For those of you from places other than the great state of Illinois, you may have heard, if only by way of limited information, about the newest debacle in the Illinois Democratic party.
Last Tuesday, Illinois held its primary election. In Illinois (as in other places) you pick a party ticket in the primary. Your choices in this election were Democrat, Republican, Green or bi-partisan. The bi-partisan ticket had about two items on it.
Illinois has a really early primary. We used to vote in our primaries in March. But, back in 2007, apparently desperate to be part of the popular crowd (especially as our own junior U.S. Senator Barack Obama was clearly making a run for the presidency), the state legislature passed and then-Governor Rod Blagojevich signed into law an act moving the primaries to February, placing Illinois on the long list of states that take part in “Super Duper Tuesday” during presidential primaries. It’s really called that. Apparently, Illinois politicians didn’t like it that by the time Illinois voters had their say in March, the presidential candidates were pretty much already set and the election was one big expensive waste of time.
The effect — ALL Illinois primaries are in February. The effect of the effect — no one knows who the hell the candidates are when they walk into the polls in February for elections like this one. It’s winter. It’s cold. We were all just getting over the holidays and *BAM* it’s election day. No one in this state was paying attention, and that’s a fact. Hell, I almost forgot it was election day until I watched the news the night before. Candidates on both side spent little money to promote themselves, and everyone knows that a whole lotta voters pick someone based on their commercials.
On top of that, Illinois has a really, really stupid process for picking a Lieutenant Governor. In Illinois, the Lt. Governor and the Governor candidates run separately in the primary, but they are paired together on the ticket for the general election. The Governor and the Lt. Governor are always of the same party, even if they cannot stand each other or disagree on major issues. Rod Blagojevich and current Governor Pat Quinn are a great example.
So add it all up and what the hell just happened? Well, democrats who voted in the Illinois primary — about 200,000 of them — picked a man named Scott Lee Cohen as the democratic candidate for Lt. Governor. And the next day, voters found out that the man who they put on the democratic ticket was an accused abuser, someone who used to take steroids and subsequently suffered roid-rage. That rage caused him to allegedly once try to force himself sexually on his ex-wife. But that was before he met his girlfriend, a “massage therapist” who was busted for prostitution. Cohen was arrested for allegedly holding a knife to her throat, but the charges were tossed out when the hooker didn’t show up in court. If you can believe it, they broke up. Cohen is a millionaire pawn-broker, and just two months ago, his ex-wife accused him of being more than $50,000 behind on child support even though he was pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaign. Ah, democracy in action.
In Cohen’s defense, it’s not like he was hiding it. Sun Times columnist Mark Brown even wrote after the election that Cohen tried — really hard actually — to toss his big old bag of garbage right in front of the media and invite them to dig through it. They didn’t. They waved him off and said “you’ll never win” and didn’t want to hear it. The result — since Cohen was really the only Democratic Lt. Governor candidate with any money, he put that toward mailings and commercials and held job fairs. He ended up being the only one with any type of recognizable name, and voters went ahead and picked him. The only other Lt. Governor candidate who had enough publicity to be recognized was Matt Murphy, a good guy who is actually a family friend — but also a Republican, so he and Cohen were not on the same ticket.
To put it mildly, top Illinois Democrats just about peed their pants over this one. They were shouting for Cohen to pull out of the race within hours of the results. Since Illinois is stupid and pairs the Governor and Lt. Governor on the general election ticket, Governor Pat Quinn couldn’t scramble enough to get the word out that he wanted Cohen out. Quinn was denouncing Cohen before he even bothered to speak with him first. Quinn barely squeaked out a win himself over State Comptroller Dan Hynes. In a state where Republicans are still flying high over the impeachment and subsequent embarrassing media blitz of Rod Blagojevich, the last thing the party can afford is yet another scandalous detraction.
But here’s the thing — I completely and totally disagree with the big public outcry to denounce Scott Lee Cohen and everything about him. You reap what you sow, and Democrats sowed the hell out of Scott Lee Cohen. Do I want the party to lose the governorship in my state? No. But if it was flipped, and suddenly the Republican Lt. Governor nominee was a (former) hooker-throat-knife-wielding-juice-head, I would be saying “tough, you picked him, you’re stuck with him.”
The Republicans did something similar to one of their own in 2004. When Barack Obama was running for U.S. Senate, his rival was a man named Jack Ryan, who was once married to actress Jerri Ryan. During the campaign, it was discovered that while they were married, Jack Ryan wanted his wife to engage in sex acts with him at a public sex club. Basically — he was an exhibitionist, or wanted to be. He never cheated, he never lied, he did not abuse his wife, he was never accused of anything illegal. But he was kinky. So the Republicans forced him out, and replaced him with Alan Keyes, who lost in an embarrassing fashion to now-President Obama.
I don’t like this trend in Illinois. A state that is hemorrhaging money spends all this cash on an election, only to say afterwards — oops, the people picked the wrong person, let’s kick them out and pick the right person for them, it’s for the “good of the party and the good of the state.” The good of the party and the good of the state is to let the people decide, and if we make the wrong decision, we live with those consequences.
The party leadership did not have the authority to kick out either Ryan or Cohen, but they sure put the pressure on. Ryan withdrew from the race in 2004, and yesterday, Cohen threw in the towel himself. It was almost as embarrassing to watch him quit as it was to watch him win. He and family members engaged in a tearful display at a Chicago bar during the Super Bowl, saying this was for the best. And while I’m sure Pat Quinn and Dick Durbin and probably President Obama all breathed a collective sigh of relief, I was still kinda mad about it.
Should Scott Lee Cohen be the Lt. Governor of Illinois? Probably not. His past is a huge distraction and could very well prevent him from getting any work done, and is probably enough to swing voters to go pick the Rebublicans this time around. But he won the primary, fair and square. Democrats should have to live with that. Instead we get a do-over. It feels like we cheated, and it’s a feeling I don’t like. It’s more honorable to lose because you made a bad choice than to realize you are losing so you swipe a new card and play that one instead.
It’s going to be a long election season.