Making sure pols don't fly under the voters' radar

Updated 9/21/2014 6:50 PM

The election is six weeks away, but maybe you've already grown weary of the incessant attack commercials from the candidates for governor and, to a lesser extent, U.S. Senate.

But mostly under the radar are races to determine who will occupy seats in Congress, the state legislature, county offices and, of course, Cook County's Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. Voters also will have a chance to voice their views -- but have no binding say -- in no less than five statewide referendums that ask questions on increasing the minimum wage to giving more rights to crime victims.


This is a time when we newspaper types are at our busiest, doing what we can to help you make informed decisions when you head to the polls Nov. 4.

Two of the cornerstones of those efforts are the questionnaires we emailed to 239 candidates in our circulation area. We also invite most of those candidates to visit our offices for a face-to-face interview.

The candidates' answers to the questionnaires will appear sometime next month. In them, candidates are asked for biographic data, civic involvement, as well as their views on topics unique to the office they seek. This year, we're asking some general interest questions to learn a bit about the nonpolitical side of our candidates, such as their favorite subjects in school, lessons learned while growing up and advice they give to their children.

The in-person interviews serve two purposes. Conducted by Daily Herald editors, the sessions help the interviewer decide which candidate to recommend to our editorial board for endorsement. The reporter covering the race also is present, to write stories that come out of the interview. Some of them already have appeared in the paper.

One theme that already has emerged -- at least in the sessions I've conducted -- is that the name of House Speaker Michael Madigan comes up early and often. The clear implication is that Democratic state legislators, even those from the suburbs, march in lockstep with Madigan. One session even devolved into a when-and-where-did-you-first-meet-Mike Madigan grilling of a Democratic incumbent by her GOP challenger. Term limits come up, too. Another GOP hopeful cited Madigan, first elected in 1970, as "the poster child" for why we need 'em.

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My fellow endorsers offered their views on the sessions:

• Politicians are people, too, and we don't always appreciate how stressful our sessions can be for them. "I've frequently heard back informally from associates of candidates who come away from these things trying to gauge 'how they did,'" one editor said.

• Yes, everyone is cynical about politicians these days, especially at the state level. But even in those races we've been struck by the fact that we're usually picking between two good choices.

And sometimes there's some humor.

• DuPage County Board Democratic contender Jeremy Custer said, "If you're going to cut government, it's with a scalpel and not a hatchet."

GOP incumbent Grant Eckhoff interrupted immediately.

"Oh, you took that from me at the League of Women Voters debate back in March," he said.

After fumbling briefly for a response, Custer said, "We both use it. Great minds, right Grant? They think alike."

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