March 14, 2016
By Marty Carlino
After narrowly defeating Rory Hoskins in 2012 by a margin of only 33 votes, Illinois State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch is in another tightly contested race as he looks for his third term in Springfield. His challenger, former Village of Forest Park commissioner, Chris Harris is up for the task of unseating the incumbent.
Harris and Welch come from different backgrounds. Welch, 45, served as the head of the Proviso High School District 209 board of education from 2001 to 2013.
Welch was then elected for his first term as Illinois’ 7th district State Representative despite widely publicized problems at the Proviso district. According to investigations by the Chicago Sun-Times, Welch hired 13 of his close friends and six relatives to work for the board while in office.
In addition to that, a report from the Chicago Tribune found that Proviso District 209 has paid almost $940,00 over the course of nine years to four of Welch’s relatives.
Harris comes from a different background, as he fought for what he described as “progressive activist culture” in Forest Park during his tenure. Harris fought for green solutions as well as keeping open space in the community. Harris ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Forest Park in 2015 but believes strongly that he is the best candidate to represent the 7th district of Illinois.
On Monday, Feb. 29 the two candidates squared off a Broadview forum that saw both men push their candidacies hard. The forum quickly got heated when Welch refused to shake Harris’ hand at the start of the debate.
Welch quickly opened the night by calling for action among the packed house of nearly 100 voters. “This is a race that impacts so many people. So many different issues are at stake here,” Welch said.
“If you want someone who understands this community and has proven to be a fighter for this community then you should elect me. I’m homegrown and I’m here to fight for you.”
Harris responded to Welch’s claims suggesting that Welch is simply another controlled politician. “I’m not controlled by special interest groups and lobbyists,” Harris said. “We can win this and return this office back to people.”
Illinois budget crisis and educational funding were two issues that were at the forefront all night long.
The state of Illinois has been without an operating budget for nearly a year now. The budget difficulties have hit many state schools and universities particularly hard.
Attempting to fix the states’ budget is the number one priority for Welch if reelected. “We need a budget. Our state needs and deserves a budget,” Welch said. “The Governor is hijacking our state and holding middle class families hostage. Getting a budget is the number one priority.”
Welch also made it a priority to emphasize his track record with the districts’ schools and parks. Welch cited a number of high dollar amounts that he has provided for park districts as well as a number of school-related issues he has backed including funding for high schools, fighting for MAP grant commitments and promoting safer concussion protocol for high school athletes.
Welch made it clear that he intends to fight against state Gov. Bruce Rauner. “This is our community and I’m not going to let Gov. Rauner and his right-wing friends take that away from us. They’re trying to change Illinois from a blue state to a red state, and I won’t support that,” Welch said.
Harris’ priorities were slightly different as he stated that educational funding was at the top of his agenda. “My priority is education funding (on all levels) our High Schools are grossly underfunded. The state is in constitutional violation. Early childhood education enriches a community; we completely allow this to be halted in Illinois,” Harris said.
The forum intensified when campaign literature was brought up. Welch has sent out over 15 fliers to residents that include negative comments about Harris. Harris argued that many of the quotes attributed to him are “nothing I ever said.”
Welch argued back stating that everything on the fliers are quotes that have appeared on his Facebook page before his decision to run for state representative. Harris responded by questioning Welch’s citations and saying, “I’m not the one being sued for defamation.”
Publications around the Chicago area have weighed in on the tight race. The Chicago Tribune endorsed Harris saying, “Rep. Chris Welch must be worried about his opponent or he wouldn’t be sending out mailings that are so misleading they’re comical. Harris wouldn’t be a party lackey in Springfield and is strongly endorsed.”
Harris is thrilled about the endorsement and happy to see that others around the area recognize what he has described as “Welch’s deceitful tactics.” “The Tribune endorsement means a lot to me because the editor lives in our district and knows what is going on in the district. I also take great pride in that I was the only person in any house race they ‘strongly’ endorsed,” Harris said.
“I think it shows that a grassroots campaign, built on honesty can shine. I think it validates my work on the Forest Park village council, and says that throwing money and fabricating stories is unacceptable.”
However, Chicago’s other newspaper, the Sun-Times endorses Welch, but did state that he gets their endorsement “without enthusiasm.”
The Democratic primary election is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15.