Miles south of Springfield, much less Chicago, the 59th district state senate race at the southern tip of Illinois between incumbent Democrat Gary Forby (pictured) and Republican challenger Mark Minor is often a contest of who can best criticize Gov. Pat Quinn, the state’s Democratic governor who hails from the Windy City.
“Beating up on Chicago is a time-honored tradition in southern Illinois,” says John Jackson a political science professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois. “The Democrat is running against the governor as hard as the Republican is.”
Quinn is taking a beating for reasons that go beyond a general wariness of Chicago politicians.
Foremost is the closing of Tamms super max prison in Alexander County. The facility's shut down depends on the outcome of a legal battle between Quinn and the AFSMCE public employees union.
Forby has worked with AFSCME to fight against the prison closing and his campaign highlights that he is “standing up to Gov. Pat Quinn.”
Tamms is a partly-used facility that places inmates in solitary confinement. It has been condemned by human rights organizations in Illinois as well as the ACLU and Amnesty International.
But both candidates, neither who returned messages for this story, assert that closing Tamms is a devastating economic blow to the region. The prison employs about 300 state workers, who will have the option of being reassigned to another corrections facility.
“Alexander County has the highest unemployment rate in the state and those are 300 well-paying jobs,” Jackson says.
Another issue both Forby and Minor are campaigning against is Quinn’s temporary increase of the income and corporate tax rates, dating back to January 2011. Minor, a pastor for 30 years in Whittington, says he is the candidate against “high taxes and runaway spending”, but Forby also pillories Quinn on these items.
The race provides an example of Quinn’s deep lack of popularity downstate. According to a Chicago Tribune poll released three weeks ago, a measly nine percent of downstate voters, meaning those outside the six-county Chicagoland area, approve of the job Quinn is doing.
Forby, a senator since 2003, has outspent Minor in the race and is viewed as the favorite on Tuesday.
The incumbent, in fact, may be trying to have it both ways.
In an interview with The Southern Illinoisan, he criticized Quinn, but also spoke of his ability to work harmoniously with Chicago lawmakers, contrasting himself with Minor. The Carbondale-based paper was impressed enough with this argument to endorse Forby due to his “connections and clout.”
Image: Illinois County Living