U.S.EDITORIAL: The Jackson problem
Feb. 23--In 2010, we declined to make an endorsement for Congress in the 2nd District because the seven-term incumbent, Jesse Jackson Jr., was nowhere to be seen. A suburban businessman had told federal investigators that Jackson asked him to raise millions of dollars for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to help Jackson get appointed to Obama's vacantU.S. Senate seat. Jackson ducked an invitation to meet with the editorial board before that election -- in fact, he spent the better part of three years ducking calls from reporters and constituents -- but he won that election easily.
This year Jackson has been forced to defend his seat in the open. His primary opponent, former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, of Crete, has built her campaign around the cloud that still hangs over the incumbent. Halvorson, who was dumped by voters in 2010 after a single undistinguished term in Congress, says Jackson can't represent the district effectively because of "ethical distractions."
Jackson hasn't been charged with a crime. A House ethics committee hasn't completed its investigation. In a written response to that panel's initial report, Jackson said he didn't know about the alleged deal until federal prosecutors released excerpts from wiretaps of Blagojevich's phone. Jackson's lawyers wrote that if Raghuveer Nayak made such overtures on the congressman's behalf, "Jackson is deeply disappointed in his former friend."
The ethics committee also is investigating whether Jackson misused the resources of his House office to lobby for the Senate job, a question he dismisses by saying there was no campaign because there was no election. And yes, he says, he asked that same friend to buy a plane ticket for a woman who flew to Chicago to visit with Jackson -- but that wasn't an ethical breach, either, because it was the woman who benefited.
Those explanations are unsatisfying. But there's another issue in this race: Halvorson is alarmingly unqualified to represent the district.
Seated beside her "distracted" opponent at our head-to-head candidate interview, it was Halvorson who fudged, stumbled and stammered. Asked to explain her one-and-done tenure as representative of the 11th District, she blurted out that voters can be "fickle." She later said that was a bad choice of words. Asked to name federal programs she would target for spending cuts, she couldn't think of one. Over and over she offered, lamely, that voters should send her back to Washington so she could help "innovate" the country out of its current mess. We don't think so.
Jackson ran circles around Halvorson in our interview, showing a 16-year incumbent's command of the issues. When Halvorson said he had failed to advance his plan to build a third regional airport near Peotone, Jackson's response assured us yet again that he's relentlessly focused on making it happen. (Her comments, meanwhile, convinced us she is not.) Jackson is endorsed.
While the 2nd District strongly favors a Democratic candidate, its new boundaries take in all of Kankakee County, making its landscape a mix of farms, manufacturing and urban areas. Republican voters have a choice in the primary between James H. Taylor Sr., 63, of Bradley, a former child welfare investigator who now publishes a weekly newspaper, or Brian Woodworth, 40, of Bourbonnais. Woodworth's life experience reflects the district's new diversity: He's practiced law, worked at a plastics molding firm, bused tables, bailed hay and tended cattle. Now he teaches criminal justice at Olivet Nazarene University. Woodworth is endorsed.
Watch Jackson and Halvorson debate at the editorial board: chicagotribune.com/2nddistrict
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