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The Practical Party

Or, why I won't be voting my gut much on Tuesday

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You'd think that after years of covering politics I'd have learned that my one vote really doesn't matter—it's just a grain of sand on a vast beach.

But, no, I treat it like it's my own personal statement on the system. I think about it all the time, talk about it endlessly with friends and family. I spend my life studying this stuff, yet it seems the more I know the harder it is to make up my mind.

Let's start with the big one—governor. I want to vote for Rich Whitney, the Green Party candidate. I proudly voted for him in 2006. Two years after the election, when the feds hauled Governor Rod Blagojevich downtown to be charged, I was trash-talking all my Democratic friends: "Don't blame me, I voted for the Green Party guy."

I want to vote for him now as much as I did then. His platform is excellent, especially on taxes and the budget. "The fundamental cause of our state deficit is our regressive tax system, which imposes the largest share of the tax burden on those least able to pay," he writes. "We need to move toward a more progressive system by shielding lower and middle-income working people before raising the individual and corporate income tax." He also favors legalization of marijuana. "Prohibition was a disaster when we tried it with alcohol," he writes, and "the same is true of our criminalization of marijuana."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

But here's the deal. In 2006, Whitney was running against Blago and Judy Barr Topinka, your typical social moderate Illinois Republican (think governors Jim Thompson or Jim Edgar). As I saw it, it really wouldn't matter much if Blago or Topinka won.

That left me free to vote for Whitney without feeling I was helping to usher in a pack of gay-bashing, social-net-slashing conservatives who'd hand out tax breaks and other goodies to their wealthy cronies.

This time around the Republicans have nominated state senator Bill Brady out of Bloomington. Where to start? He's not only against gay marriage, he proposed a constitutional amendment to ban it, and civil unions too. He voted against a senate bill that would permit research using human embryonic stem cells. He's OK with creationism being taught in public schools. He's against abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. He wants to roll back the state minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to the federal level of $7.25—and in general he thinks the minimum wage is an unwarranted intrusion into free markets that will cause employers to send jobs out of state. In 2005 he voted against FamilyCare and KidCare, which provided medical care for children of working-class families, on the grounds that "it's the definition of welfare. It's government assistance. I want everyone to have access to quality health care, and I think they can get it by providing for themselves and by the state helping to bring in well-paying jobs."

As Daily Southtown columnist Kristen McQueary wisecracked then: "Good luck on that one."

So yeah, you get it: he's a free-market zealot and far-right social conservative. But he's also a millionaire developer who's made big bucks overseeing Brady Homes, a business his father started. Back in 2003 he cut a deal with the city of Champaign to build a 300-unit subdivision out by the intersection of I-57 and Curtis Road. The city hoped the subdivision would lead to further development near the intersection. But Brady underestimated what the project would cost, David Heinzmann and Rick Pearson wrote in a Chicago Tribune story this May that looked back at the deal. When proper bids were in, Brady's share of the cost had grown by more than $1 million, "and he balked at doing the work without getting more money from taxpayers," they wrote. "We made a deal with Brady, in which we were capping our investment at a [certain] level," Bruce Knight, Champaign's planning director, told the Tribune reporters. "More money from taxpayers was not 'justifiable.'"

The deal died, and the land remains vacant.

Oh, that's perfect. Working-class kids getting health care, that's welfare. Working-class folks getting a decent wage, that's an unwarranted government intrusion into the free market. Yet when he was looking to build his homes out by the highway, Brady had his hand out for all the taxpayer cash he could get.

It's one thing to be a free-market zealot. It's another thing to be a hypocritical free-market zealot.

Sorry, Rich Whitney—this time around the stakes are too high. I gotta go with Pat Quinn, the Democrat.

Then there's the Senate race, where I want to vote Republican because I'm so irritated at Democrats for selecting Alexi Giannoulias in February's primary. Here we are in the midst of a huge housing market meltdown, with the big banks foreclosing people out of their homes, and we nominate a guy whose family's bank made so many bad loans that it had to be taken over by the feds?

