Eric Reyes, a 33 year-old attorney from Rock Island, is running as an independent write-in candidate for Congress in the northwest Illinois 17th Congressional District. Reyes, who first planned to run as a Democrat, says he is tired of partisanship. But he knows that his effort is quixotic because the 17th District race between Republican incumbent Bobby Schilling and Democratic challenger Cheri Bustos is a high-profile race with national implications. We talk to the candidiate about the overall race and his platform.
Eric Reyes, a 33 year-old attorney from Rock Island, is running as an Independent write-in candidate for Congress in the northwest Illinois 17th Congressional District. Reyes, who first planned to run as a Democrat, says he is tired of partisanship. But he knows that his effort is quixotic because the 17th District race between Republican incumbent Bobby Schilling and Democratic challenger Cheri Bustos is a high-profile race with national implications. It is the most expensive congressional race in the state with combined expenditures of Bustos and Schilling topping $9 million.
To make matters worse for Reyes, write-in votes for him will not even be counted in Rock Island County, the most populous county in the district and Reyes’ home base, due to a decision by the Rock Island County Clerk that Reyes claims is political.
Still some are concerned that Reyes could draw votes from Bustos and cost the Democrats a prime opportunity to pick up the congressional seat that Schilling captured two years ago with a surprising win over Democratic incumbent Phil Hare who replaced longtime Democratic Congressman Lane Evans, a progressive icon. The district runs from part of Rockford west to the Quad Cities and south to Peoria. Bustos, a former alderwoman from East Moline is the daughter of Gene Callahan, who was an aide to former U.S. Senators Alan Dixon and the late Paul Simon. Bustos has strong support from U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin and organized labor.
Reyes says he is not concerned about being a spoiler in the race and taking away votes from Bustos.
“I’m running because I believe the people of the district deserve better,” Reyes said. “I say it constantly that settling for the lessor of two evils is still settling and it’s still settling for evil. I’m giving the people of the district the opportunity to vote for someone that they believe in. Whether I win or not isn’t the issue. To me, the point is that people are going to have the opportunity to vote for someone they believe in.”
Reyes grew up in Rock Island and graduated from Augustana University and Northern Illinois University law school. His father was a janitor and his mother was a data entry clerk. He worked for the Rock Island State’s Attorney office from 2008 to 2010. He now has his own law practice concentrating in drunk driving, felony, misdemeanor, and traffic cases. In the past, he has handled some immigration cases.
In the summer of 2011, he decided to run for Congress as a Democrat after also considering a run for state’s attorney.
“I was born and raised as a Democrat so I initially intended to run as a Democrat, though I always felt that several of my positions were more in sync with some Republican Party ideas,” Reyes said. “I always felt that both parties always kind of pointed the finger as opposed to being willing to work together to find solutions.”
Reyes supports lowering the corporate tax rate, saying that the rate in the United States is too high and discourages businesses from expanding or setting up shop in America.
“I believe we are completely uncompetitive with all other developed nations similar to America,” Reyes said.
Reyes opposes free trade agreements like NAFTA.
“NAFTA and CAFTA have been the largest exporter of jobs in our nation’s history,” Reyes said.
Reyes supports the American Dream Act.
“I think the only reason the Dream Act hasn’t passed is partisanship,” Reyes said. “It’s clearly a good law. I can’t find anyone morally opposed to it. It just doesn’t pass because of politics.”
Reyes supports making it easier to legally immigrate to the United States.
“I think that an adequate immigration policy change would put me and other immigration lawyers out of business as far as immigration law,” Reyes said. “I don’t think an immigration application should require a lawyer. Anyone with a high school education should be able to do it. I see no reason why we shouldn’t have a quicker, easier process of getting people into the country. These are people who want to come here, be here, who want to be taxpayers, want to work. We should encourage that. We should certainly make work visas more readily available with a path to citizenship down the road. Overall, our immigration policy is absurd.”
Reyes believes that campaigns should be publically financed because the different special interests that fund both parties’ campaigns make it impossible for politicians to work together in government.
The candidate says he raised about $10,000 last fall in anticipation of his planned run in the Democratic primary. He says that his campaign manager stressed the importance of raising money. But Reyes got tired of dialing for dollars.
“I just wasn’t ready to get on board with that mentality, that I needed to spend 90 percent of my day calling people asking for money,” Reyes said.
He adds that voters told him that they were tired of partisanship, so he decided to run as an Independent.
