The Brolley Question

by , posted on Thursday, March 1st, 2018 at 6:01 am

Last year, early in the cycle, the Progressive Fox‘s Downtowner told of receiving two pieces of information about then-prospective IL-14 candidate Matt Brolley—that he was not a resident of the district and that he had pulled a Republican, not Democratic, ballot in three out of the last four primaries—and then she offered her own take on that news. Reasonable minds could have differed regarding the importance of those two pieces of information, but it would have been hard to deny that the news was relevant information, that it was not widely known, and that some would find it to be of interest as they attempted to educate themselves regarding the evolving choices before them in IL-14.

And yet, the post—not the information about Brolley contained in it, but the very exercise of communicating that information and presuming to offer an opinion about it—was considered unreasonable by some. In particular, a cluster of negative reactions from a handful of Kendall County Democrats when I shared the post on Facebook caught my attention. Kendall County is where I’m from, it’s where my political roots are the deepest, and I found myself giving a lot of thought to what those Kendall Dems had to say.

Jim Lausier, a former Vice-Chair of the Kendall County Democratic Central Committee, declaring himself “a bit uncomfortable with the pretense,” took exception to pretty much everything about the post in a lengthy comment. He then took that comment and reposted it as an entirely new post on his Facebook page, and both Eric Roberts, the Kendall County Democratic Central Committee’s Media/Marketing/IT Director, and Julie Gondar, the newly elected President of the recently reformed Kendall County Democratic Women [KCDW], shared it. Gondar, interestingly, shared it back to the KCDW Facebook page where it had just appeared as a comment under my post, in what I can only assume was an attempt to help Lausier reframe the debate about the Downtowner post, not merely comment on it. On the KCDW Facebook page, anyway. Oh, and that decontextualized Lausier comment was also shared to the Democratic Women of Kendall County (as they are now known) Facebook page by “Democratic Women of Kendall County” (Gondar, perhaps?) as well. Quite the little flurry of activity in response to what was a fairly simple and straightforward post putting a couple of unassailable facts on the table for people to consider.

The bigger issue—for everyone, I think, regardless of their take on it—was the second piece of information Downtowner brought to light: Brolley’s penchant for pulling Republican, not Democratic, primary ballots since he’s begun a political career of his own. Here’s what Downtowner had to say about that:

The Republican ballots are another issue. Sure, living in this sea of red in an open primary state I know Dems who pull Republican ballots in primaries because there are no Dem candidates on the ballot, and because they think they can do more good as Dems by weighting a Republican primary one way or another. Could be the case in Montgomery most years.

But 2016? Really? Anyone else remember how tight and hotly contested the Bernie/Hillary contest ended up being here? What’s that you say? All of you? Right. I know I worked my tail off for Bernie in Kane County. So, yeah, I have a hard time buying Brolley pulled a Republican primary ballot in 2016 and is nevertheless a Democrat, much less a progressive.

Everyone seemed to agree that crossover voting is common in places like Kendall County where Republicans predominate. Even Downtowner, we should note. But these Kendall Dems went farther than that. “If you’re trying to influence local government in Kendall County,” said Lausier, “then, in many cases, you have to pull a Republican ballot.” Amy Cesich, arguably the leading Democratic standard bearer in Kendall County of late, went further yet, making a flat out affirmative case for the wisdom of Democrats crossing over to vote in Republican primaries in Kendall.

Quite frankly the fact that he’s smart about voting and pulls republican ballots on occasions where there is no democratic candidate speaks volumes as to the type of person Matt is. He knows a republican would most likely be representing us and he’d like for his vote to have counted for the right person!

And because these Dems thought crossover voting was no bigger a deal than the residency issue, which Downtowner herself had dismissed as not worthy of a second thought, they had a problem with my suggestion, when I originally shared the link to the post on Facebook, that it contained “disturbing info” about Matt Brolley. In their opinion, I was simply stirring up trouble where none existed. Gondar suggested the use of the word “disturbing” was itself “inflammatory.” And Cesich seemed to resent the Downtowner post, and/or my characterization of it anyway, even more than Lausier.

Why is it that we keep perpetuating this them vs. us attitude? Before you stat casting “disturbing” assumptions, find out what Matt is about. … Stop the “eating our own” BS and the vitriol. Do your homework!

How odd, I thought, that these Democrats didn’t consider crossover voting in Republican primaries a big deal. Not for anyone. Not even for a prospective congressional nominee. Shouldn’t Democratic leaders be focused on building their own party? Because if that’s your priority, crossing over in the primary to fight a rearguard action, trying to help the establishment wing of the local Republican Party fend off the rise of movement conservatives, is the very definition of self-defeating.

Worse yet, the implication that Democratic primaries didn’t matter much when you’re living in a place like Kendall County was complete nonsense. In 2010 there were contested Democratic primary races for U.S. Senator, Governor, Comptroller, Treasurer, State Central Committeewoman in the Fourteenth District, and two Kendall County Board districts (one of which Brolley lived in, of course). In 2014 there was a contested primary for Governor/Lt. Governor and for the Fourteenth Congressional District nomination Mr. Brolley now seeks. And in 2016, in addition to the hotly-contested Presidential primary Downtowner suggested no true Democrat would have skipped—a primary contest, I might add, that not a one of these Kendall Dems was willing to acknowledge as they made their specious case for crossover voting in Republican primaries—there was a contested primary for the U.S. Senate, and yes, there was once again a contested primary for the 14th congressional district nomination. Which Brolley didn’t vote in. Again. Because he was pulling a Republican ballot. Again.

Now give that line of Cesich’s about Brolley being smart to pull a Republican ballot “on occasions where there is no democratic candidate” another second of your time: “He knows a republican would most likely be representing us and he’d like for his vote to have counted for the right person!” He knows a Republican would most likely be representing us. He’d like for his vote to have counted. For the right person. In the primary elections described above. It is an interesting way for a Democrat to think, is it not?

One last thought about Democratic primaries in Kendall. Let’s not forget that ex-County Chairman Martin Flowers—still then of Montgomery, where his family had been quite active politically—was busy throughout much of this period recruiting friends and family to run for precinct committeeperson slots in the primaries in hopes that he might be able to reverse his fortunes after the Progressive Democratic Council of Kendall County had deposed him by electing enough of their own pcps to vote Flowers out of office.

Democratic primaries always matter. Even in Kendall County.

They just haven’t mattered much to Matt Brolley.

As for Ms. Cesich’s other complaints: Why the “them vs. us attitude”? All I can think is: How is that even a question during primary season? Isn’t a primary by definition about “them vs. us”? And as for: Why was I throwing around words like “disturbing,” why the “eating our own BS and vitriol”? I was throwing that kind of language around because I genuinely didn’t think any Democrat should see pulling all those Republican ballots—especially the one in 2016, and especially if one is a Kendall Dem—as anything less than disturbing information about a Democratic candidate for Congress. Because I didn’t, therefore, consider the use of “disturbing” here to be BS or vitriol. Because knowing he pulled those ballots was all I need to know to convince me Matt Brolley wasn’t one of my own. And what’s worse is that everything I’ve learned about Brolley’s political profile since reading Downtowner’s post confirms my first impression.

Care to check my homework?

Matt Brolley was asked about his political party affiliation when he first ran for office in 2011. His answer? “I am not formally (or informally) associated with any political party.” In the place of partisan identity he has always insisted that, far from being any sort of an ideologue, he is by training a civil engineer and so dedicated to the use of common sense, logic, and reason to solve problems.

But there is a problem with this notion of a “common sense” approach to political problem solving: “Common sense” isn’t what it appears to be. It is a social construct like any other. One man’s common sense is another man’s ideology, and governance, therefore, is no mere logic puzzle, in which one finds one’s way to a win-win solution as rationally as one might solve for y. It is far more complicated than that. An art as much as it is a science. Ars politica.

