By Jim Hagerty
It’s a pugilistic rematch between U.S. Rep Cheri Bustos (D) and GOP challenger Bobby Schilling for 17th Congressional District seat.
The latest drama unfolded last week as Bustos staffer Heidi Schultz resigned after an audio recording of her making disparaging remarks about Rockford was released by the Schilling camp.
“You’ve got to understand, the part of Rockford we have… very, very urban, very poor, very underprivileged,” Schultz said on the recording. “Not people that spend a lot of time in church. … More in jail than church.”
The secret recording was made last December by a man who reportedly claimed to be a priest seeking comment about the congresswoman’s pro-choice stand on abortion. Bustos learned of the comments while driving between offices and accepted Schultz’s resignation.
Schilling, who denied involvement in making the recording, said his camp received it months ago but chose to hold it until staffers could verify its authenticity. We’re not sure we buy that, as more than one newsmaker in town has reportedly had the clip for months.
Rockford Register Star columnist Chuck Sweeny claims to be one who received a copy late last year. The decision not to make it fodder was apparently scrapped when Sweeny joined the babel, urging Bustos to issue a Sunday morning apology to area churches. The congresswoman returned fire three days later, assuring readers of her vow to continue serving Rockford with “the goal to ensure that every group or organization I am a part of has members from different backgrounds, be it by race, gender, age, geography, or any other measure.”
Meantime, if Schilling aimed to use Schultz’s remarks against Bustos, his timing couldn’t have been worse. By the time the recording was released, Bustos had already been endorsed by the Register Star. Perception is reality, yet few seemed fooled. Other than her claim Rockford is “very, very urban,” Schultz wasn’t far off. High crime rates, an overcrowded jail and dismal voter turnouts are local realities here. Our city is making a strong comeback, especially downtown, but still reels from a socioeconomic depression left by a global manufacturing exodus.
Bustos, 53, has been guarded at times about what she says to the press, especially after having to retract a promise she made in 2012 to give up 10 percent of congressional salary if elected. This September she stated she made the vow in haste, without discussing it with her husband. Fair enough. However, the gaffe pushed the Chicago Tribune even closer to Schilling, which could sway some voters. The Tribune accused the congresswoman of breaking promises, skirting interviews and refusing to make public comment outside her district. But, it should be no shock that a Democrat would tread lightly on what she says to conservative dailies. Sure, Bustos is a fiscal conservative but she’s no Republican. We believe a Tribune endorsement of Schilling was a lock regardless.
Bustos supports the Affordable Care Act, but is by far not its biggest cheerleader. She chided the premature, hurried ObamaCare rollout and supports modifying the system. To Schilling, ObamaCare is the GOP’s proverbial hot potato they can’t get rid of fast enough. His views on tort reform, taxes and minimum wage increase also are Republican prescriptions. Bustos stands somewhere in the middle, except on the minimum wage hike. She supports the increase, something noteworthy for a cash-strapped state and even more doleful local job market.
In 2012, Schilling voted of the extreme GOP budget debacle that would slash corporate taxes overseas and send American companies elsewhere in droves. That would spell further economic disaster, as an minimum wage increase must come with an abundance of jobs, especially for the middle class.
Bustos has also emerged as a candidate concerned with the environment. She’s called for the EPA to better protect waterways and groundwater supplies from toxic runoff, while Schilling seems to support a smaller agency and even more relaxed laws that would ultimately dismantle the Clean Air Act. That could be devastating as the fracking boom reaches Illinois and oil and gas incentives increase. The former journalist supported the effort to make the Rock River a national water trail, and the Rock River Trail was designated as such last year.
While significantly conservative for a Democrat, Bustos has supported the change Dems have been pushing since Obama first took office. Bustos is endorsed.