Plummer's young and inexperienced -- but he says that's a good thing

Updated 2/8/2011 2:50 PM
  • Republican lieutenant governor candidate Jason Plummer, a 28-year-old Edwardsville businessman, says he doesn't see his age as a disadvantage.

    Republican lieutenant governor candidate Jason Plummer, a 28-year-old Edwardsville businessman, says he doesn't see his age as a disadvantage. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

The 28-year-old Republican lieutenant governor candidate who won a six-way primary in February has been able to vote in only two elections for the governor. He's held political office once - a two-year stint as a downstate county Republican chairman.

But Jason Plummer doesn't see his age - or lack of political experience - as a disadvantage.

"I don't think how old you are matters. If you have a game plan, and you're young, hardworking, idealistic and energetic, that will be a jolt to Springfield. I think the primary proves that," he said.

Plummer, a vice president in his family's downstate lumber company, RP Lumber, says he complements Republican candidate for governor Bill Brady, a state senator from Bloomington, with his business background and focus on job creation.

"I don't have a whole lot of Springfield experience," he said. "Gov. (Pat) Quinn wants to make fun of my age. I spent more time in the private sector than Quinn spent in the private sector."

Almost all of that experience has been working for his family business, starting "before he could read."

As a college student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he studied finance, working part time in one of RP Lumber's 46 lumberyards.

While in college, he worked as an intern for U.S. Sen. Peter Fitzgerald and for a conservative think-tank, the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., after graduation.

After returning home to Edwardsville, Plummer was elected Madison County Republican chairman in 2006, where he served one 2-year term.

He said he's helped out with a number of Republican campaigns and went to six states for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2008.

Plummer says his passion isn't holding office, but being involved in the political process.

Noticing "some frustration with the direction our party had been going," he said he decided to make a bid for office last summer, after a mentor, whom he declined to name, told him he should run.

"I kind of laughed it off, went around and talked to some folks. People were responsive," Plummer said.

Plummer's strategy in the February primary, where he edged out state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, was to "not give an inch of turf."

Plummer said he told himself, "I'm probably not going to get Palatine, but I'm going to work hard and get second place.

"If you look at what we did, we won 76 counties, and took second place in every other."

He spent nearly $1.5 million on that campaign - a majority from family, family business and personal funds - according to Illinois State Board of Elections records. Plummer says he "has been blessed," though declined to reveal his net worth.

Plummer says he "meshes well" with Brady, whom he knew peripherally through the family business.

Calling himself both a fiscal and social conservative, Plummer says he believes education issues, social issues and crime are all directly related to job growth.

"If people can put food on the table for their families, a lot of those other issues are going to disappear," he said.

Still, he says, the running mates don't see eye to eye on everything.

When pressed, Plummer said he said he opposes abortion but sees exception if the life of the mother is at risk. Brady opposes abortion including in the cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Plummer, who is 6-foot-8, coaches youth basketball at his church, First Baptist Church of Maryville. One weekend a month, he trains as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer in Minneapolis.

He's received some criticism from Democrats - including lieutenant governor candidate Sheila Simon - for not being visible on the campaign trail, which he dismisses.

"I can't explain that," Plummer said. "I think that in order to win they're going to have to tear Bill down. Tear me down. They think my age is my weak spot. I'll let them continue to attack me on that. One way to do that is to say, oh, they're hiding him."

Plummer says he does more events than Simon, though many of them are without Brady.

Each major party's governor and lieutenant governor candidate share similar ideological perspectives, Harper College Professor Emerita Sharon Alter said. But despite that, there is disparity in the strategies between the Quinn/Simon and Brady/Plummer campaigns.

Quinn is taking the opportunity to appear at many events with Simon. Brady and Plummer are more split up, with Plummer spending much less of his time in the suburbs than Brady.

"Does he have an appeal in the suburbs? I don't know," Alter said. "He's downstate. He's inexperienced. ... I think Brady wants to emphasize Brady. There's nothing I can think of that Brady can emphasize in Plummer that could strengthen his own candidacy for governor."

Plummer is heading up Brady's "Border Community Task Force," hosting town halls on the outskirts of the state to discuss how to make Illinois more competitive for businesses.

He said he's also been trying to connect with unions across the state and college-aged voters.

"I go to college campuses and I meet with Young Republican chapters around the state, people are fired up. I went to 'Quad Day' at U of I. I can't tell you how many kids came up. Democrats and Republicans. People underestimate youth," he said. "I think that's going to have an impact on the election. ... When I got into this I thought that was going to be my big hurdle, and that was fundamentally probably the best thing I had going for me in the primary."