Thursday, May 05, 2005

Beth Coulson- perpetually chased by Dems?

In 2002, Illinois House Speaker and Chairman of the Democratic Party Mike Madigan, with a redistricted 17th District in hand, thought he would get a Democrat to replace then six year State Rep. Beth Coulson [R- Glenview, 17th Dist].

A tough Democratic Primary, with the Speaker’s candidate, Skokie attorney Michael Bender, taken out by Wilmette attorney Pat Hughes, seemed to leave Hughes bruised just enough to help Coulson win by 674 votes, or so. The Coulson-Hughes 2002 race was an interesting, thoughtful race between two very articulate, bright candidates who had somewhat different perspectives-- but who essentially agreed on many issues.

The 17th District starts in a portion of the North Shore and spreads west. Coulson lives in Glenview.

In 2004, the Speaker came back with what he, or his Lieutenants, thought was the right ethnic/gender match for the District, Michelle Bromberg.

It transpired that Michelle, who is a nice lady, was the wrong candidate for the District [ethnic/gender traits are not necessarily dispositive in the 17th] and to make matters worse, she [or whoever was in charge] ran the wrong kind of campaign for the District, losing by more than four thousand votes.

It almost goes without saying that State Rep. Beth Coulson is a tenacious campaigner and an extremely bright, hard working, likeable and conscientious legislator. All of which has not gone without notice by her constituents during the last eight years, even with a considerable number changing due to the 2002 re-districting.

State Rep. Coulson gets a great deal of flak from social conservatives [who often rip Beth as a RINO, i.e., Republican in name only] such as FamilyPac’s Executive Director Paul Caprio for her very moderate social issue views-- but Coulson, at least these days, also gets some support from moderate Republican Party leaders such as minority House Leader Tom Cross [although even Cross and Coulson had their moments at the end of the last campaign].

Now, speaker Mike Madigan is coming back to the 17th for a third try. Well, perhaps.

Judith-Rae Ross, a former Niles Township trustee for more than two decades, is out of the starting blocks early, having announced her candidacy last week, not quite six months after Coulson’s most recent victory.

In a snappy line in a snappy Pioneer Press article by Lynne Stiefel [today’s Winnetka Talk], Ms. Ross said, “I'm not campaigning just to campaign. I'm campaigning to win. That means that we have to start early." That line is reminiscent of the hero’s line from the film Chariots of Fire, which went something like “I run to win. And if I can’t win, I won’t run.” Obviously Judy Ross believes she can win.

Judy Ross, who has a Ph. D. from the University of Illinois, Chicago and who has taught history and other courses at DePaul for almost two decades, has lived in the district and specifically in Skokie for almost a half century. She appears to have a lot of grass roots support and the support of some major local political leaders, e.g., Cong. Jan Schakowsky (D- Evanston, 9th Cong. Dist)-- and Ross has been talking with leaders in the Democratic Party of Illinois ("DPI") to try to obtain their support. It is early in the campaign season for the DPI and they will probably take a look at how Judith-Rae Ross' candidacy proceeds and also see if any competitors to her pop up before they make a decision.

Will Ross get a challenge in the Democratic Primary? Can she crystallize the differences on issues in a way that makes sense to 17th District voters who are known for their independence and in a way that is helpful to Ross come election day? Can Judy Ross charm the voters in the same way Beth Coulson does? Can she give them a reason to vote against an incumbent for whom the majority of voters seems to have a lot of affection?

Will Speaker Mike Madigan keep the 17th District a Tier one race? Will he get behind Judy Ross and, if so, is the third time the charm for the Speaker in the 17th?

Stay tuned and I hope to have some answers for you shortly.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at