What's that? You don't believe I'd even consider voting for the GOP?

Well, you're wrong. Back in 1978 I voted for U.S. Senator Charles Percy. In 1980 I voted for Cook County state's attorney Bernard Carey. And then—ugh—I thought about voting for Governor Jim Thompson, though I never did it. I really wish I could have voted for John Hoellen, a tell-it-like-it-is reformer who was alderman of the 47th Ward for 27 years. But, alas, he was voted out of office in 1975, before I moved to town.

So anyway, I considered voting for Congressman Mark Kirk, who used to be a watered-down variation on what we used to call a Percy Republican—a moderate on economic and social issues. But over the last year or so I've watched him steadily step to the right in order to court the Bill Bradys of his party, as opposed to standing up for what he supposedly believes so he can court people like me. Kirk couldn't even bring himself to vote for President Obama's health care bill. Like the uninsured don't get sick in Lake County.

Look: in the senate, Kirk would be a foot soldier for the Republican right, and Giannoulias would be one for Obama. Really this is a proxy war between Obama and, oh, Sarah Palin.

So once again, I'll hold my nose and vote for the Democrat.

Cook County assessor: Toughest choice of all. On the one hand, you've got quintessential Democratic party hack Joe Berrios, who takes oodles of campaign contributions from the same property-tax lawyers who bring property-tax appeals before him in his current job at the Board of Review.

And on the other hand, you've got Cook County commissioner Forrest Claypool, the quintessential lakefront liberal, who never, ever took a tough stand against boss Daley.

Somehow or other Claypool managed to stomach two turns as Daley's chief of staff and a stint as the mayor's handpicked Park District superintendent. But it wasn't until 2002, when he got elected to the Cook County board, that he discovered—horrors, there's corruption, waste, and clout in local politics!

So who to vote for—the hack or the wuss?

This is not the first time I've faced this dilemma. Back in 2006, Claypool was challenging Cook County Board president John Stroger, who had a stroke and was in a coma by the time the Democratic primary rolled around.

I didn't make up my mind until I walked into the polling place and saw the names on the ballot. I picked up the stylus, looked up for some sort of divine guidance, and, finding none, took a deep breath, muttered my apologies for the sin I was about to commit, and cast my ballot for Stroger.

Yes, that's right—I voted for the guy in the coma. OK, maybe it wasn't my finest hour as a voter.

The reality is that neither Berrios nor Claypool will address the fundamental inequities that plague our convoluted property-tax system, as I wrote two weeks ago. I suppose I could vote for Robert Grota, the Green Party candidate. But what's the point? So I'll probably vote for Claypool, though I reserve the right to moan and groan about it until the deed is done.

Finally, there's Cook County Board president. Fourth Ward alderman Toni Preckwinkle's going to win, but I'm going to proudly vote for Tom Tresser, the Green Party candidate, even though he's been irritating me lately by blasting the unions representing county employees for donating campaign funds to Preckwinkle. Tresser thinks the contributions set up a conflict of interest, but I think he's abetting the demonization of unions.

I'm going to overlook that because Tresser's one of the guys who helped form No Games Chicago, which led the charge against Mayor Daley's nutty scheme to bring the 2016 Olympic games to town—a scheme backed by Quinn, Brady, Giannoulias, Kirk, Claypool, Berrios, Preckwinkle, and just about all the other Republican and Democratic leaders in this state.

Not only did Tresser have the guts to tell the emperor he was wearing no clothes, but he flew all the way to Copenhagen to lobby the International Olympic Committee to vote against Chicago. Which it did—hooray!

The way I see it, the least I can do is give Tresser my one little vote in gratitude.

Ben Joravsky discusses his reporting weekly with journalist Dave Glowacz at mrradio.org/theworks.

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