Illinois Bell, Ameritech, SBC. Whatever you call it, the phone company's name appears to be mud with at least some Illinois voters.
Last year, you might remember, Texas-based mega-corporation SBC muscled a bill through both the Illinois House and Senate that opponents claimed would double some local phone bills. The legislation forced the Illinois Commerce Commission to increase the wholesale rates SBC could charge its competitors. The bill passed in less than a week and Governor Rod Blagojevich signed the measure as soon as it hit his desk. A public uproar ensued, but a federal court later blocked the bill.
Anyway, a poll was taken a few days ago in a northern Lake County House district. The survey found that 83 percent of voters would be less likely to vote for state Representative Bob Churchill (R-Lake Villa) because he voted for the SBC bill.
An 83-percent "less likely" response is almost unheard of these days. It's an exceedingly rare result. Most campaign strategists go all slobbery at the thought of even a 65-percent "less likely to vote for a candidate" result. But 85 percent? You'd have thought Churchill was busted burning an American flag while robbing an orphanage.
Any issue that polls over 45 percent "less likely to vote" can be used to generate some traction. Over 70 percent can be deadly. But 80 percent is often fatal, if the issue is spun properly with voters and the targeted candidate is not otherwise super-strong.
The Churchill results quickly rippled throughout the state. After all, the logic goes, if voters in a relatively pro-business suburban district such as Churchill's are this upset, imagine how the rest of the state is reacting.
The SBC bill has also been an issue in several legislative primaries this spring. Representative Charles Morrow's opponent, Milt Patterson, has slammed Morrow (D-Chicago) for voting "present" on the bill.
Representative Lou Lang's opponent, Mike Moses, criticized Lang (D-Skokie) in one mailer for his "yes" vote. Moses' mailer, however, was disjointed and a bit confusing. If he had focused more on this issue, and sent out several more anti-SBC/Lang mailers, he might have had a better shot at unseating the incumbent.
Representative Suzie Bassi has repeatedly patted herself on the back during her campaign for voting against the SBC bill, and her opponents have been forced to agree that this was the right thing to do (although Bassi actually voted "present").
Appointed state Representative Pat Verschoore (D-Milan) voted for the bill, which might have left him open to a last-minute blitz by his opponent, Clarence Darrow. David Young has also not used the "yes" vote against his Dem primary opponent, Representative Annazette Collins (D-Chicago).
Looking ahead to the fall elections, a handful of incumbents could suffer varying degrees of vulnerability because of their votes on the SBC legislation if the Churchill results can be repeated elsewhere.
Representative Beth Coulson (R-Glenview), a Tier One target, voted "present," as did Tier One target Kathy Ryg (D-Vernon Hills) and Tier One target Senator Gary Forby (Benton).
Representative Bob Flider (D-Decatur), a Tier Two target, voted "yes," as did Tier Two target Representative Jack Franks (Woodstock). Franks held a press conference attacking the bill and then switched his vote at the last minute, making him even more vulnerable. Representative Michael McAuliffe (R-Chicago) voted "yes," while his Dem opponent, Representative Ralph Capparelli (D-Chicago), voted "no." Senator Larry Walsh (D-Elwood) voted "yes." Walsh is running for Will County Executive this fall.
On the other side, U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama, Tier One target Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville), Tier One target Senator Pat Welch (D-Peru), and Tier Two target Senator Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) all voted against the SBC bill. Representative Mike Boland (D-East Moline), who was in a relatively hot primary and might face tough opposition this fall, voted "no." Tier One target Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) also voted "no," as did Tier Three targets Representative Frank Aguilar (R-Cicero) and Representative Karen May (D-Highland Park).
If the SBC vote becomes a major issue this fall, the phone company could have some big-time trouble next year. The state's massive Telecommunications Act, which governs almost every aspect of SBC's existence in Illinois, is scheduled for a re-write in 2005, and SBC is hoping for a big win. But if the bill spooks legislators during the fall campaign, and especially if someone loses because of this issue, SBC could be in for a very rough ride next spring.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).