ILLINOIS (WCIA) — November’s race for the 95th House district features the youngest pair of candidates in the state: Avery Bourne, the incumbent Republican from Raymond, and her Democratic challenger Dillon Clark, a political newcomer from Litchfield.
Both candidates are 26-years old. Both see a political bogeyman preventing progress in Springfield. Bourne blames Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) for the fiscal woes of the state which bears the worst credit rating in the nation, while Clark blames Governor Bruce Rauner for the budget impasse and the troubling trend of out-migration where people continue to leave rural parts of the state.
“I put 100 percent of the blame [for the budget impasse] on Rauner,” Clark said Tuesday from the front lawn of a Taylorville home where he just finished hammering a yard sign into the freshly cut grass.
“Rauner has been causing a lot of destruction in the 95th,” Clark said. “A lot of people lost their jobs. We lost 33,000 people last year and in that two-and-a-half years we did not have a budget, we lost even more. He has affected state workers very negatively and teachers very negatively too. Everybody here, there is just no jobs and taxes are high. He is just not good for Illinois.”
Bourne, who is currently the youngest member of the legislature, came to Rauner’s defense.
“I think that a common misconception the past few years that the governor passes and introduces a budget and that’s simply not the case,” Bourne explained during a Tuesday evening interview. “The legislature is the one who presents a budget, passes it, and submits it to the governor for approval or for veto. That happens in the House and the Senate. That lies with Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton. My first year, the only budget we got to vote on was $8 billion out of balance. The governor had nothing to do with that. The second year, we didn’t even get a full budget to vote on. The blame does not lie with the Executive Office in any situation like this. The legislature has to pass it.”
The fight over the fiscal future of Illinois has consumed much of the legislature’s schedule during Rauner’s time in office as he demanded other non-budget related concessions from Democrats in exchange for his blessing on any spending plan. Democrats, who control a supermajority in the Senate and a majority in the House, overpowered Rauner’s resolve last summer with the help of several Republicans who broke ranks and signed off on an income tax increase to override his veto.
In this election year, Rauner played much nicer and agreed to approve a budget without any of his additional demands from years past. The two-and-a-half year standoff left pro-Rauner Republicans with a different view of the governor’s budget battle strategy.
“I don’t think that’s the way to govern. There are certainly budgetary processes that need to change,” Bourne said, but pointed most of the blame at the longest serving House Speaker in American history.
“Everything that I heard about Speaker Madigan, it is actually worse once you get to the capitol,” Bourne said. “He has more of a stranglehold on what happens in the capitol than even what most people think. So when I talk to people, my neighbors or people around the district, they all want him gone. My opponent probably should too.”
Her opponent could not say whether or not he supported the Speaker for re-election, a challenge Governor Rauner has issued to all candidates running for the House.
Reporter: What impact has Mike Madigan had on the House Democrats?
Clark: On House Democrats? You know, to be honest with you, like, I just want to represent my district. I grew up in Litchfield, in Hillsboro, and I didn’t really pay attention to politics until I was maybe, you know, until I was about 18. And I’m 26 now, so about eight years. He has not really had an impact on Litchfield. Recently, I have just seen Rauner having a big negative impact on the 95th and on Illinois as a whole.
Reporter: Would you vote for Speaker Madigan to retain his title as House Speaker?
Clark: I will say this: I do not care who is the head of Chicago, who is in Chicago, who is the head of Springfield or anything like that.
Reporter: But you’re running to be a House Democrat.
Reporter: As a House Democrat, you get a vote. Would you vote for or against Speaker Madigan to remain Speaker?
Clark: Again, I just want to represent my district. I am solely going to represent my district. I don’t care who’s in charge.
Reporter: But why dodge that question?
Clark: Again, I just want to represent my district.
Reporter: Surely you know who he is.
Clark: Yeah, I do.
Reporter: You’ve got to have an opinion about…
Clark: And we don’t know. With everything that is going on in Springfield these days, we don’t even know if he’s going to be running, so it is kind of an unfair question to say, ‘hey, are you going to vote for this person?’ Because he’s probably not even going to be there. Or he might be or he might not.
Reporter: His spokesperson says he is not stepping down.
Clark: He’s not? But then again, someone might run against him as well. So I am going to vote for the person who is going to represent our district the best.
Reporter: So you are open to voting against him?
Clark: I am going to vote for the person who I think is going to do the best job for the 95th and for Illinois.
Bourne chided Clark’s response.
