Gun control issue dominates 2nd District congressional race
BY NATASHA KORECKi Political Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org February 10, 2013 8:20PM
Former Illinois state representative and Democratic U.S. Congressional hopeful Robin Kelly speaks to the International Ministers & Community Alliance Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, in Chicago after receiving their endorsement. Kelly is part of a large field of candidates who hope to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in Illinois' 2nd Congressional Seat. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Updated: March 12, 2013 6:25AM
In the race for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s former congressional seat, candidate Robin Kelly, one of the front-runners in a field of 16 Democrats, has seized on the gun issue, trumpeting her ‘F’ rating by the NRA and pummeling her top two opponents for their past support for gun rights.
Kelly’s laser-focus on guns arguably helped draw the interest of two SuperPACs into the 2nd Congressional District race, which so far collectively poured more than $700,000 into TV ads attacking her two top opponents.
But is Kelly, a former state rep, as pure on the gun issue as she’s trumpeting?
Records show that when Kelly was chief of staff to then-Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, more than $7 million in pension money was invested with Alliant Tech Systems, the world’s largest ammunition manufacturer, which supplies Wal-Mart and Cabela’s with ammunition as well as a small investment into Smith & Wesson, a top gun manufacturer.
The investment is a drop in the bucket when considering the billions of dollars in Illinois pension funds, and Kelly’s campaign says she was far removed from making such a decision.
Still, one of her opponents, Debbie Halvorson, one of the targets of SuperPAC attack ads, wasn’t about to cut her any slack.
“If this is going to be her one and only issue, this is a little less than honest,” Halvorson said.
Another opponent, state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, who changed her position on an assault weapons ban — now supporting one — asked why Kelly, who claims to have played a major role in directing policy under Giannoulias, didn’t urge against investing in weapons manufacturers when she was in a position to do so.
“Robin Kelly was the senior-most staffer in an office and . . . didn’t lift a finger to stop the state from sending millions of dollars to gun and ammunition manufacturers,” Hutchinson said. “She has repeatedly claimed to be an advocate for regular families and a fighter on guns . . . but she sent our tax dollars to the very gun manufacturers she says she’s been fighting for years.”
The Illinois State Board of Investment manages the investment of pension assets for the General Assembly, and the state treasurer is an ex-officio member of the board.
Kelly also has been criticized for accepting the endorsement of former candidate state Sen. Donne Trotter, who dropped out of the race as he awaits trial on a felony gun charge.
Kelly’s spokesman calls it ludicrous to pin the blame for the investments on her.
“Robin did not sit on State Investment Board or have any advisory role during her time in the Treasurer’s office. She would hope that the State of Illinois, like the City of Chicago, would take a thorough look at their investments,” spokesman Jonathan Blair. “But trying to blame Robin Kelly for these investments is as ludicrous as blaming Senator Hutchinson or any other member of the state senate who approved the appointments to the state investment board that helped make those decisions.”
It’s just the latest dust-up over the gun issue in the race for the Feb. 26 primary in the 2nd district, which encompasses a diverse constituency with diverse perspectives on guns. It includes Chicago’s South Side, where pervasive gun violence claims hundreds of lives every year, as well as portions of Will and Kankakee counties. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed divesting the city’s investments from gun manufacturers and at least one state pension system is considering doing the same.
“I know that district. It’s more pro-gun than Robin Kelly thinks it is,” Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson told the Chicago Sun-Times. “There are some pretty pro-gun people.”
Pearson declined to provide more specific information about membership in the district.
A national poll says otherwise.
A Public Policy Polling national survey released last week showed that 39 percent of those questioned say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who had the NRA’s support to 26 percent saying they would be more likely to offer their support; 32 percent said the NRA had no influence.
The poll said 53 percent of voters supported stricter gun laws while 39 percent opposed them.
Hutchinson and Halvorson have both been lambasted for past NRA “A” ratings. At a forum last week, candidates were asked to raise their hands if they opposed Barack Obama’s proposal to ban assault weapons.
Halvorson was the sole candidate to raise her hand. Halvorson points to the 500-plus murders last year in Chicago despite an assault weapons ban already in place for two decades. She supports universal background checks, enhancing penalties against straw purchasers as well as a gun registry.
Halvorson, a one-term congresswoman, became a target because polls had consistently shown her leading in the race. However, Halvorson appears to have struggled with raising money, claiming just $25,000 in receipts plus a $25,000 loan to herself. That puts her in a weakened position to battle the onslaught of TV attack ads.
Meanwhile, Hutchinson has changed her position, which, in part, previously won her a 92 percent rating from the NRA. She now supports a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity clips, telling the Sun-Times in an interview last month that the massacre in Newtown, Conn., helped shape her new stance.
Yet, she’s the target of a TV ad by the political action committee Progressive Kick, hammering her for her A rating.
We strive to help elect progressive Democrats around the country. Halvorson & Hutchinson are far from it,” Joshua Grossman, president of Progressive Kick, said in an email. “I’m especially frustrated with candidates like Hutchinson who says she’s converted to being an opponent of the NRA after Newtown. It seems as though Hutchinson ca res more about Newtown than her town. After all, hasn’t Chicago had several hundred gun deaths a year over the last several years?”
Hutchinson has said her state Senate district includes a rural swath of Illinois, which includes a pro-gun constituency that she was elected to serve. She also said she broke ties with the NRA when its executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, suggested after Newtown that more school employees should be armed to protect themselves against intruders, rather than searching for common ground in the national gun debate.
Kelly, meanwhile, continues to pick up momentum in the race, out-raising her opponents with $200,000 in receipts by the end of January. Kelly’s campaign released a poll last week showing she gained 11 points in a month, putting her in a statistical tie with Halvorson. Hutchinson reported about $135,000 in receipts, while Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) reported about $50,000. Beale, who says he owns several firearms, including a handgun, still says he supports Obama’s gun agenda.
Another candidate, Joyce Washington, says the back and forth between the other candidates is a red herring. She said they miss the point that curbing violence involves putting more police on the streets and called on Rahm Emanuel to do so.
“It’s time for an outsider, a reformer, a fresh face, a professional businessperson, not a professional politician,” Washington said.