Beiser and Babcock buck ‘Chicago politicians’ in race for House seat

State Rep. Dan Beiser, left, and challenger Mike Babcock.
State Rep. Dan Beiser, left, and challenger Mike Babcock.

Sensing the disdain in Southern Illinois for the Springfield brawl between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, both Rep. Dan Beiser and his challenger, Wood River Township Supervisor Mike Babcock, are distancing themselves from “Chicago politicians” and attempting to appeal to voters in District 111 through what they believe are sensible approaches to government.

“The middle-class families of the metro-east are under assault from Chicago politicians and a governor who is seeking to drive down the wages of workers and decimate the programs that many folks rely on,” Beiser wrote in response to a BND questionnaire.

Babcock made a similar attempt to cast blame for the Illinois budget crisis, in which the state has gone for more than a year without funding for a variety of services, but put the emphasis on Democrats.

“I want to protect our families from the reckless tax-and-spend policies of Mike Madigan,” Babcock wrote in response to the questionnaire. Although he praised the stop-gap budget as “a good first step,” he stated that “the lack of a budget has endangered many of the services that our most vulnerable citizens rely on every day.”

Despite their appeals to voters in Illinois House District 111, which is in the northern part of the metro-east and includes the towns of Alton, Wood River and Bethalto, the race is attracting intense interest from interest groups, which are on track to infuse the race with more than $3 million.

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 18, Beiser has raised more than $1.5 million, according to Illinois Sunshine, which tracks campaign donations. Although the largest chunk of money has come from the Democratic Party of Illinois, at more than $150,000, he has received money from 137 different donors.

On the other hand, Babcock has raised more than $1.3 million from Jan. 1 to Oct. 18, most of which has come from the Gov. Rauner-backed House Republican Organization, which has given his campaign more than $1 million; Babcock has 26 total donors.

The 2016 race is only the second time Beiser has faced a challenger since his first election, in 2006. In 2012, with 58.5 percent of the vote, he beat Republican Kathy Smith, who took 41.5 percent of the vote. Beiser has served in the House since Dec. 2004.

In 2012, Babcock lost a race for state senate seat to incumbent Sen. Bill Haine by 17 points. Babcock took 41.2 percent of the vote to Haine’s 58.8 percent.

Despite the loss, the vote recently encouraged the Chicago Tribune to endorse Babcock over Beiser in an editorial published on Oct. 6. Dissatisfied with a vote Beiser made for a “wildly unbalanced budget in May,” the newspaper liked Babcock’s showing against Haine.

“He has an audience,” the editorial board wrote.

Both Beiser and Babcock pointed to creating jobs as their top concern for the metro-east, and they agreed that Illinois needs to become a more attractive place for businesses, especially in the wake of the idle Granite City Steel plant, which falls just south of their district.

“Job loss is something I hear about every day and (is) a major concern for me,” Beiser wrote in an email. Stating that, though international trade — which has contributed to an influx of cheap Chinese steel — was a federal issue, he said “there must be stability in our financial condition to create an environment conducive to job growth.”

Babcock wrote, “We have to be competitive with other states if we want to retain businesses such as U.S. Steel and Olin Corporation, some of the finest employers in the metro-east.”

Regarding Illinois’ education system, Beiser and Babcock again expressed dissatisfaction with how much money is going to Chicago.

Beiser stated that he supports “eliminating the automatic block grant that the Chicago public school system receives.”

Babcock said, “As state representative one of my top priorities will be to fully and fairly fund our schools, not bail out Chicago.”

And both candidates also agreed that the Illinois pension system was in terrible straits and in need of change.

Beiser said he was in favor only of changes that are “constitutional and only made in consultation and negotiation with those who have faithfully contributed to the system.”

Both Beiser and Babcock are experienced politicians. Beiser has been an Illinois state representative since 2004, and Babcock has served as the Wood River Township supervisor since 2009.

They have also held a variety of leadership positions in community service. Beiser is a member of the Catholic Charities Home advisory board, the Riverbend Growth Association and other organizations, according to his biography on the Illinois House’s website. Babcock is a youth leader and group leader at the Metro Community Christian Church, where he attends church.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel