Democratic Party officials pick Scott Bennett to replace Mike Frerichs in Illinois Senate

Scott Bennett, a Champaign County Assistant State’s Attorney from Champaign, has been selected to replace Illinois State Treasurer Mike Frerichs in the 52nd Legislative District seat in the Illinois Senate, and Bennett will serve the final two years of Frerichs’s current term and intends to run for a full four-year term in the state senate in the 2016 elections.

However, Bennett’s remarks before and after accepting the appointment from Champaign County Democratic Party Chairman Al Kurtz (officially, there were two people who were on the 52nd Legislative District Democratic replacement committee, but Kurtz had a majority of the weighted vote, so, in effect, he single-handedly picked the replacement senator) have me very concerned about what his voting record would look like as a state senator.

In a public forum held in Champaign last week where Bennett and the 11 others who sought the appointment were publicly vetted, Bennett publicly bashed Champaign, Urbana, and Danville, the three largest cities in the district that have the vast majority of the district’s population, and claimed that he was seeking the appointment to serve the smaller communities and rural areas of the district, something which Republicans normally do as a coded way of stirring up racial resentment among voters:

“I bring that up because the 52nd District is more than just Champaign, Urbana and Danville. It also includes a lot of farms, and includes over a dozen small communities that have concerns and needs very different from its urban neighbors,” said Bennett. “And I believe I’m one of the only candidates on this slate that understands the concerns and the needs of those communities.”

Apparently, Scott Bennett thinks that he’s responsible for representing a small minority of the district’s population and not the entire district. It’s worth noting that the entire district has 217,468 residents according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and Champaign, Urbana, and Danville combined have a total of 155,332 people, or 71.43% of the district’s total population. To put that another way, Bennett thinks he’s responsible for representing 29.57% of the district’s total population, when, in reality, he’s responsible for representing 100% of the people who live in the district.

Bizarrely, Bennett claimed to be conservative and progressive at once:

His background, Bennett said “is conservative, but I have a long history of working with progressive candidates and their causes.”

Bennett’s background is certainly conservative: he comes from a conservative family that also includes a far-right Republican state representative-elect, Tom Bennett, although it’s commonplace here in Illinois for family members, even close family members, to have completely different party affiliations and political views, in fact, I have relatives who I disagree with politically on many issues, so just because someone has conservative relatives means absolutely nothing about that person’s political views. Regarding Bennett’s claim of having a “long history of working with progressive candidates and their causes”, I want to make two points about that: Bennett never cited any examples of his history of working with progressive candidates and causes that I am aware of, and just because someone supports a progressive candidate for public office doesn’t make one a progressive.

Regarding issues that Bennett views as important, education, which is indeed a very important issue in this part of the state, appears to be the issue that Bennett regards as most important to him:

“We are failing our citizens in so many ways,” he said. “You invest in education. You make sure that we all have a fair and equitable chance at technology and training so that it shouldn’t matter, your opportunities shouldn’t be dependent on what Zip Code you were lucky enough to be born into. It’s also to make sure we reinvest in vocational training in our high schools so those students who are interested in a four-year degree can still get job training so they can support their families after they get out of school.”

That kind of statement on education policy could be used by virtually any politician of any political party and ideological persuasion. Bennett’s remarks on education could describe a very progressive pro-public education policy, such as increasing funding for public schools, establishing a fairer formula for allocating state funds to local school districts, and holding schools, administrators, and teachers accountable based on curriculum and academic standards, not standardized tests. However, Bennett’s remarks on education could describe a very conservative anti-public education policy, such as privatizing public schools, establishing charter schools and school vouchers, implementing academic standards that emphasize standardized testing and overemphasize career preparation, giving big business interests more control over education, and shaming and cutting funding from poorly-performing schools.

While Scott Bennett will be my state senator for at least the next two years, what his voting record will look like two years from now is a huge mystery, given that his previous job involved prosecuting criminal cases, a job that generally doesn’t involve making public policy decisions, and he’s given no real indication of what his ideological leanings are. I would strongly encourage Senator Bennett to hold public listening sessions in every part of the district over the next two years in order to better know the voters, taxpayers, citizens, and people of the 52nd Legislative District. I think that he’ll find that the people of this district have very progressive values.

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