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posted: 2/2/2014 5:00 AM

Now online: Bare knuckles political brawl!

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Keith Matune came out swinging.

"How many times do you need to vote with Mike Madigan to be a Chicago Democrat?" he said, ticking off several alleged instances: the pension reform bill, same-sex marriage, the Amazon tax, gambling expansion.

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Matune was referring to his opponent in the March 18 GOP primary, Ron Sandack, the first-term incumbent in Illinois House District 81 in southern DuPage County,

Sandack was equally feisty in his reply, calling Matune's allegations "preposterous," while defending his votes on those issues. Same-sex marriage, for instance, is an acknowledgment of what's occurring "in the real world;" the pension bill vote was a step in the right direction to fix the state's woefully underfunded pension liability.

These barbs took place in the opening five minutes or so of a Daily Herald candidate endorsement session that lasted almost an hour. These sessions, which we conduct every election, help us form an opinion on the candidates in preparation for an editorial board decision on whom we endorse. They're also a newsgathering opportunity, which is why the sessions are attended by the reporter covering the race. In this instance, I was the moderator/editorial board representative and staff writer Marie Wilson prepared the story that ran last week on the contentious session between Matune and Sandack.

I've often lamented that the stories and endorsements we write sometimes feel like they've only scratched the surface in terms of helping voters make a decision. This election, we're taking another step in the direction of full disclosure by adding video and audio to the mix.

In many of the federal, state and county races we're covering, we're also presenting a short video clip of the candidates from their endorsement session and an unedited audio file of the entire interview.

The recorded sessions might be a shade unpolished (we're learning), but I really think they'll add some insight into the people running for key government offices. For instance, the opening salvos between Sandack and Matune were just the beginning. At one point, Sandack asked if I was going to stop Matune from interrupting so much. There also was a debate on whether Sandack had called Matune "stupid." Here's my take on that: I think Sandack called one of Matune's positions "stupid." In fact, he called it "monumentally stupid." But don't take my word for it. Listen to the recording that accompanies Marie's story on dailyherald.com.

You'll be able to form your own opinion, too, on a matter that pretty much set the tone for the campaign. Sandack called a meeting with Matune, which Sandack characterized as a friendly heads-up on an arrest of Matune 23 years ago on a bad check charge that was dismissed. Matune responded with a news release headlined, "Sandack welcomes challenger to race with a veiled threat."

I should hasten to add that such knock-down, drag-out sessions are hardly the norm. I also moderated for the four-way GOP race for House District 45, and the candidates couldn't have been more respectful to one and other. And consider this session described to me by the reporter and endorser in the race for the Democratic nomination for the 14th Congressional District. The candidates, Dennis Anderson and John Hosta, disagreed on several issues, and as one of the participants put it, "Not once did these guys roll their eyes at one another or criticize the other."

And then after the session, in the parking lot and when they might have thought no one was looking, they shook hands.

I didn't follow Ron Sandack and Keith Matune to the parking lot, but I'm guessing they didn't shake hands.

jdavis@dailyherald.com

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