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11th Congressional Dems Fight it Out

Three Democrats are vying for the nomination in the 11th Congressional District, which represents part of New Lenox. Here's how they differ.

If you believe the candidates themselves, Democrats in the will have a choice between a centrist, a progressive and a working man on March 20.

The three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the newly-drawn district have spent the last few months introducing themselves to voters, and talking about the differences between them.

Some New Lenox residents will vote in the 11th District primary. The new district represents most of the village to the northwest of Metra's SouthWest Service Line.

The winner of this race will go on to face the Republican nominee—either Rep. Judy Biggert, who currently represents the 13th District, or Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham—in November.

On paper, Bill Foster is the front-runner in this contest. He’s the only one in the race with congressional experience. In 2008, he defeated Jim Oberweis in a special and a general election to become the first Democrat to represent the 14th District since Watergate. He then lost that seat to Republican Randy Hultgren in 2010.

Foster has raised considerably more money than either of his opponents. As of December 31, he’d pulled in $867,147, according to the Federal Election Commission. His opponents, attorney Juan Thomas and Orland Fire Protection District President Jim Hickey, raised $75,249 and $6,215, respectively.

But Thomas and Hickey contest the notion that Foster’s leading this pack. Both men have gone on the offensive, Thomas calling Foster out of touch and unable to connect with the voters of the 11th, and Hickey saying Foster doesn’t understand the concerns of the middle-class worker.

Thomas has even blasted Foster for, in his view, looking past the primary and campaigning against Biggert. Foster has taken aim at Biggert over the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, versions of which have passed both the House and Senate.

This bill would crack down on lawmakers trading on insider knowledge, and though Biggert voted for the House version of the bill, Foster has pointed out that a provision that would require people who collect political intelligence for sale to lobbyists to register is missing from the House draft.

“Nothing,” Foster said, “is more corrosive to the public trust than conflicts of interest.”

Most pointedly, Foster has called on Biggert to divest herself of her husband’s stock in TransCanada, the company vying to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which Biggert supports. Foster says Biggert’s financial investment in the company raises questions about her motivations when it comes to pushing for the pipeline, but Biggert’s office has said her support of the project is based on creating jobs and lowering energy costs. (For more on this story, read this Huffington Post report.)

The Foster-Biggert battle seems premature to Thomas, who, at a in Aurora, called out Foster for ignoring his two primary election opponents. But Foster said he is simply establishing that he is the right person to take on Biggert in the fall, should she win over Cunningham.

He’ll have to get past his two opponents first, and they’re not planning on making it easy. Patch asked each of them what differentiates them from their opponents, and makes them the better choice for Democrats. Here’s what they said.

Bill Foster

If Foster has a catchphrase, it’s “a scientist and a businessman.” In addition to starting Electronic Theatre Controls, which now manufactures most of the theater lighting in the United States (and is now run by Foster’s brother and his family), Foster also spent more than 20 years working as a particle physicist at the Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Batavia.

Foster is fond of saying that he approaches problems as a scientist would, collecting the available data and examining it fully before making decisions. Additionally, he says, he’s the only candidate in the race who has created jobs – hundreds of them, which have remained in the Midwest.

But most of all, he says, voters can look to his congressional record if they have any questions about how he would represent them. During his time in office, he was ranked the second-most centrist member of Congress by the National Journal. He cast votes with his party, such as his support of the Wall Street bailout bill and the health care bill, and also against it, such as his no vote on the cap and trade proposal.

“People understand what they’re going to get with me,” he said. “I have served in Congress, and I will vote in the interest of the regular guy.”

Like his two opponents, Foster lists jobs and the economy as his top priorities, and he said the economy is making “slow but steady improvement.” But he said the damage the housing bust did to the middle class is not an easy problem with a quick solution.

Foster is proud of his record as a moderate, and his willingness to compromise to reach solutions. He’s called out those (like Biggert) who have taken the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge, saying that removes compromise from the equation. Foster said he would like to see lawmakers “depend less on partisanship and more on facts and logic.”

For Foster’s answers to our candidate questionnaire, click .

Jim Hickey

If there’s one thing Jim Hickey believes he knows, it’s the life of the working man.

Hickey is the president of the Orland Fire Protection District, which he says is the largest such district in the state, and one of the largest in the country, spanning 75 square miles. As such, he said, not only is he the only candidate in the Democratic primary with a full-time work-a-day job, but he has more experience running a governmental entity than Thomas has, or than Foster had when he initially ran for Congress.

Hickey is proud of the work he’s done with the fire district, which includes cost-cutting measures (reducing the amount of printing by purchasing laptops for the fire board trustees) and outreach ideas (creating a senior citizens panel). He believes translating ideas like this to Congress is merely a matter of scale.

The problem with Congress, he said, is simple: “There are no working-class people representing us.” Hickey has been a small business owner, starting as a stock broker and moving into the mortgage industry. And he’s taken that background and translated it into ideas for the faltering economy. (One of them: stretch student loans out over 50 years, giving young adults more money to spend each month.)

Hickey readily admits that these ideas may not be perfect, but he’s willing to listen to suggestions, he said.

Hickey paints the primary election as “rich vs. poor, the working man vs. the elitist millionaire.” He believes he has the best chance of the three candidates to connect with the working people of the district. People are tired, he said, of the bickering in Congress, and they want to see “a common working man” in office.

For Hickey’s responses to our questionnaire, click .

Juan Thomas

For Juan Thomas, the difference between him and his opponents is clear: he believes he’s the only one who will stand up to the Republicans and fight for a progressive agenda. The only way to move the Democratic party forward, he says, is to “beat the extreme Republican agenda.”

Thomas describes a possible Foster-Biggert election as “a choice between partly sunny and partly cloudy.” He calls Foster’s ideas of compromise with the current Republican Party naïve, and criticized him for voting against the Democratic budget proposals, and for the extension of the Bush tax cuts.

“This district needs a Democrat who will go to Washington and stand firm with the principles of our party,” Thomas said. “The Republicans have shown us who they are, and I believe them.”

Thomas also believes his background gives him a unique advantage in the 11th District. A native Auroran, he was the youngest person ever elected to the West Aurora School Board in 1995, at the age of 25. He served as labor counsel to Secretary of State Jesse White, and ran his own private law practice in Aurora, in addition to serving as Aurora Township clerk from 2005 to 2009.

And while Foster is “the smartest guy in the room,” Thomas believes he lacks the ability to connect with the residents of the district like he can. And he said he would run a more responsive congressional office.

“I’ve proven I can appeal to a cross-section of the electorate,” he said. “We need a nominee who can go into a black church in Joliet, and have a grande mocha in Naperville.”

Thomas said he would vote for President Obama’s jobs bill, and for the passage of 9th District Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act, which she says would create 2.2 million jobs, paid for by higher taxes on the rich and eliminating subsidies for oil companies.

“This race is a clear choice,” he said. “What kind of Democrat do you want?”

For Thomas’ answers to our questionnaire, click .

Tom Lewis March 07, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Are there any Republicans running? I know you and the Huffington Post are bed partners.
Michael Sewall (Editor) March 07, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Tom, from the article: "The winner of this race will go on to face the Republican nominee—either Rep. Judy Biggert, who currently represents the 13th District, or Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham—in November." This also links to our Election Central guide, which includes information about all of the candidates. Over the next two weeks we'll have various articles about the different primary races.

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