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Kadner: Nothing fair about Illinois elections

Chuck Derringer (left) Marcus Lewis appear Tuesday Prairie State College Chicago Heights where they were circulating signature petitions for Lewis'

Chuck Derringer (left) and Marcus Lewis appear Tuesday at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, where they were circulating signature petitions for Lewis' run as an independent for the U.S. 2nd Congressional District seat. | Supplied photo

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Updated: February 24, 2013 6:19AM



UPDATE: Chuck Derringer, the Chicago Heights resident and political activist mentioned in Wednesday’s column, called to say he and Marcus Lewis, the independent candidate in the 2nd Congressional district, were not allowed to collect signatures on candidate petitions at Prairie State College on Wednesday.

They had been allowed to do so on Tuesday.

“We were told they have to check with their lawyers or something,” Derringer said.

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Illinois makes it hard on political candidates who try to buck the good old boy network.

People running for school boards and municipal offices are tossed off election ballots by boards composed of the very people they’re trying to kick out of office.

And in the 2nd Congressional District special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a candidate running as an independent has to collect more than 10 times as many signatures (15,682) to get on the ballot as a Democratic Party candidate (1,256).

Marcus Lewis, 54, of Matteson, is trying to make the race but is discovering how difficult life can be on the independent campaign trail.

“I just stopped by Governors State University (in University Park) to ask for permission to collect signatures on my petitions,” said Lewis, a U.S. Postal Service employee.

“I don’t have much time to do this because the petitions are due Feb. 4. It’s an incredible burden they’ve set up for us to meet. And I just wanted to go where the people are, and I figured the university would be a good place.”

Lewis said he ran into Maureen Kelly, a university official, outside the administrative offices at GSU and explained what he wanted to do.

“She told me it was against the rules of the university,” Lewis said.

Chuck Derringer, a citizen activist and political maverick out of Chicago Heights, was with Lewis.

“I asked her to show me the law,” Derringer said. “She didn’t at first, but eventually she showed it to me and it says political solicitations aren’t allowed on state university campuses.”

Lewis said he walked away as soon as he was told, “No.”

Derringer wasn’t as cooperative.

“I made them call the chief of campus security,” Derringer said. “This is America, where the Constitution allows ordinary people to petition the government and run for office.”

In addition to collecting signatures for Lewis, Derringer said he’s trying to get a Green Party candidate on the ballot in the 2nd Congressional District.

The good news is that Lewis and Derringer traveled to Prairie State College in Chicago Heights and were welcomed.

“We were given a table in the nice warm atrium of the college, and I was allowed to set up my banner and people are talking to me and signing my petitions,” Lewis told me during a phone conversation.

“I found a pond where the fish are bitin’ and I have no desire to leave,” he said with a chuckle.

I sure hope Prairie State officials don’t end up in prison for allowing the democratic process to take place on a college campus in Illinois.

As for Governors State, Kelly returned a phone call and said she had been warned in advance that Lewis was coming.

Actually, Derringer made that phone call, trying to set up a meeting with whomever would have to give approval for collecting signatures on petitions.

“I just happened to be coming out of my office on the second floor, where the administrative offices are located,” Kelly said.

She then put a somewhat different spin on the story, saying she told the two men that soliciting for political purposes was not allowed in faculty and staff offices.

Faculty and staff are forbidden from participating in political activities on the campus, which is sort of understandable because they’re paid with tax dollars.

But Kelly also is paid with tax dollars.

According to a news release issued by GSU when Kelly was hired, her title is “director of governmental and community relations.”

In fact, she was hired to replace the university’s external lobbying firm and was expected to “implement GSU’s political engagement strategy with federal, state and local elected officials, regulatory agencies and key policymakers.”

“You are a lobbyist,” I said to her.

“Yes,” she said, laughing.

So a state university has to hire a person with tax money to make sure the university obtains the tax money it ought to get without having to lobby for it.

If I were Kelly and wanted to keep my job, I wouldn’t allow any political independents on campus either.

Kelly said she only called campus security when she found out that Derringer had gone into other administrative offices and had not left the building.

That’s sort of a Catch-22 situation because Derringer contends he was only trying to find out why he was being prohibited from soliciting signatures on the campaign petitions, and he couldn’t very well do that without mentioning the words “politics” or “election.”

As for Lewis, he emphasized he didn’t want to create any trouble and left as soon as he was told to do so.

When I pressed Kelly, she said had Derringer and Lewis attempted to solicit signatures on campus they would have been allowed to do so “so long as they did not create a disturbance.”

I’m not clear on what that means.

If you’re talking to people and a crowd gathers, some people might call that a disturbance.

It’s simply an issue of fairness. Prairie State, it seems to me, did the right thing, creating an area where Lewis and Derringer could solicit the signatures.

Lewis and Derringer, I believe, didn’t have to tell anyone what they wanted to do but were extending a courtesy to college officials by seeking permission.

As for the candidate petition process itself, “it’s designed to keep independents and third parties off the ballot,” Lewis said. “That’s all it’s about.”

I can’t help wondering what bureaucrats would do these days if a bunch of hooligans gathered a mob, denounced our government leaders as tyrants and urged the destruction of private property to protest tax increases.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin never would have been able to hold jobs at GSU, that’s for sure.

Chances are they would never have been allowed on an election ballot in Illinois, either.



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