And what are we to make of the “Return to Reason” coalition Brolley led when he ran for village president in 2013? Just because these are non-partisan elections, that doesn’t mean that these people’s political identities are a complete mystery; Brolley himself has talked about working with Democrats and Republicans on the village board. Does the company one keeps on the campaign trail tell us anything about one’s political leanings? Because I’m willing to go out on a limb here and say my guess is that Brolley’s coalition partners–Steve Jungermann, Theresa Sperling, and Denny Lee—haven’t voted in a whole lot of Democratic primaries either. I could be wrong. If so, I would be happy for someone to enlighten me about the “Return to Reason” crew. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that their yard signs were red.

Brolley’s endorsements to date are also interesting. Not surprisingly, Brolley, the engineer with a background in physics who spent a little time at Argonne National Laboratory early in his career, endorsed Democrat Bill Foster, the former project manager/physicist from Fermilab, for Congress in IL-11 in 2014 and 2016. Brolley also endorsed Geneva Republican Steve Andersson for State Representative in the 65th District in 2014. Andersson, who is also the village attorney for Montgomery, was running as a nonpolitician offering to bring reason and logic to government instead of bitter partisan bickering, so Brolley’s endorsement of Andersson is no more surprising than his endorsement of Foster. But last year, when Democrats were focused on Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders, Brolley didn’t just decide it was more important to vote in the Republican primary, he endorsed Republican Chris Lauzen for re-election as Kane County Board Chair, too. Lauzen, like Andersson in 2014, ran unopposed in the general election, so the endorsement didn’t turn out to be a back of the hand to a Democratic nominee, but it is nevertheless worth thinking about. Lauzen is in no way a nonpartisan, win-win, problem-solving logician. In the Republican primary he was clearly the conservative option running against establishment Republican Ken Shepro. And we have learned recently that he has recruited three Republicans to run for the Kane County Board as Democrats in this very primary. What kind of Democrat endorses Chris Lauzen?

Which brings us back around finally to the question we’re trying to find an answer to: Who is Matt Brolley politically? Everything I’ve seen suggests a fiscally conservative, centrist, technocrat. Someone with no fixed compass politically, who probably doesn’t have a particularly strong allegiance to either party. Someone who is not so far to the right that he’s comfortable with the hyper-partisan movement conservatives and Tea Partiers who dominate the Republican Party these days, perhaps, but far enough right, or maybe just sufficiently rudderless politically, that he is willing, on occasion, to align himself with one anyway. A moderate Republican, fundamentally, who finds himself politically homeless and has finally decided that now would be a good time to look for a home within the Democratic Party, where it just so happens that the corporate Democrats of the party establishment have become especially welcoming to the professional class since they quit trying to be the party of the people a generation ago. So welcoming, in fact, that they reached out to Matt Brolley to discuss the possibility of him running for Congress as one of them in 2018.

Is Brolley the kind of politician who can provide transformational leadership in these trying times, or is he just another transactional pol at the end of the day, satisfied to keep his head down, cut the deal, take the incremental step forward, and move on to the next item on the agenda? That would be, of course, business-as-usual, and many would no doubt be happy with that. Some people do well when politicians deliver business-as-usual. But many do not.

The only way to consistently find a win-win solution in politics is to either spend one’s time focusing on relatively small problems, or to exclude the win-win solution’s losers from consideration altogether. To pretend they don’t even exist. Or worse, never even notice they exist. The real question, therefore, is rarely “What is the win-win solution here?” when the stakes are high. Instead, the question becomes: “Which side are you on? ”

And the stakes, it can be argued, have never been higher than they are right now. But in these anti-Trump times it can also be argued we are very likely about to see the biggest wave washing over the Republican Party, the biggest “change election,” that we have ever seen.

Maybe it’s time for us to have the courage of our convictions. Maybe it’s time to vote our hopes, not our fears. And if you are prepared to vote your hopes, maybe this is the real Brolley question you need to be thinking about in this Democratic primary:

Are you sure Matt Brolley will always be on your side?


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