has been priceless and even if I don’t win, has prepared me well for the next time when I just might run against the Committeeman.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Board Hearing

The Election Board ruled against my objection to placing Deb Mell on the ballot. That's no surprise as that is how the hearing officer ruled as well. We are still deciding whether to take the question to the Circuit Court as we have ten days to consider our next move.

In the meantime, I do wonder the following:

Shall the state election law be amended to require

1. That a candidate to the General Assembly be an active registered voter?

or

2. That the signers of petitions for candidates to the General Assembly need NOT be active registered voters?

or

3. None of the above, as members of the General Assembly ought to be exempt from the requirements that they impose on petition signers.

I'd like to know so that when I am sworn in as a Representative in the General Assembly I will know whether or not to offer an amendment to the State's election law.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Machine Politics

A casual observer of my campaign could easily come to the conclusion that I oppose machine politics. My rants against “The Machine” are hardly hidden and much of my platform is based on either the introduction of laws that will weaken the status quo, i.e., term limits, or that are opposed by the status quo, i.e., a graduated income tax.

Closer to the truth is that I admire machines and wish that I had an organization as efficient and well-staffed as do the Daleys, the Madigans, and the Mells.

Few of the friends who volunteered had experience in collecting signatures on my petitions. I have no fund-raisers on my staff. As a grass-roots candidate of the progressive and reform-minded type, I have no endorsements from elected politicians. The PACs with whom I have spoke only want to back a shoo-in, not a newcomer.

The value of the machine is easily seen. My opponent, Deb Mell et al., handed in more than 2,000 signatures, 75 of which she collected herself. For our part, we handed in 1,600, 900 of which I collected and another 300 were collected by my friend Guy. Mell had many hands making the work light, while we few had to hustle and worry our way to our goal.
Machine-based efficiency is enviable; organization is essential; manpower necessary. Those statements are given realities.

The other reality is that over time machines wear down. They become sloppy as their “gears” become worn by use. Cracks appear as the stress of time fractures their structures and their innate rigidity becomes unresponsive to the changes that inevitably occur in their environment.

So there comes a time when it is necessary to reform and rebuild, to study the needs that the old machine cannot or will not meet and construct a new organization, yes a new political machine, that is responsive to will of its citizens. Though it is seen as such, that is not meant to be a challenge to a given political party or to a certain power base. It is an invitation to self-examination and reflection that will lead to innovation, renewal, and invigoration. It is taking the best of the old machine in order to build a better one, more suited to the present and better prepared for the future.

Such is the natural course of things. We all know it happens, since the older generation has no choice but to pass the torch of responsibility on to the next. It is not always done easily but its doing is inevitable. Let us transform by evolution rather than by revolution, as transform we will, whether we like it or not.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The week in review

It was week filled with media notice of yours truly. The political bloggers had a hay-day with my objection to Mell's petition.

Monday - first hearing before the Election Board re: my objection to Mell's petition, based on the fact that she was not registered to vote. It was continued until Tues, Nov 24.

Tuesday - meet with lllinois Federation of Teachers to present my credentials in search of their endorsement.

Wednesday - what no meetings?

Thursday - meet the candidate night at IVI-IPO. Got a phone call from WLS - talk radio and was on the air. Front page feature story of my campaign in the Chicago Reader.

Friday - my Columbia College intern has her "crew" film me for a school project.

Saturday and Sunday - great weather for campaigning so I went door-to-door introducing myself to Democrats who vote in primaries. Now that was a good experience. One voter had actually seen the Reader story and it convinced him to vote for me.