Editorial: Kifowit's nasty rhetoric was both offensive and counterproductive

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted11/30/2018 10:51 AM
  • State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit attends a House veto session Wednesday at the Capitol in Springfield.

    State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit attends a House veto session Wednesday at the Capitol in Springfield. Rich Saal photo via Associated Press

"I would like to make him a broth of Legionella and pump it into the water system of his loved ones so that they can be infected, they can be mistreated, they can sit and suffer by getting aspirin instead of being properly treated and ultimately die."

As most have already heard, the speaker behind those grisly remarks on Tuesday was state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, angrily responding to state Rep. Peter Breen's objection to raising to $2 million the cap on damages for families of veterans who died in the Legionnaires' outbreak at a Quincy veterans home.

If you've never heard of Kifowit before now, the introduction has been a rocky one. A retired Marine and a Democrat from Oswego, she joined the statehouse in 2013. The bill that she co-sponsored, to raise the cap on damages from a paltry $100,000 to $2 million, passed in May, but was vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who preferred a $300,000 ceiling. The Senate overrode his veto, and on Tuesday the House did too, despite the fact that Kifowit almost destroyed her own cause. Her remarks caused several "yes" votes to defect, including Breen, who had supported the bill that Rauner vetoed, and what was expected to be a comfortable override instead got exactly the 71 votes it needed.

The "so's your old man" school of persuasion may still work on the playground, but there's no place for it among Illinois legislators -- no matter how much public discourse has become degraded in an era tainted by online trolls and a U.S. president famous for his unapologetic insults.

Kifowit's apology, which she made on Wednesday, is welcome. But she needs to be aware that not only did she sorely damage her own cause by creating a distraction that aided her adversaries, she also added to the impression that people can't disagree reasonably with each other anymore. These are lessons that all elected leaders should take to heart from this unfortunate episode.

Outrage about the lack of response to the Legionnaire's crisis is certainly warranted, but suggesting Breen, a Lombard Republican, and his family should die because he was suggesting the damages could be limited to $500,000 to $600,000 instead of $2 million is ... perplexing. Especially considering that before her outburst, the override vote looked safely in the bag.

We don't really believe Kifowit wants Breen's family to die. In an abundance of understatement, she said her attempt at empathy was "not conveyed properly." She said she meant to say, "imagine if it were your family," instead of the vicious personal attack she did make. She was angry, and as Jane Austen once famously said, angry people are not always wise.

Few situations illustrate that maxim better than this, for it never would have been a political fight without Kifowit's remarks. Now that it is one, the condemnation needs to be swift, decisive and bipartisan. In that regard, the House's decision to take the rare step of expunging her comments was a welcome act.

One of our hopes for the new Illinois General Assembly, to be seated in January, is that there will be a great infusion of both civility and purpose. For the record, this is not a good end to the old era.

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