By Mike Kroll
After nearly 23 year Congressman Lane Evans was brought down not by one of his Republican challengers, but by the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. When Evans made the surprise announcement that he would not seek reelection this November many voters in the 17th district were surprised but few were shocked that he would recommend his longtime aide and friend Phil Hare to take his place on the ballot. Of course, it took more than simply the Congressman's choice to make that happen; it took the overwhelming support of Democratic precinct committeemen across Evans' district to get Hare on the November ballot. He now must face Republican Andrea Zinga who is making her second run for the congressional seat.
Before Evans' withdrawal from the race few knowledgeable Republicans gave Zinga much of a chance against the popular liberal Congressman. When Illinois was redistricted following the 2000 census the 17th was carved into the poster child for gerrymandered political districts as the incumbents fashioned a map including all or part of 23 counties that made reelection almost inevitable. The end result was a decidedly moderate 17th Congressional District that reliably reelected the progressive Evans. While some of Evans' supporters may not have seen eye-to-eye with him on every issue they respected and were grateful for his unfailing constituent service and one of the staffers responsible for that record was Phil Hare.
By his own report Hare's personal views track closely with those of Evans. “I can't think of very many differences between Lane and me; we're pretty much in-sync on the issues. I guess that's why we've worked so closely together these past 23 years. Lane is a model Congressman and I will be lucky to live up to the standard he has established but that also means I will be inheriting a strong legislative and service team. I intend to maintain Lane's reputation for casework. I don't foresee there being too many changes to the way Lane's offices now are run or in who staff them. Hell, if it isn't broke, and it isn't, there's nothing to fix.”
A former union steward, Hare has been with Evans since the beginning of Evan's Congressional career, 23 years. Hare has spent that time not in Washington, D.C. but in his hometown as head of Evans' Rock Island district office. He announced publicly Friday that he will resign from that post this month to focus full-time on the November election. “I expect to be back on the Federal payroll soon enough; it will be a very short retirement,” joked Hare.
Unlike many Congressional candidate Hare doesn't even need to pause when asked about his stand on the political issues of the day. He tends to divide such issues into two categories, national issues and issues specific to life in the 17th district. On national issues he is nearly as progressive as Evans.
Evans opposed going to war with Iraq and both believe we need to disengage American military involvement. Both are very concerned that the best interests of our military personnel aren't lost among the growing public discontent over the war. Hare is especially concerned over the thousands of military wounded. “The Bush administration has behaved irresponsibly in their handling of health care for our military. We need to increase funding for military health care and apply that money to both active duty care and veteran's care. I will move immediately to fully fund VA health care and honor this country's obligation to the men and women who defend us. We have a responsibility to this nation's military and to their dependent families that has not been fulfilled by the present administration. And I believe the voters of this district deserve a Congressman who takes a clear position on this war unlike my opponent.”
“If we are going to wage war to spread democracy and freedom then we need to model those values here at home. The huge cost of this war coupled with tax cuts for corporation and the rich has lead to reductions in the funding of many domestic programs I believe in. We need to move toward an affordable single-payer health care system for all Americans because health care should be an American right. In the meantime we need to fully fund Medicare and Medicaid to insure that the most vulnerable among us are properly cared for and we need to recognize that the Medicare Prescription Drug plan is a disaster. The next congress should immediately begin the job of writing a prescription drug plan that puts the priorities on better health care rather than pharmaceutical and insurance industry profits.”
“The Bush budget is absolutely atrocious! The president's priorities are simply backwards from my point of view. We cannot afford the tax cuts already passed and those making over $250,000 per year have had more than enough tax relief. It is time to begin serving the vast majority of Americans who could never dream of making a quarter million dollars per year. They just want their children to be able to attend good schools, grow up healthy and be able to find a career that allows them to support their own families as they become adults. Those expectations seem pretty reasonable to me.”
“When they get those jobs they should rest easy knowing that their own government isn't working to ship those jobs overseas. I will never vote for a piece of legislation that would hurt veterans, the elderly, children or hard-working Americans like those in the 17th district. I will never support 'free trade' because it isn't but I will work hard for 'fair trade' that doesn't undermine either the American worker or our economy. It's not a question of left or right. It's a question of being fair and compassionate. It offends my sense of right and wrong when common people need and deserve help from their federal government and don't get it because the greedy can better afford to influence Congress and the president.”
Hare sounds very much like a more populist and vocally forceful Lane Evans. He is neither as educated nor as polished as Evans and he is definitely not soft spoken as is Evans but they do seem to be reading from the same political script. For years the Republicans have run candidates who claim Evans didn't represent the true politics of the 17th district despite his electoral successes. Hare is betting his campaign on the premise that those Republicans are just plain wrong.