Gun rights and gun regulations can stir plenty of passions, as was evident last week in Pekin during the Tazewell County Board meeting.
The meeting room at the Tazewell County Justice Center was packed to overflowing, with more than 100 people. Most board meetings rarely attract more than a handful.
What attracted most of them this time was a relatively meaningless resolution. Meaningless in concrete action, at least.
The resolution that stated board members support gun-ownership rights has no appreciable legal effect. But it does put the board on record against firearms restrictions the Illinois General Assembly might approve.
The board action also serves a cathartic purpose, according to the vice chairman.
"It was refreshing to see so many people that were passionate about a potential law change or something the state was going to do to us," Tim Neuhauser said. "And to give them a little bit of a taste of what we deal with on a daily basis.
"I just wish there was this much passion all the time regarding the unfunded mandates that we get. Because at the end of the day, we're scrambling to make sure we continue to do what we do."
People were scrambling to find a seat to see what the board would do regarding the gun issue. An executive-committee meeting the previous week revealed board dissension about how to handle it.
Using the term "sanctuary county" in a resolution, as some local gun-rights advocates would have preferred, was an issue for members who thought it encouraged them and other officials to break the law.
The final version of the resolution did not include the sanctuary wording. Instead, it included a paragraph that stated the board supported the county sheriff and state's attorney in upholding their duties.
Neuhauser wrote that new passage not long before the meeting, after consultation with other officials. An official copy of the resolution wasn't available until the following day.
The Neuhauser-modified resolution appeared to satisfy the board and the heavily pro-firearms crowd.
"Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the people in this room agree we don't need more gun laws," Neuhauser said. "We have enough laws. They just need to be enforced."
The point-1 percent in opposition wasn't silent about it, however.
"I think it's a waste of time and taxpayer resources," said Washington resident Kenna Pope, one of three people who told the board they opposed the resolution. "There is no gun ban in Illinois. So why do we need a resolution against a gun ban that doesn't exist?"
Another Washingtonian, Kathryn Modisette, suggested the resolution was inappropriate in a county that was home to Travis Reinking, accused in April of shooting and killing four people in a restaurant near Nashville, Tenn. Reinking is from Morton.
"We need to admit we have a problem and discuss common-sense solutions instead of burying our heads and covering our ears," Modisette said. "Please focus on things that actually matter to Tazewell County residents, like property taxes and potholes."
In 2007, according to Neuhauser, the board approved an almost-identical resolution. "And look what that did for us — nothing," he said.
But gun-rights supporters believed even a toothless effort was worth undertaking. Pekin financial adviser Scott Plotner, the primary force behind the resolution, said he was motivated by the Florida school shootings in February that killed 17.
"I got upset about how they immediately go after guns and they never go after the real problem," Plotner said. "I said, 'I'm done sitting on the couch. I've got to do something.'
"It's not perfect, but I'm happy," he said about the resolution. "We got what we wanted." (N.V.)
A little third-party history
Last week was the filing deadline for third-party candidates seeking to run for statewide office, and several turned in petitions. The Illinois Libertarian Party is fielding a slate of candidates for all state constitutional positions, and state Sen. Sam McCann filed a Conservative Party bid for governor.
That's the last time you'll hear anyone say you should take seriously as contenders either McCann or the Libertarian ticket led by Kash Jackson (who, the ballot will remind you, was named Benjamin Winderweedle until last year).
History, you see, isn't with them.
Illinois has not been good to third-party or independent candidates — in part because so much of their time and resources must be spent getting onto the ballot in the first place. Their signature thresholds are absurdly high compared to established parties, and more often than not, the signatures they submit are challenged in an attempt to knock them off the ballot.
Often, the hope is that a third-party will do well enough to become an "established party" for the following election by garnering 5 percent of the vote. That's happened twice in modern history — only once naturally.
Most gubernatorial campaigns outside of the major parties have proven to be ill-fated. In 2014, the Libertarian ticket led by Peorian Chad Grimm pulled 3.35 percent of the vote — and that was with substantial monetary support from the left flank, seemingly in the hope that he'd bleed support away from Bruce Rauner.
In 2010, pawnbroker and disgraced former lieutenant governor candidate Scott Lee Cohen managed to somehow pull 3.6 percent of the vote. Green Party candidate Rich Whitney netted 2.7 percent, and Lex Green, the Libertarian, didn't even manage 1 percent.
That performance by Whitney was a letdown after the 10.3 percent he pulled in 2006 running against Rod Blagojevich and the late, lamented Judy Baar Topinka. That's the only time a third party naturally became "established."
In the 2002, 1998, 1994 and 1990 races, various independent and Libertarian candidates managed no more than one or two percentage points on the ballot. That includes the Solidarity candidate in 1990, running as an "established" candidate after that party was created in 1986 by Democrats desperate to get off the same ballot as a couple followers of Lyndon LaRouche formed it as a third party to carry the actual Democrat banner for a single election. (That's the other time, through much less natural means.)
That history lesson is good indication that unless they're extraordinarily lucky such minor party campaigns can, at most, play spoiler. And it'd be hard to point to a time they've even managed that.
In addition to the failure of Grimm's campaign to do so, the double punch of Cohen and Whitney on the left wasn't enough to prevent Pat Quinn from winning a full term against Bill Brady. And even after making it into double digits, Rich Whitney didn't siphon enough votes from Blagojevich to stop him from romping to a 10-point victory over Topinka, alas.
So Bruce Rauner may have two challenges on the right, from Libertarians and McCann, but if he loses, odds are good he'll have other things besides that upon which to heap the blame. (C.K.)
Chris Kaergard (C.K.) covers politics and government. He can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard. Nick Vlahos (N.V.) writes "Nick in the Morning." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.