“Well, everyone I talk to knows exactly who [Madigan] is,” she said. “I have not heard a single person who thinks he should remain House Speaker. This is not a partisan issue. When I go up to doors, I ask people what their most important issues are for me to take back to the capitol and Speaker Madigan comes up almost every single time. The fact that he doesn’t have an opinion on Speaker Madigan is pretty surprising.
While Clark tried to distance himself from an unpopular leader at the top of his party, he hit back by linking his rival to Governor Rauner’s agenda.
“My opponent is very anti-union,” Clark said. “Very, very anti-union. Right now, Avery Bourne and I have something in common: we both don’t represent the 95th. I mean, right now, she just does whatever Rauner says and that is not what our district needs. Our district needs to be represented, we don’t need Rauner to be represented.”
“There are issues where the Governor and I agree, and there are issues where I disagree,” Bourne replied. “I was one of the first people to come out and propose a bill during the budget impasse that we would continue to pay state workers because we expect them to continue to show up for the job.
“I’ve been a co-sponsor for the past three years We finally just passed the AFSCME back pay bill which was our oldest bill in the state. So there are issues where we can agree. There are areas where we disagree.
“Most of the time, when I’m talking to folks that are in unions, they want Illinois to be a state that has strong education, that has a tax burden that’s fair, that has a government that’s being held accountable, and a place where they can afford their home and have a good job. That’s what I’m for and that’s what they’re for.”
Bourne says her proudest legislative accomplishment is working to reform the school funding formula, which she acknowledges was a team effort that included input from both parties. Clark refused to give Bourne any credit for repairing the most inequitable funding formula in the nation, instead saying, “[Sen] Andy Manar should get sole credit and the other people that helped him on that side.”
Clark serves as a Montgomery County Board Member, but has no other political experience. He’s currently running political ads on Facebook which he admits are “over the top” in an attempt to grab people’s attention. One video uses the theme song ‘Gonna Fly Now’ from Rocky Balboa. Another features his campaign slogan “A New Hope,” a Star Wars rip off.
“We thought it fit,” he said. “I really, really like Star Wars and we are a new hope for the district.”
A third video he posted online didn’t just borrow music or mottos, but costumes too. Clark also stretched the truth in describing his experience.
“As a volunteer fireman, I watched as the budget crisis tore apart our small towns,” Clark says in a narrated video, which shows him climbing into a Litchfield Fire Department Truck, wearing the Chief’s hat, and sitting in the driver’s seat of the fire engine.
However, Clark never served as a volunteer firefighter for Litchfield, or any other fire department in Illinois.
When asked about his campaign costume, Clark confessed that while he wore the chief’s helmet, “I am not a fire chief. The chief let me wear his helmet on that day. But I was a volunteer fire man back in the day and I really enjoyed that. It taught me a lot.”
Clark stated that his stint as a volunteer fireman in Bolivar, Missouri, lasted “one point two years.” Asked to clarify what exactly that meant, he repeated, “One point two years,” which apparently was intended to mean something between 14 and 15 months.
However, the fire chief at the Bolivar Department disputed Clark’s claim, writing in an email that their records show Clark was only on the volunteer roster for seven weeks in the fall of 2010, “during which time he attended one training event and responded to one emergency incident.”
Clark’s description of his duties implied that he was far more involved than just one training event and one emergency call.
“I got to drive the firetruck a little bit,” he said, adding that, “We always wore the beeper and I always got out of class because… I did not do as well on my studies as I should have at the time because I was always running out trying to save the day.”
“I think a lot of times, folks who are running for office say and do things that are meant to elevate themselves instead of maybe telling the truth or doing the right thing,” Bourne said. “I respect anyone who is willing to work and be a volunteer firefighter, but if he is not, then he needs to take that back, apologize and certainly take the video down.”
“It’s factual, and it’s not coming down,” Clark shot back.
After he was confronted with the Bolivar Fire Department’s employment records, he partially changed his tune.
“What I did was I kind of followed them around for a little bit and then I did the stuff, and then I became a volunteer fireman. I wasn’t official until that time, but I was there.”
He claims he quit his volunteer duties to switch schools from Southwest Baptist University where he was studying to be a pastor to enroll in Illinois College in Jacksonville to be closer to his wife.
Asked to explain why his narrated video implied he was a volunteer fireman during the budget impasse, he said, “I could see how that impression could be made.”
Ultimately, he did not dispute the department’s employment records that showed he was on the roster for seven weeks and responded to just one emergency call during that time.
“That was officially though,” he said. “I was there to join the guys to get out of class and also be there, and just, you know, kind of be with the team.”
After moving back to Central Illinois, Clark has worked in a factory, delivered pizzas and most recently as a compliance officer at Litchfield National Bank, a company his grandfather owns.