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Topinka earned it

Monday, Jan 27, 2014

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

I don’t think I’ve seen a Republican - or just about any candidate of any stripe - work as hard for an AFL-CIO endorsement than Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka did.

She assiduously courted the unions who represent workers in her office, worked to help the Teamsters pass a bill important to the union that jabbed at a non-union cemetery owner (the comptroller’s office regulates some cemeteries), built strong relationships with some labor union leaders and attended tons of their events and even endorsed the union-backed pension reform bill.

In other words, she went above and beyond her Democratic rival Sheila Simon on pretty much all counts. The Simon family has long enjoyed union support. Except for his successful US Senate primary bid in 1984, union leaders and members almost always backed her father Paul.

And the daughter would’ve likely had organized labor’s backing this year if she’d run for the open state treasurer slot instead of for comptroller against Topinka. So it was little surprise when Topinka received the Illinois AFL-CIO endorsement this month

It’s no secret that Illinois voters have tended to lean Democratic for quite a number of years, so successful Republican candidates have to prove they are not completely hostile to the prevailing state winds.

Voters know Topinka well, and many probably still kick themselves for voting for Rod Blagojevich instead of her. Blagojevich defeated Topinka by 10 points in 2006. You’d be hard pressed to find many people who were proud of that pro-Rod vote today.

And even though Topinka is well-known to voters, Simon’s family name still carries quite a bit of cachet, so Topinka has not rested on her laurels. Instead, she’s worked hard to outflank Simon on her left, and not just with the unions.

Topinka has long been aggressively outspoken on gay rights issues, and she upped her credibility on the issue with the gay marriage proposal, working the bill hard and then receiving a huge roar of applause when, during the gay marriage signing ceremony, she offered to serve as a “flower girl” for any couple who is married under the new law.

The state Federation of Labor will make fall election endorsements this summer, so I suppose it’s possible that they could go in a different direction. But Simon probably didn’t help her case any when she blasted the Topinka endorsement by “insiders” acting “behind closed doors.” The AFL-CIO always meets privately to discuss these endorsements, and it’s doubtful Simon would’ve been so concerned about the process if she’d received the nod.

Simon sent out a press yesterday shortly before the labor endorsement was announced praising herself for raising a mere $132,000 in the fourth quarter of 2013. Topinka raised even less, but her campaign claims she back-loaded her fundraising for this quarter. We’ll see. Either way, Topinka has $914,000 tucked away in her campaign bank account compared to $379,000 for Simon, and Simon now won’t be getting much if any major union contributions in the near future.

Topinka also endeared herself to many state legislators who don’t have second jobs when she immediately cut legislative paychecks after a Cook County judge ruled last year that Quinn’s veto of member salaries was unconstitutional. Quite a few of those legislators are African-Americans and Latinos, so Simon didn’t help herself with them when she criticized Topinka for her fast action and said she would’ve waited to see if the judge stayed his order.

And even Gov. Pat Quinn, who often nurses grudges, has seemed to brush off Topinka’s paycheck move. Quinn told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Michael Sneed this month that he “can’t praise State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka enough” for her work on animal welfare issues. Quinn is still reportedly not happy with his lieutenant governor for the way she abruptly jumped off the ticket a year ago when Lisa Madigan loomed large as a potential challenger, and for when Simon refused to endorse him last summer when it looked like he faced a difficult primary against Bill Daley.

Despite everything, Illinois is Illinois, so this campaign isn’t a slam dunk for the incumbent comptroller by any means. And that’s a big reason why Topinka worked so hard to win the state Fed’s endorsement this month. Very smart politics.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


18 Comments
  1. - x ace - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 9:57 am:

    Excellent Column


  2. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 9:58 am:

    === Quinn is still reportedly not happy with his lieutenant governor for the way she abruptly jumped off the ticket a year ago ===

    As well he should. Quinn raised Simon up and then she abandoned him when he looked to be at his most vulnerable. Then she kicked him when he was down by declining to support him in any way.

    It’s like the old Kodak commercial: “I see your true colors shining through.”

    We see your true colors, Sheila. And they’re not pretty.


  3. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 10:08 am:

    I really have little to add to an outstanding explanation of the raw politics at play, and why the argument…isn’t much of an argument; Comptroller Topinka is arguably the most popular republican in Illinois politics, and Comptroller Topinka is a top governmental force, with a Crew that aids her in both facets very ably.

    I say it often, for me, ” You dance with the one who bring ya”. While that is a very strong reason to not support Sheila Simon, but I feel Rich’s article gives the real reason, beyond the Dopey politics of Sheila, to rally behind and support Judy Basr Topinka.

    Good on the article, but outstanding work by Topinka and get Crew.

    If someone actually sees… the current LG, ask her if she like apples…


  4. - anon - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 10:10 am:

    Great work, JBT. I really enjoyed watching her get beat in the governor’s race in 06, but I feel that she’s been vindicated. Im happy for her, and happy that Sheila Simon is getting embarrassed. Simon — what a joke.


  5. - Joan P. - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 10:29 am:

    JBT is one of those office holders whose job performance trumps politics. I generally vote Democratic, but I’ve also always been a fan of hers. The only reason I voted for Rich Whitney instead was because she chose Joe Birkett as her running mate. I just couldn’t bring myself to pull the lever (oops, sorry, punch the ballot -yes, I’m old) for him.


  6. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 10:38 am:

    I wish JBT ran for governor this year.


  7. - Conservative Republican - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 10:44 am:

    ==Simon’s family name still carries quite a bit of cachet==

    I don’t disagree with this. But, you know, I really think it’s getting to the point where Paul Simon has been largely forgotten by the voters. Certainly by voters who are either Republican or independent. I think being the child of Paul Simon means very little politically. Moreover, whatever political touch Paul Simon had, Sheila seems to have inherited very little of it.


  8. - Buster - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 11:24 am:

    Good column!
    I wonder if people will ever stop underestimating Judy. We’re lucky to have her in Illinois. There’s unfortunately not very office holders that can be said about.


  9. - k3 - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 12:01 pm:

    I have no love for Simon. You can’t point to anything she has actually accomplished in public life, so I’ll be splitting my ticket to vote for Judy.


  10. - Arthur Andersen - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 12:02 pm:

    Great column, Rich.

    Well said, Willy, and to add just one point, JBT is a Republican leader that all in our Party, young and old, can point to with pride. Don’t have too many of those, sadly.


  11. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 12:31 pm:

    - AA -, of course, good add, too true.


  12. - Norseman - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 12:41 pm:

    Taxpayers get their money’s worth from JBT.


  13. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 12:45 pm:

    JBT was one of the only Republicans (if not the only one) on the stage when Quinn signed marriage equality into law. For this I commend her.


  14. - State Worker - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 1:20 pm:

    I’m a Dem….but always proud of Judy’s ability to do the right thing. She’s always had my vote.


  15. - Marie - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 1:54 pm:

    Way to go Judy


  16. - Ghost - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 3:02 pm:

    Simon who?

    This article misses all the key jbt facts…. Which are she raffles off Harley’s and owns dogs… What’s not to like?


  17. - walker - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 3:19 pm:

    And she earned it by being a non-political, transparent, informative, honest state office holder.

    To agree with OW’s comment about some Dems on this site:

    “We love us some Judy.”


  18. - dr. reason a. goodwin - Monday, Jan 27, 14 @ 11:06 pm:

    I also wonder if the Governor wasn’t taking a little swipe at Sheila last week when he appointed former Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole (R) to the state Human Rights Commission ($47,000). Cole beat Sheila when she ran for Mayor,


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