Wednesday, February 25, 2004

More Political Buzz, A Hullabaloo about a Hulluva Senator?

On Chicago Tonight, last night, what Chicago Tribune Columnist and blogger Eric Zorn has dubbed as Shingate was discussed by the Daily Herald's Eric Krol, CBS-2's Mike Flannery and the Chicago Tribune's Bob Secter, with some gentle probing by WTTW's Phil Ponce. Shingate could be Hull's Achilles Heel. On the strength of spending more than 19 million dollars of his own money lavishly on his campaign, including big time media buys, high paid consultants, giving homeowners $75 each to stick a Hull sign in their yards [one of the few Hull manifestations, these days, of his belief in the free market] and busing seniors to Canada for drugs, he has opened a 9 point, or so, lead over his nearest rivals, State Senator Barack Obama and Comptroller Dan Hynes, in the latest polls.

But, in the last two weeks, it transpired that Hull had a pretty nasty divorce six years ago (Hull’s third), with celebrity real estate broker, Brenda Sexton—who he married and divorced twice. A police report says he hit Brenda in the shin—and now Hull is saying he can’t really elaborate because a decision to do so is somewhat controlled by and affects others—most likely controlled, in part, by ex-wife and Gov. Blagojevich’s Illinois director of film promotion (which job was apparently procured for her by Hull’s financial generosity to the Governor, and what a movie the Hullabaloo about the Hulluva Senator would make, starring Barack Obama as the Terminator?)—and, of course, affects (the saviors of all political sinners) the kids. Hull can’t or won’t elaborate, except for the barest of details, on how it came to be that the Court issued two Orders of Protection against Blair Hull.

Now, mind you, policemen are not wordsmiths, but the phrasing is quite odd—“Hull hit Brenda’s shin,” is what we are told the police report says. Normally, one kicks a shin and hits a chin. So, did the police get it wrong? Bush-like dyslexia? Could he have hit her chin? A slap, perhaps? Closed fist? Or, open fist? Or, was he lying on the ground (for reasons unknown) and took a swipe at her shin? And, hit it? With his leg? Or, his fist? Or, with something else? How hard? Hard enough for a bruise? A light bruise, we are told. Or, did Hull kick her shin? Would any of this be what NOW, for example, might characterize as a serious domestic violence incident? Or, would NOW, say, for a liberal like Hull, it is domestic violence, but not so serious. But, how could they know?

Would NOW and other liberal women’s groups want to know more of the facts before they decide who they are supporting in the Senate race? Have they already decided? Which ones, if any, are committed to Hull? Will they stay committed? We are told by Krol that, as of last Friday, the President of Illinois NOW was saying that Hull needed to give a fuller explanation. A slap to the chin? A kick to the shin? A hit to the shin? Would any of that qualify as abuse? Domestic violence? A disqualifying incident for a Senate endorsement? Or would the Women’s groups give Hull the same dispensation they gave former President Bill Clinton. After all, Hull, like Clinton, is 1000% Pro-Choice, not to mention Hull’s spoken and written support for every so-called Women’s issue.

So, with all of these unanswered questions, we take you to Monday night’s Democratic U. S. Senate Candidate Forum in the old Capitol Building in Springfield. Eric Zorn’s Tuesday blog [see Eric Zorn's Tuesday blog at] nicely transcribes the relevant portions for us:

PANELIST MIKE FLANNERY: A week ago, I asked your Republican opponents -- when is the personal appropriately political? Mr. Hull, you have talked about the circumstances under which an ex-wife got an order of protection in the middle of a divorce proceeding. Why not release the underlying documents?

BLAIR HULL: Well, first of all, this is not a unilateral decision. It involves two parties, it involves our families. It is not an issue that I can solely decide on. We issued a statement a couple of days ago that thoroughly describes what happened. Unfortunately it was a contentious divorce, like most divorces. But the important thing is that Brenda supports my candidacy, we remain good friends and she thinks I'll be a very good senator.

FLANNERY: Where do the rest of you draw the line? When is the personal an issue that reflects on a candidate's character that would illuminate the behavior of public issues?

Not so fast with the question to the other candidates, Mike Flannery. Hull said, “But the important thing is that Brenda supports my candidacy, we remain good friends and she thinks I'll be a very good senator.”

But, that is not right, at all, is it, Mike? The important thing is to know what happened. Hull is running for the U. S. Senate. What if Hull did take a good slap at Brenda and hit her hard either in the chin or the shin? Why not ask him that then and there? Isn’t it possible that a lot of citizens’ votes might be affected by the answer to that question? If Brenda got a sizeable financial settlement, followed up with a job with the Governor and who knows what else, as a part of a package to keep her quiet about an act of domestic violence, wouldn’t that matter? Might the citizens want to know that before they cast their ballots? What happened to the Public's Right to Know? Only appropriate for Watergate, but not Shingate?

I am not saying any of this happened [except for the few things that Hull has stipulated to]. I am saying that it is the job of journalists to ask and ask and ask, until they get answers. I mean, I would have asked. Indeed, I interviewed Blair Hull twice on “Public Affairs.” But, unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to interview him since the above was made public. Well, not quite.

I must plead guilty to a misdemeanor, of sorts. I did have an opportunity to ask Hull a few questions at a Press Conference on February 17 in the WTTW Foyer, a few days after some aspects of the Shingate story broke in the Tribune. I chose to focus on a few other issues-- Hull, Special Interests, how he got the Cong. Rush and Cong. Gutierrez endorsements and whether he might favor a constitutional amendment to overturn Buckley v. Valeo and limit how much millionaires like Blair Hull can spend on their own political campaigns. After probing on the last item and before I could turn to Shingate, Hull's handler said "Thank You," and the Hulluva Senator was out of there [these questions and Hull answers will air next week in the suburbs, and in two weeks in the City of Chicago, on "Public Affairs.]" So, if I had prioritized differently, I could have tried a few Shingate questions last Tuesday. But, gee, I thought Flannery could handle this stuff. He sure has in the past.

I think if I had the same opportunities as Mike Flannery, Craig Dellimore and Ben Kiningham have had in the last few days, such as at the Democratic Senate Candidates' Forum, I would have asked and I am perplexed as to why Mike, Craig and Ben did not. I don't mean just one question. I mean a follow-up and a follow-up and a follow-up. And, I don't even get paid for asking.

Indeed, Mike, why not go out to Hull with a few cameras and poke them at him the same way the media do to the corporate executives who often decline to answer questions. And, if you have done so once, why not do it again, until he answers. I mean fair is fair. The Public's Right to know, remember. I mean, Blair Hull is running for the United States Senate. We only have one hundred of those guys. Is character no longer relevant to being a U. S. Senator?

But, Mike didn’t ask Hull anything further on the issue, at least not at Monday night’s forum. Instead, as indicated above, Mike turned it over to the other Democratic Senate candidates for more than seven minutes of a social worker’s heaven, led by Maria Pappas [for the transcript of much of that painful discussion, go back to Zorn’s blog].

Now, let’s go back to Tuesday’s Chicago Tonight. You would think the panel would say—we’ll dig and dig, until we get the facts. But, nope, welcome to the new world of mainstream journalism. We’re turning it over to the candidates, not the journalists.

Ponce: Bob [Secter, Chicago Tribune Metro political editor]. Why hasn’t your paper put it [the Hulluva issue] on page 1?

Secter: Well, because-- that’s a very good question, except I am not sure we know all the details, so I am a little queasy about putting it on page 1…Is this something that is just going to blow over in a few days or is it something that has a lot of legs, and I think that it is really up to the other candidates to decide whether they are going to continue to press on this, or not (emphasis supplied).

Ponce: Mike, what does he [Hull] have to do to get this behind him? What does he have to say? What does he have to do?

Flannery: As I have said, my assumption is I am not sure that it belongs on page 1. My assumption is that, as I have said, this is not the crime of the century. This is not something that disqualifies him from serving in the U. S. Senate. But, he is a man that we don’t know much about. He is a man we haven’t had a chance to see under pressure, until now, and I think the best way to deal with this is to be open and clean.

So, where are we after all of this? Well, I guess Blair Hull is glad to hear from Bob Secter that new wave journalism at the Tribune will be to economize on investigative political journalists and turn it over to Hull’s Democratic competitors to determine whether he has engaged in conduct unbecoming of a U. S. Senator. The ultimate in "outsourcing." And, Hull is probably thrilled to hear that Flannery, usually known for being a hard nosed reporter, will take a pass here and assume there is nothing much to worry about.

Of course, as was pointed out by Krol on Chicago Tonight, there are a few Republicans in the race who may have some worries about what might transpire regarding their divorces. Some are pretty certain these disclosures might be the Republican Establishment’s March surprise, the revenge of the Republican Country Club types against the Republican upstarts [Jack Ryan and Jim Oberweis] who, while probably belonging to Country Clubs, have taken the lead by talking ideas, albeit divergent conservative ideas. [See, LaHood endorsement of McKenna, below; Can Speaker Hastert be far behind in coming out for McKenna?].

However, the Republican upstarts might be glad to see how relaxed the press has become on these "personal" divorce issues with the Democrats and might expect equal treatment under the Press. And, the Rs might expect a similarly laid back approach, so to speak, from the liberal women’s groups. If I were those guys, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Remember, as Dan Hynes keeps reminding his base, Roe v. Wade is on the ballot this year-- or so the liberals think. And when it comes to abortion and the liberal women’s groups, they take their political goals very seriously, and they might just decide that domestic violence might be trumped by maintaining Roe. Or, they might just decide that Obama or Hynes would be a much safer bet to be true to the women's groups' objectives and are both more electable in November than Hull, especially in light of Shingate. But, it is hard to say No to all of that money. After all, diamonds are a girl's best friend.

Modified at 8:30 am, Feb. 25