“I gathered enough signatures to get on the Democratic primary ballot, but I made the decision during the filing window not to do so and I announced I would run as an Independent instead,” Reyes said.
His campaign manager left and Reyes quit actively soliciting campaign contributions.
Under Illinois law, only 600 petition signatures are required to get on the congressional primary ballot as a Democrat or Republican. But it takes 5,000 signatures to get on the general election ballot as an Independent.
Reyes says he decided to challenge the law, so he deliberately filed only about 900 signatures. His petitions were challenged by two people, one of whom, Andrew Douglas, is the son of a former longtime Rock Island District Attorney and is a Democrat according to a published report. If no objection had been filed, Reyes would have been placed on the ballot even though his nominating petitions did not have the required number of signatures.
This summer, the Illinois Board of Elections tossed Reyes off the ballot. Reyes sued challenging the constitutionality of state ballot access laws and the more stringent petition requirements for Independent candidates. But he says a technical error in serving the required parties resulted in his case being thrown out of court.
“The court never reached the merits of whether Illinois ballot access laws are unconstitutional,” Reyes said.
That’s when he decided to run as a write-in candidate.
Under Illinois law, write-in candidates must file a declaration of intent to run as a write in 61 days prior to the election in order to have their votes counted. This year, that date was September 6.
But Reyes says that his court case wasn’t dismissed until September 18 so he couldn’t file his write-in declaration until after that date because he might have won his court case to get on the ballot and you cannot run both as a write in and be on the ballot.
Reyes says there is a rule that if a candidate has a court case that could put him on the ballot, the deadline for a declaration of write-in candidacy does not apply until the court case is resolved.
County Clerks in 12 of the 14 counties making up the 17th District have decided to count whatever write-in votes Reyes receives, according to a story in the Quad-Cities Online. But write-in votes for Reyes will not be counted in Rock Island County or Jo Daviess County.
In Rock Island County, Deputy County Clerk John Brown says Reyes simply did not meet the filing deadline.
“Thursday, September 6 is the last day for a person to file a notarized declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate,” Brown said. “We’re just following the law.”
Brown said Reyes' write-in declaration arrived long after September 6.
“I made him aware that the only condition we would place him on the ballot would be court order and he led me to believe he was going to run right over and get a judge to sign off on it, but obviously that did not happen,” Brown said.
Reyes says he decided not to go to court again because Election Day is so close.
“I made a judgment that it wasn’t worth more hundreds of my dollars on a court case,” Reyes said. “I know I would win. There is no doubt I would win. The law is on my side.”
Reyes claims that Rock Island County Clerk Karen Finney, a Democrat like all Rock Island County elected officials, won’t count his write-in votes for political reasons.
“There is no doubt that this would be my strongest county showing and that’s why the county clerk is basically prepared to do whatever it takes to not count my votes,” Reyes said.
Jo Daviess County Clerk Jean Dimke, a Republican, said that ballots in her county were printed without a write-in line before she received Reyes’ declaration of intent to run as such a candidate.
Jo Daviess County decided not to print new ballots to accommodate Reyes.
“On the advice of my state’s attorney, we decided not to incur the expense and that we are going without a write-in line,” Dimke said.
Reyes often criticizes Bustos and says he is not concerned about taking votes away from her in what is expected to be a very close race with Schilling, a Tea Party favorite.
“Votes don’t belong to candidates,” Reyes said. “They belong to the people who cast them. So I’m not taking votes away from Cheri Bustos. Those are votes that she has to earn. I’m not going around to people saying don’t vote for Cheri Bustos, she’s a terrible person. I’m saying vote for me and here’s why.”
Reyes says that Bustos merely spouts slogans.
“My main criticism of Cheri Bustos is her lack of specificity,” Reyes said. “I actually have specific plans laid out on my web site. I talk about my specific plans in public and I talk about them with any reporter who wants to hear about them. I don’t just mouth catch phrases like ‘Social Security and Medicare is a solemn promise’. ‘Can’t balance the budget on the backs of seniors and the middle class.’”
Five calls to the Bustos campaign asking for comment about Reyes were not returned.
Reyes says he may run for office in the future as a party member, but at this point he’s not sure what party he would belong to.
“I honestly don’t know if I would run as a Democrat or a Republican,” Reyes said. “I know that I have stepped on some toes in the Democratic Party. I know that Republican Party leaders love what I have done. I’ve been asked by several Republican Party officials to run as a Republican in the future. I was actually asked to run as a Republican for a different office before this primary season even started.”