The Democratic primary race between U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson is focused more on local job creation than Jackson Jr.'s ethics scandal.
Nationally, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-2) is probably best known for his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and an early rise in politics since hurt by disputed ties to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Allegations of ethical impropriety perhaps opened the door for a seasoned primary opponent to challenge Jackson – former U.S. Congresswoman and Illinois state senate leader Debbie Halvorson.
But locally, both candidates have focused the race more on job creation in the 2nd district, which encompasses parts of Chicago’s far South Side and south suburbs, and the construction of a long-anticipated south suburban airport. In written responses to questions from Progress Illinois, both candidates steered the debate toward job creation and the prospects of a national airport in Peotone, Illinois.
Jackson Jr. writes that he is “rarely” asked on the campaign trail about an ongoing U.S House Ethics Committee investigation. The investigation concerns whether Jackson ordered donations to then Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich – with the expectation that Blagojevich would appoint Jackson to the U.S. Senate seat President Barack Obama vacated.
The Office of Congressional Ethics found in 2009 that there is probable cause to believe that Jackson Jr. directed a third-party to raise at least $1 million for Blagojevich, in exchange for the Senate appointment. A federal judged sentenced Blagojevich to 14 years in prison in December on 18 corruption convictions. These counts include the former governor trying to leverage his power regarding the Senate appointment.
Also, Jackson Jr. admitted last he year that he carried on an extramarital affair.
“It’s no secret that Rep. Jackson has distractions that keep him from doing his job,” writes Halvorson, who served in Illinois’ 11th congressional district for two years, before Republican Adam Kinzinger defeated her in November 2010.
But Halvorson’s more inspired criticism was that Jackson Jr. has served in Congress for 16 years and “he hasn’t even served in a leadership position.” Also, Halvorson contends Jackson Jr. has sponsored no notable national legislation and is instead overly focused on building the Peotone airport, a sweeping project that has been bandied about since the late 60’s.
“Rep. Jackson’s sole project is a third airport,” Halvorson writes. “He has had 16 years to get it done and hasn’t been able to.”
Halvorson herself supports a third airport in the Chicago region, if it is locally controlled. Moreover, she believes that transportation – not just by air – is the economic future of the 2nd district. One of her first acts in Congress would be to “fight to secure a seat on the powerful Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.”
Jackson Jr. maintains his enthusiasm for the airport project. “The airport is closer to groundbreaking than ever,” he explained, citing two private developers who have committed $700 million. The state also committed $110 million in the last year.
The Congressman predicted that the airport “is the long-awaited game-changer” for a 2nd district that has spent the last few decades devastated by the loss of blue collar jobs.
As for Halvorson’s charge that Jackson has not done enough since joining Congress as a 29 year-old in 1995, Jackson Jr. writes that he’s “created thousands of jobs and helped to preserve thousands more during my years in Congress.”
“But the biggest job generator is still coming,” Jackson adds, “The third airport.”
A national co-chairman of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Jackson Jr. enjoys the endorsement of key figures in the Democratic Party. This includes Obama, Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The AFL-CIO and SEIU Illinois State Council – which sponsors this site – also endorsed Jackson Jr.
The primary will be held March 20.