PI Original Matthew Blake Thursday November 1st, 2012, 5:55pm

Personal Bios, Coal Define 12th Congressional District Race

With five days left until the election, Illinois’ close 12th congressional district race has fallen into political mudslinging, with Republican Jason Plummer raising a fuss over the public pension of Democratic opponent Bill Enyart’s wife. Recent rhetoric aside, the race has focused on a Southwest Illinois economy long reliant on downstate’s coal basin.

With five days left until the election, Illinois’ close 12th congressional district race has fallen into political mudslinging, with Republican Jason Plummer raising a fuss over the public pension of Democratic opponent Bill Enyart’s wife. “Why does he feel it was necessary to attack my wife?” Enyart asks.

Meanwhile, Enyart, excoriates Plummer for not releasing his tax returns.

Recent rhetoric aside, the race has focused on a Southwest Illinois economy long reliant on downstate’s coal basin.

While the candidates have clear differences, they both question the role that humans play in climate change and stress the need for Illinois to revive its coal industry. They also each claim substantial differences from their respective national party platforms.

The New 12th

The Democratic-controlled Illinois General Assembly redrew the 12th distict following the 2010 U.S. Census to protect incumbent U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, a Democrat from Belleville who has served in Congress since 1989. The new 12th district was made Democratic leaning thanks to the St. Louis suburbs and Carbondale, though much of the district, like Costello, is socially conservative.

But Costello surprisingly resigned last fall. “I think Costello quitting just caught everyone flat footed,” says Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield. “These guys are not well-known in the district.”

The Republicans coalesced around Plummer, the 30 year-old son of a lumber company executive in Edwardsville. Plummer works for his family company and was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2010.

The Democrats nominated a candidate, Brad Harriman, who dropped out of the race in May, citing health reasons. Costello himself then convened a meeting in June, interviewing seven candidates for the nomination, and selecting Enyart, a lawyer from Belleville who has led the Illinois National Guard since 2007.

Enyart says he and Costello are “closely aligned philosophically.” The candidate says he did not initially seek the nomination, “Because we were in the process of getting ready for the NATO summit in Chicago. Frankly, the congressional race wasn’t on my radar screen.”

Pensions And Tax Returns

Enyart partly focuses on what he calls “my extensive military background”,  including time with the U.S. Air Force and Illinois National Guard.

This lets him draw a contrast with the young Plummer. The GOP nominee bills himself as a businessman who has focused on property development and real estate management. But the failure of Plummer to release his tax returns has prompted questions about his net worth and business accomplishments outside of his family company. “What is he hiding,” Enyart asks.

Plummer, who a We Ask America poll released on Monday puts at a five percentage point disadvantage behind Enyart, responded with his own line of personal questioning Wednesday.

He told reporters that Enyart’s wife, former Cook County public defender Annette Eckert, is “well-connected” and collects an annual $156,000 from three different public pensions. Plummer said he filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the information.

But Plummer mischaracterized a $4,000 payment to Eckert when her mother, a public school teacher, passed away as a pension. Moreover, attacking his opponent’s wife’s pension seems odd for a candidate that has not revealed his own personal finances.

Enyart slams Plummer as lacking integrity. Asked what has most surprised him about the campaign Enyart says, “The level to which my opponent will stoop to win this race.”

King Coal

Plummer wrote in an e-mail that the race has been about, “A lack of jobs and a struggling economy.” Plummer repeatedly has emphasized the region’s coal resources. “We are blessed with a tremendous amount of natural resources, a great geographic location, and a talented workforce,” the candidate writes.

Plummer believes the Obama administration has declared “war” on the Southern Illinois coal industry. Two separate planks of his 12-point economic plan are “End the War on Energy Producers” and “Rein in the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Plummer writes on his Web site that as a member of Congress he would “create a climate where our coal miners can mine coal.”

But what about climate warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions from coal? Plummer told the Belleville News-Democrat that climate change is “potentially just a cyclical trend in the global climate” and that “it just doesn’t make any sense” for coal mining to be curbed in response.

Enyart says that, “Clearly climate change is obviously happening.” But the “extent of the human impact” on the climate is “unclear.”

Enyart calls for a “national policy-driven conversation” on energy.

He differs from Plummer in his endorsement of an “all of the above approach” to energy. That includes investment in technology that potentially can sequester greenhouse gas emissions underground.

“He sounds like Obama does now on the coal industry,” says John Jackson, a political science professor at Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy institute. “He stresses that he is for the development of clean coal technology.”

Green Party candidate Paula Bradshaw, who is polling at about four percent, has focused her campaign on a “Green New Deal” and setting a hard cap on greenhouse gases.

Representing Southern Illinois

The candidates reflect their party’s positions on major national issues, like the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Enyart believes revenue increases must be part of the solution to deal with the national deficit and supports the Bush tax cuts expiring for wealthy Americans. Plummer supports the continuation of all the Bush tax cuts, and he has campaigned on repealing Obama’s health care reform legislation. Enyart supports the ACA.

“Plummer would be a very loyal member of the Republican House,” Jackson says. “My guess is that a Congressman Enyart would pattern his record after what Costello has established. He will be liberal on spending and moderate on social issues.”

But Plummer does note that he opposes the budget plan of Republican vice-presidential nominee and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. “Southern Illinois needs representation in Congress that will do what’s best for Southern Illinois, not be a rubber-stamp for party leadership,” Plummer explained in an email to Progress Illinois.

Enyart does appear to follow Costello on social issues. “Our district is more conservative than other areas of the nation,” Enyart says.

Enyart supported President Barack Obama’s repeal of the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military. But he was reluctant to discuss either abortion or gay marriage. Enyart calls the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, “Another one of those social issues that divides up the country.”

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