Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Oberweis wins WTTW R Guv Debate

The last Republican Primary gubernatorial debate was held last Thursday night on one of Chicago’s Public TV stations, WTTW, and the one hour debate substituted for the regular programming on Chicago Tonight. The debate was jointly sponsored by the City Club of Chicago [led by the triad of WLS-AM Radio conservative media personality Tom Roeser [R], political consultant/operative Jay Doherty [D] and Roosevelt University Professor Paul Green [the White Line down the middle of the Road].

Judy Baar Topinka, according to WTTW, backed out of her commitment to do the debate, with Topinka stating earlier last week [See here] that there has been enough discussion and all her opponents want to do is bash her because she is the front-runner. Topinka’s campaign manager, Terry Barnish, argued that the Topinka campaign had never committed to do the debate. Whatever, Terry.

Businessman Jim Oberweis, Helene Curtis heir and civic leader Ron Gidwitz and State Sen. Bill Brady happily accepted the invitation. WTTW chose not to invite Andy Martin, a marginal meaningless candidate, with WTTW stating that only candidates with more than 5% in a public polling were invited [No poll puts Martin above 1%].

The debate was hosted by Phil Ponce and the format was excellent. No openings or closings. Each candidate did not get the same question. No timed answers but the host made clear he would not tolerate speeches. No official policy was articulated as to the candidates questioning each other, but Ponce wisely allowed such to occur spontaneously, along with comments.

Smart policy of WTTW to continue its long tradition of having Ponce as the single questioner. This allows for follow-ups and continuity within and across topics, making for a much improved debate, unlike the silliness that we saw in Naperville [in January, sponsored in part by CBS-2 News] and in Chicago last week, sponsored by ABC-7 and the League of Women Voters. [BTW, an obvious solution to the above would be to turn the CBS-2 and ABC-7 debates over to Mike Flannery and Andy Shaw, respectively and let them handle the debate in a way similar to Ponce. As to NBC-5, I would be happy to handle it for them when its political editor, Dick Kay, steps down in July].

Also, the improved format would give the viewers a better “look,” at the candidates, allowing for a more meaningful discussion of public policy, and it would be much more interesting and exciting for the viewers, resulting in better ratings. A win win for the station’s bottom line and for public policy. Hard to imagine why they don’t do it.

The winner of Thursday night’s debate in terms of the political blend of style and substance, that is-- in terms of winning over undecided voters who were watching on TV was Jim Oberweis. He came across as serious, thoughtful, forceful and knowledgeable about the issues that Republican primary voters care about: Trying to stop Illegal Immigration; taking the side of reform over insiders; promising innovation in education, e.g., merit pay for teachers and school choice; providing appropriate, market incentives for an efficient health care system; providing a good environment for a free market economy and jobs to flourish and pledging no tax increases and to be a budget hawk are winning positions in a Republican Primary, no matter how little attention the MSM wants to devote to such issues.

BTW, Ponce demonstrated how little he knew or cared about the key issues for Republican Primary voters when he chose to quiz the candidates about the music from Brokeback Mountain and what kind of the cars the candidates drove. Ponce then questioned further as to the buzz in “The culture,” about Brokeback Mountain. The culture? Which culture did Ponce have in mind? The lefty culture that dominates WTTW?

Ponce also questioned the candidates about whether the candidates sent their kids to public or private schools but made no connection to the school voucher/ school choice issue. Had Ponce done so, he would have demonstrated that both Gidwitz and Oberweis are intellectually consistent here, unlike most Democrats and Sen. Brady. A missed opportunity for Ponce and his viewers.

Gidwitz has told me numerous times that he sent his kids to private schools because the public schools are generally not very “strong,” in the portion of the City where he lives and he would like to give school choice-school vouchers to low income parents in the City because their public school options are also not very good. Oberweis sent his kids to both public schools and private schools and I believe that choice reflected his kids’ preferences. He very much favors giving low income parents the same school choice that he exercised, arguing that consumers would benefit from the competition and innovation that the free market would bring.

Brady, on the other hand, exercised choice to send his kids to Catholic schools, but he doesn’t want to allow low income parents to have the same choice he had. Welcome to Eddie Haskell’s world: the world of kissing up to teachers unions, and filling his campaign coffers at the expense of kids. Brave Bill Brady, supported and propped up by the likes of Caprio, Eaton and Newcom. And, then the guy runs around and misrepresents himself as favoring school choice because he favors a $500 tax credit—as if that compares to a $10,000 school voucher, which is the average cost of educating a student in the Illinois Public Schools.

In second place in the debate would be Ron Gidwitz. A straightforward guy, Ron seemed more relaxed Thursday night than he has been at other forums, and above the fray. Ron does better in a dialogue [as the WTTW debate was], whether it is one on one or in a foursome than standing up at a lectern, giving a monologue. On the other hand, Ron didn’t do or say anything, on a sustained basis, during the course of the hour to grab Republican voters. Oberweis was way ahead of him on that score. If you take the above seven, or so, issues, Ron may have scored points on only two: reform and jobs. That is not enough to break out of the back.

In third place, would be State Senator Bill Brady, who seemed to be ackward, through-out. If Brady is not trying to drain votes from Oberweis to help Judy win, he is doing an excellent job of trying to make himself look like he is doing that. Brady is Judy Baar Topinka’s Eddie Haskell: “I might disagree with some of what you say, Judy, but I will fawn all over you to show how much respect and affection I have for all things Topinka. And, of course, nothing negative from me about you, Ms. Topinka. But, when it comes to Oberweis, Brady does not hide his contempt and his obvious attempt to criticize everything about Oberweis.

Simply put, Brady has no problems with criticizing all things Oberweis, as when he asked Oberweis about his “case,” at Thursday night’s debate, referring to the phony smear that accused Oberweis’ Company of hiring illegal immigrants, when a cursory investigation by Brady of the reported facts would have revealed that it was a contractor, not Oberweis, who had this responsibility and even as to the contractor, it was a bogus charge that was never pursued.

Brady’s defense for his bizarre statements? He had none; he just flashed his goofy Eddie Haskell smile, and said, “Golly gee, Jim, I just know what I read in the newspapers.”

Then, Brady says we can fix education with three numbers: 65%, 51% and 10%. Each one of these numbers stands for an idea that is more lame than the other, and no conservative who thinks about it will find the referenced ideas to be a “cure,” for the State’s education woes, which is what Sen. Brady claims them to be.

Brady says 65% means that 65% of the state’s expenditures should “go into the classroom.” But, this is more an accounting or definitional gimmick than a reform. For example, assume we are at 60%, not 65% now, and that is because the school has “reading specialists,” who work with young kids who have trouble reading, but those reading specialists work outside the classroom. What if we raised the 60% to 65% by tossing the reading specialists into the classroom. Good Idea? Improvement in the quality of Education? Only if your name is Bill Brady and a few others who don’t want to think about the issues carefully, but prefer simple gimmicks.

51% means we should spend 51% of each new dollar available for spending from “natural revenue growth,” on education. George Ryan suggested he would do this and Gov. Blagojevich argues he has done this. George Ryan and Blago are writing’s Brady’s stuff?

10% refers to Brady’s idea of a sort of tax swap. 10% of all new revenue growth for the state would be used to finance a reduction in local property taxes, with the new income tax revenue used for education. So, Brady argues essentialy for commiting at least 60% of every new dollar generated by the State’s economic growth to education. That would be Brady’s conservative solution to education? Well, what do you know, it is the same as the liberals’ solution. And, of course, this is all supported by the teachers’ unions. The Brady Bunch special.

No, hard to call Brady a winner of the WTTW debate. Especially when you remember that the target was supposed to be Republican primary voters. Not the Illinois Education Association [a teachers’ union]. Not the Chicago Teachers Union. [Another potential Ally of Brady’s]

But, the thing to remember is that the WTTW debate has little impact on anything, and especially not on the Republican Primary. On a very good night, Chicago Tonight draws 50,000 viewers. Further, given the station’s and program’s sharp tilt to the left in terms of political bias, most Republicans have been driven elsewhere, so that its audience is about 80% Democratic and 20% Republican. In terms of conservatives watching Chicago Tonight with any regularity, I would say maybe ten. Conservative viewers of Chicago Tonight, that is.