Chief Judge Callis' name floated as possible congressional candidate

News-DemocratApril 29, 2013 

It may be only 100 days or so into U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis' first term as a congressman, but there is already at least one name being floated to challenge him in 2014: Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis.

Callis is seriously pondering a run in the 13th House District's 2014 Democratic primary, according to Dr. David Gill.

Gill, the 13th District's Democratic nominee last year, narrowly lost to Davis, R-Taylorville, in the November election.

Callis called Gill to arrange a meeting. Two weeks ago the two met for an hour to discuss the upcoming Democratic primary at a Panera coffeeshop in Bloomington, Gill said.

"She indicated she's giving a lot of thought to it," said Gill, an emergency room physician in Normal. "I told her I'm giving some thought to running again."

Gill said it was his understanding that he was one of several people Callis met with "as she looked into the possibility of running."

After the meeting, Gill said he still wasn't sure what her plans are.

"So I'm not sure what her intentions are," he said. "I told her I remained up in the air."

Callis, 48, did not return a call seeking comment.

Callis lives on the outskirts of Troy, currently in the 15th Congressional District. To run there would mean facing U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, a veteran Republican and Davis' mentor.

Davis, on the other hand, is a freshman Congressman and lives in Taylorville, farther away from Callis' home county.

Technically, a candidate does not have to live within a congressional district in order to represent it. However, Callis has reportedly considered moving before, when she was asked in 2011 to consider running for the 12th District seat that was to be vacated by now-retired U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello.

At the time, Callis said she could not leave the community she loved and her colleagues in the Madison County Circuit Court.

With being considered a potential Democratic challenger for Davis, Callis attended the Champaign County Democratic Party's annual spring dinner on Sunday, according to the Champaign News-Gazette.

Another possible Democratic challenger, physics professor George Gollin, spoke for more than 15 minutes at the event, according to the newspaper.

The paper quoted Gollin as saying that both he and Callis are considering a run.

"I am considering running for office, as is Judge Callis. If we both decide to run, it will be a spirited primary," Gollin said. "And then by mid-March, voters will have chosen one of us to stand against Representative Davis."

Gollin noted that he and Callis come from opposite ends of the district.

"If we run, I will expect that next year we will have a friendly discussion about who would like to be the rock and who would like to be the hard place," he said. "And then we will come at Mr. Davis from the east and from the west and return him to private life."

Callis did not address the full crowd at the dinner, but spoke to smaller groups.

Under the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct, she must resign the judgeship if she becomes a candidate for a non-judicial office. She cannot run as a sitting judge, and then resign if she wins. It would also mean giving up her judicial salary of $181,479, paid by the state.

Champaign County Democratic Party Chairman Al Klein could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Capitol Fax, an online journal about Illinois politics, predicted in a Monday posting that Callis will run as a Democrat for the 13th House District seat.

Capitol Fax editor Rich Miller listed some of Callis' advantages as a congressional candidate, including "name recognition" in several of the district's southern counties; contacts and enough wealth to self-fund her campaign.

"Expect an annoucement soon," Miller wrote.

Madison County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Stack said he has not discussed the potential for a Congressional run with Callis. "If she announces, that is something she will do herself," he said. "She has not said anything to us yet."

However, Stack said if Callis did decide to run, he would "definitely" support her.

"She would be a great addition," Stack said. "She is extremely well-qualified and would make a terrific candidate."

Callis was first sworn in as an associate judge in 1995. She was named a circuit judge in 1999 and appointed chief judge in 2006. She then earned a reputation as a reformer, eliminating rules that allowed class-action attorneys to choose their own judge, cutting back on the number of cases that were automatically sealed and removed cases from a fellow judge who was accused of giving priority court dates to donor law firms.

Under Callis' tenure, Madison County opened special court programs for veterans, nonviolent drug offenders and created a diversion program for youth offenders, as well as opening Madison County courtrooms to media cameras under certain restrictions.

Among Callis' endorsements in her most recent retention campaign: Shimkus, who had nominated her veterans court program for the national Paul H. Chapman Award from the Foundation for Improvement of Justice.

Shimkus said at the time that she had earned his respect and the respect of both parties for her reforms in the court system.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 239-2507. Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 239-2533.

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