Baxter Swilley, 34, joined Scott Lee Cohen’s campaign for lieutenant governor as a speechwriter and policy advisor, and ended up becoming the candidate’s political confidant and ultimately, running mate.
Swilley, whose political experience includes coordinating John Edwards’ presidential campaign in the Midwest and working as a senior associate at the Haymarket Group, talked to Ward Room at Charmers Café, near his home in Rogers Park.
Why do you think Scott Lee Cohen won the primary for lieutenant governor?
Because he understood people's suffering. He understood in what ways government could alleviate that suffering, and so he connected those two things in a way that was compelling and believable.
Right after the election, when all the controversy came out about Scott, was that stuff you'd already known about him?
Why didn't that change your opinion of him?
What I saw in the person, five years after these alleged events, was a person who was doing his very best, who had turned his life around, who was willing to reach back and grab as many people as possible and bring them into the shining light of prosperity.
Do you think he should have resigned his nomination?
No, I think he should have stayed in.
That was not the plan to resign there. I had decided that I wanted Scott to relax with his family and I wanted the press to see him as a regular guy who was going out to watch the Super Bowl like anybody else. Between the time when we first planned his outing and when he showed up, he had gotten some phone calls and he made it clear to me that he wanted to resign that night.
When did the idea to run for governor start coming about?
If he's not running for lieutenant governor, why run for governor?
Obviously, he could only run for lieutenant governor as someone's running mate. He couldn't just go back in. He would need someone to run with. He also resigned because he had the ability to see that even if he had stayed on the ticket, a) he would have jeopardized the Democratic ticket, b) he would probably have been marginalized as a lieutenant governor. That is not Scott. He's not going to sit around and twiddle his thumbs.
When he asked you to be his running mate, he said you weren't his first choice. Meeks was. How did you feel about that?
You have to remember that I was helping him find the running mate. The idea of me being his running mate never crossed either of our minds, until one day, we were sitting down planning how he would go about this, and he looked at me said, 'You know what? I think you and I are the team.'
Do you think he wanted an African-American on the ticket, especially after Art Turner was disappointed in his quest to be lieutenant governor?
He was genuinely looking for the best person he could find, and to his credit, he was not afraid to put an African-American on the ticket.
What do you say to people who think he's doing this to get back at Pat Quinn?
They're wrong. He's not a career politician. He does not have a history with these people. He doesn't know Pat Quinn from Adam.
What does your ticket have to offer Illinois during these hard budget times, during this recession?
First of all, we're not career politicians. That gives us some distance away from the people and the politics to make very difficult decisions.
What's your plan for closing the budget gap?
We have to increase revenue, and the best way to do that is to bring more businesses and jobs back to the state of Illinois. We need to market Illinois' benefits, just like you see Michigan running ads, and the state of California. The House just passed a bill to lure biotech firms to Illinois. Just like Silicon Valley is the hotbed for technology and Detroit is the hotbed for auto mechanics, we need for Illinois to be at the leading of a new industry. I think that we can compete in biotech. We had one of the first biodiesel plants in the nation.
Are you in favor of raising taxes?
No, as long as we have a flat tax, as long as the tax is regressive and overburdens poor people.
Would you be in favor of a constitutional amendment for a graduated income tax?
You've got until June 21st to collect 25,000 signatures. How many have you collected so far?
If you get on the ballot, how does Scott overcome the publicity and the public image that people have of him since his campaign for his lieutenant governor?
I'm not sure that image is as salient as the press thinks that it is. People view Scott Cohen as somebody who went out to do the best he could for the people and was honest about his past and he's not going to give up. They don't want someone who's going to give up.
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