An election was just held in Columbia, South America. During the campaign period 32 candidates were assassinated, 100 were kidnapped and hundreds more intimidated in some way. Even to vote was a courageous act. Polling booths were heavily guarded but still some voters met death or injury in the process.
During this same period, voters in Kosovo were thronging to the polls to elect a new government and vote on the question of separation from Yugoslavia. Reportedly the election was peaceful. The outstanding feature? 100 percent of eligible voters participated. Of course they did. They had just spent years of hardship, death and terror under brutal rule. They know that to vote in a free election is precious. Many voters waiting in line shed tears of gratitude.
As I've written before, politicians are blamed for lack of interest in American elections and I don't buy it for a minute. Much of our electorate is lazy and ignorant, taking our unique freedom for granted and feeling no responsibility for anything, often not even themselves. I've advocated before and I'll do it again, we should ship them off to Rwanda or China or Kosovo, or many other countries in the world for a visit. We've had people literally dying to get to these shores and American soldiers dying all over the world to preserve peace and freedom, and these yokels don't even bother to vote.
On a more specific note, the election for Illinois Supreme Court Justice is particularly important this year because of the specter of redistricting legislative districts next year. If the House of Representatives can't agree on a new apportionment map, then the Supreme Court gets involved. As a Democrat, I support the election of Tom Kilbride. A practicing attorney for the last 20 years, Kilbride has represented ordinary people and is a past member of Laborers International Union Local 751 in Kankakee. He has organized labor unions and represented unions as an attorney. Among other community activies, he's a member of the Rock Island Human Relations Commission. Kilbride has represented townships in four election law challenges from 1992 to 1996, successfully retaining township government. He is attorney for the City of Silvis, Rock Island townships and Coal Valley Fire Protection District.
Knox County Democrats have visited with Tom Kilbride many times over the last year and a half and are impressed with his humor and intelligence.
Kilbride is opposed by Galesburg's State Senator Carl Hawkinson. Hawkinson is well known in his 6-county Senate district. However, the 3rd Supreme Court District consists of 21 counties, from the Mississippi River to the eastern border of Illinois. Hawkinson has spent most of his time over the past15 years as a legislator and a limited time practicing law. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and in that role must defend legislative action in the light of three rulings of the Illinois Supreme Court which declared unconstitutional crime legislation passed by the legislature while Republicans were in control from 1994-96. The last ruling was in January of 1999, which overturned the ''truth in sentencing'' measure in spring of 1995 that restricted the amount of time convicted murderers and violent offenders could deduct from their sentences for good behavior. After the ruling, the State was forced to begin releasing prisoners convicted under the provision, which was in effect until June of last year when lawmakers replaced it with a new version.
While controlling both chambers of the legislature, Republicans put their legislative agenda on the fast track, and in the process, violated the ''single subject'' requirement of the State Constitution at least three times.
The March, 1999 issue of Illinois Issues reported that Jennifer Johnson, an attorney with the state appellate defender's office, told the Springfield State-Journal Register, ''I think the real message from this opinion (1/99) isn't 'Oh my gosh, defendants will be getting out earlier.' It's 'Oh my gosh, the legislature should be following the Constitution.'''
Kilbride may be right -- that practicing law full time for the past 20 years might be better preparation for a Supreme Court judge position than involvement in politics and the legislature.
This election features tight races from the top to the bottom of the ticket. Every vote does count. The polls are open from 6am to 7pm. Be grateful you are a citizen of this country -- and vote next Tuesday.
Caroline Porter is a freelance writer from Galesburg who can be reached at (309) 342-1337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.