By Stanley Campbell
Don Manzullo is running against a conservative whippersnapper in his first primary challenge. Don has been representing Illinois’ 16th Congressional District since 1992, when he defeated Democrat John Cox, the first Democrat elected in this district since 1842.
Manzullo ran a conservative campaign, relying on support from evangelical churches and a large yellow-dog Republican vote from the newly gerrymandered McHenry County.
I can remember Congressman Cox’s surprise on election night. He’d assumed McHenry County Republicans wouldn’t vote for the upstart Manzullo, who’d bumped off their favorite son in the primary. John Cox was wrong.
Manzullo ran promising term limits and that he would only serve six terms. That was 10 terms ago. He now has seniority in Congress that could award him any position he wishes, but Congressman Manzullo is not a driven man. He’s enjoyed a comfortable time in Congress on the Small Business Committee, where he’s introduced some legislation over his many years in office.
This last year, his district was gerrymandered and now extends from the Wisconsin border, swings around Chicago and ends going toward Indiana. Manzullo faces the young Tea Party Congressman Adam Kinzinger. Kinzinger is a pilot in the Illinois National Guard and has been to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Donald has rarely had a serious opponent these last 20 years. Kinzinger says he’s the more conservative and, even though only on his first term, claims that Manzullo is, God forbid, a liberal!
I’ve worked with Congressman Manzullo on some issues and wouldn’t say he’s liberal, but I admit he’s supported two or three of my causes. The first time was when he voted shutting down the School of Americas (SOA), a Cold War project that trained Latin American generals in the fine arts of interrogation, crowd control and union busting. It was touted as a school for teaching democracy to Latin American soldiers, but it seemed every coup was led by a SOA graduate. Congressman Manzullo agreed to oppose its funding back in the 1990s. That was a pleasant surprise! Rockford Peace and Justice Action Committee thanked him for his support of a human rights issue.
The second time he said “yes” to a liberal proposal was when he agreed to drop the travel ban to Cuba. Congressman Manzullo may have been influenced by then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who wanted to sell Illinois corn to the communists. The state’s Farm Bureau is a proponent for dropping the embargo and trading with a corn and soy-bean-hungry island just 90 miles from our shore. Manzullo agreed to dropping the travel ban, and again we liberals celebrated.
I have to admit, the congressman’s office has been very open to meeting with us liberals even though at times we’ve been unruly and would rather picket outside. Manzullo’s staff has always been polite, and even helped when we were asking for visas for foreigners to come into the country.
I do not know his opponent, Adam Kinzinger. Out of the two candidates, I would probably support Manzullo over Kinzinger, but I rarely pull a Republican ballot. Besides, I’ve been asked by my Rockford Urban Ministries Council to stay out of politics when it comes to individual candidates.
Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.
From the Feb. 29-March 6, 2012, issue