Saving House and homes, but not Republicans

Dan Proft’s stealth campaign touting property-tax opponents won seven races but lost 12, including GOP House floor leader Peter Breen

A screen shot from a TV ad. (YouTube)

A screen shot from a TV ad. (YouTube)

By Ted Cox

It was a tough Election Night for Republicans in Illinois, everyone agrees, and thus a tough night for Republican fundraisers — whether they labeled themselves as such or not.

One Illinois has previously written about, the stealth political organization funded by Dan Proft’s Liberty Principles Political Action Committee. It started out throwing both Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan under the bus in a bid to boost candidates for the General Assembly who oppose property taxes, and it ended up equating Madigan — who was also being used as a boogeyman by Rauner and other Republicans — with President Trump in an attempt to galvanize voters fed up with both sides of the political divide leading up to Tuesday’s midterm elections.

How’d it work? Not well, as it turned out.

The website listed 19 candidates for the General Assembly as being pledged to “lower your property taxes.” Although it claimed to be nonpartisan and played both sides against what it insisted was the political middle, all were Republican nominees. How’d they fare? Seven won, just barely more than a third. A dozen lost, but that included state Rep. Peter Breen, of Lombard, the Republican floor leader in the House.

With political help like that, who needs credible, appealing opponents?

Not Breen, who lost to Terra Costa Howard, who garnered 53 percent of the vote.

“We pulled it off by knocking doors, making phone calls, and having contact with people in every precinct in the 48th District,” Howard said Wednesday. “We actually knocked the doors — and listened, most importantly. That’s what did it. People were happy to have someone there to listen to them.”


“We pulled it off by knocking doors, making phone calls, and having contact with people in every precinct in the 48th District.”

Newly elected state Rep. Terra Costa Howard (YouTube)

That turned out to run counter to Breen’s way of handling his constituents.

“We spoke to many people who felt he wasn’t receptive to their calls or concerns,” Howard said. “They didn’t feel he represented what they were or the set of values they had.”

Who likes property taxes? No one, of course. But voters in Lombard ain’t stoopid. They well know that with the state failing to fill its role as the “primary” funder of education, they have to make up the slack, and they’re proud of their schools, according to Howard.

“The Save Your Home thing really did not resonate with people,” she said. “Honestly, yes, property taxes are an issue, but most people, an overwhelming majority of people, actually recognize why the taxes are so high — because of our school systems and great community services.”

Not content with the stealth campaign of promoting “nonpartisan” candidates against property taxes, Liberty Principles also got directly involved, including one TV ad that accused Howard of character assassination with an attack indulging in, yes, character assassination. Voters were apparently too smart to be taken in by that approach, either.

Co-starring in that ad? You guessed it, Mike Madigan, who had cameos in Liberty Principles’ entire series of campaign ads, as well as a starring role in the ad labeled “Madigan and His Character Assassins Will Take Your Home,” alongside President Trump.

“I stopped watching TV,” Howard said. “My parents live in the district as well, and we really had to shut it down because it was so vicious.”

Results tell the tale, however, and the Democratic Party of Illinois issued a statement Wednesday pointing out that “Rauner and the Republican Party spent several years and hundreds of millions of dollars focused on tearing down one man, and last night that strategy definitively failed for Republicans up and down the ballot who joined in the effort.”

Calling the ads “hateful” at worst and “laughable” at best, the statement listed a dozen candidates who made Madigan an issue (which has to be considered a conservative count), and all lost. That list included Gov. Rauner, Cook County Commissioner Timothy Schneider, head of the Illinois Republican Party, Congressmen Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren, and, yes, Breen.

Speaking of Hultgren, he charged at the 11th hour on Monday that his Democratic opponent, Lauren Underwood, wasn’t the registered nurse she claimed to be. That blew up in his face when most of the news organizations that covered the attack spent more time on Underwood’s documentation proving it than on Hultgren’s original accusation.

The original source of that report? Right-wing Breitbart news. And the source it cited? The Kane County Reporter, which just happens to be one of the partisan, much-derided local newspapers funded by none other than Proft and his Local Government Information Services.

No wonder Schneider and former state Republican Party head Pat Brady are blaming Proft and his big-buck backer, Dick Uihlein, for the disastrous statewide results, while Proft and former gubernatorial candidate state Rep. Jeanne Ives point fingers right back.

Back to Howard and the 48th District, are voters there ready to accept the mythological “grand bargain” exchanging an increase in income taxes for reductions in property taxes? Howard said her constituents have “mixed feelings” and are wary.

“The majority of people are looking for property-tax relief, obviously,” she said. But they want to see the details of whatever Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker works out for a graduated income tax, if it can make its way through the General Assembly and past constitutional hurdles.

“I can’t support a tax system that doesn’t relieve the burden of property taxes,” Howard said. At the same time, she added, “We’re not going to increase the tax on the middle class. That resonated with people.”

Howard said she started “knocking doors” seeking signatures to run just after Labor Day last year “and never stopped.” She said, “I intend to keep knocking doors,” adding, “The people of Lombard were kind, honest, welcoming, and I am honored to begin to serve them as soon as possible.” That means she’ll no doubt be going back to the voters to get their approval for whatever graduated income tax is adopted — which is how politics is supposed to work, not with stealthy attack ads on TV.