A few weeks ago, I spoke to Glenn Poshard, the Democratic candidate for governor in 1998.
He’s president of Southern Illinois University now. I called him to talk about the union-busting that went on in Decatur when he was a congressman and I was a reporter for the local newspaper, the Herald & Review.
The A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. locked out its workers for more than two years until they capitulated and accepted the company’s contract. Poshard tried, unsuccessfully, to resolve the dispute.
I reminded Poshard that I’d profiled him for the Chicago Reader during the 1998 campaign.
“Oh, yes,” I remember, he said. “You were very kind to us.”
“I wish I could have been a little kinder,” I said.
“Well, that’s just one of those things that happens in life.”
I was sorry Poshard lost in 1998. Thirteen years later, I’m twice as sorry, because now we know that his victory would have spared us two of the crookedest governors in Illinois history: George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Ryan never would have served, and Blagojevich couldn’t have run against an incumbent Democrat in 2002.
Poshard, who grew up in deep Southern Illinois, lost as a result of qualities that were part of life in his rural, Bible Belt hometown: He was a religious conservative, and he didn’t have any money. A Baptist, Poshard called himself a “whole life Democrat,” meaning he opposed abortion but favored aid to poor families. The gay community was outraged when an aide suggested that doctors who opposed homosexuality shouldn’t have to treat gay patients.
Poshard ended up losing the lakefront to Ryan, who had reinvented himself as a liberal since helping Phyllis Schlafly stamp out the Equal Rights Amendment in the early 1980s. Poshard learned the same lesson Bill Brady learned last year: a social conservative cannot be elected governor of Illinois.
During the campaign, Poshard also refused to take PAC money, instead encouraging his supporters to send him 10 bucks apiece. Ryan was less scrupulous about the sources of his financing -- he took PAC money, five-figure private donations and bribes. As a result, he outspent Poshard 4-to-1.
In the last weeks of the election, Poshard tried to bring up the licenses-for-bribes scandal, which resulted in the deaths of six children in a crash caused by an unqualified trucker who’d bought his license at one Ryan’s Secretary of State offices. He was shouted down by the Chicago Tribune and Sen. Paul Simon. If we’d known the truth about the scandal, Poshard would have won. Ryan might be a retired Secretary of State puttering around Kankakee, and Blagojevich would still be a vain, shallow congressman, instead of a vain, shallow felon. The recent history of Illinois would be entirely different.
It’s just one of those things that happen in life.