The danger of electing extremists


Mary Miller frightens me. 

Yes, I’m talking about the member of Congress from Southern Illinois who is running against Rodney Davis for the Republican nomination in the 15th Congressional District. 

She is not pitching policies. She is selling anger. 

But I could also say it is the same about a whole host of candidates on the far left or far right who mix anger, pandering and rigid orthodoxies. 

You may remember Miller as the person who quoted Adolf Hitler on her third day in office and said his efforts to indoctrinate the young were worthy of emulation. 

It doesn’t surprise me that there are people like Miller in politics. After all, I’ve been covering politics for more than 35 years. I’ve encountered plenty of cranks and conspiracy theorists during that time.

But the difference is that until recently, no one took those folks seriously. And then they began winning elections. 

Today, extremists are redefining both political parties. And the country is not the better for it. 

There are too many folks interested in stirring up anger but too few willing to get stuff done. The era of constructive compromise seems to be a memory of a bygone time. 

My political leanings are not a secret. I believe in limited government, low taxes and protecting individual liberties. That said, I split my ticket between Republicans and Democrats in just about every election. There are good people in both parties.

I even vote for folks I often don’t agree with. For example, the late Sen. Paul Simon was far more liberal than me. But he consistently earned my vote because he exhibited integrity in how he conducted himself. He was also a thoughtful individual who considered all sides of an issue.

The older I get, the more I’m convinced the key to progress is electing good people who think independently and act with integrity. 

Miller is not one of those people. She is running in the Republican primary against Rodney Davis, a conservative Republican from Taylorville. By all accounts Davis knows how to bring home the bacon to his district. If he is reelected, he’s in line to be a committee chair. And most folks, no matter their political persuasion consider him to be a serious member of Congress. 

But Miller, quite literally, has the Trump card. The 45th president has endorsed her and will be holding a rally for her June 25 in Quincy – three days before election day. 

Miller is a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus along with others including Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgian known for comparing COVID-19 mask mandates to steps the Nazis took to control the Jewish population during the Holocaust. Greene is said to have lobbied Trump to endorse Miller.

Lord, help us. Miller, Greene and Lauren Boebert, the congresswoman from Colorado who falsely accused a Muslim member of Congress of being a terrorist, are card-carrying members of the Kook Klux Klan. 

The 15th District was drawn by Democrats to consolidate Republican votes. Quincy is the biggest city in the horseshoe shaped district that covers one-third of the state’s counties including much of Sangamon.

Robin Johnson, a lecturer at Monmouth College and a Democratic consultant on rural voting behaviors, lives in the 15th and perceives an angry electorate.

“I see Mary Miller and Darren Bailey signs all over the place. I sense there is a real appetite for insurgent candidates. Could Trump’s visit make a difference? Yes. In a close race, it certainly could. And we know in the areas where he had rallies he boosted his own vote totals. Whether that translates over to candidates he is campaigning for, we really don’t know yet.”

Davis is traditional, much like his old boss, John Shimkus. By no leap of the imagination is Davis anything but a conservative. Whether its taxes, guns, abortion or any of the other GOP litmus tests he comes out solidly on the right.  But he has avoided the confrontational far-right politics.

In other words, he’s gentlemanly with those he disagrees with. And he seeks consensus to get things done. 

Miller goes for the flash. She is more about capturing headlines and soundbites than seeking legislative achievements. It is a race between hard work and Hollywood. Or maybe it’s a choice between steak and sizzle. 

A lot of political pundits have written Miller’s candidacy off. I’m not one of them. There is a real chance she can win. She is trying to tap into a pervasive disillusionment permeating rural America.

I know of which I speak. I live in the 15th District, grew up on a hog farm and reside in a village of 650. I know rural America. 

Republican consultant Patrick Pfingsten said Miller is a member of the Trump personality cult. “Miller is part of a group of people who are content on raising cane, but never getting anything done.”

He added, “And at some point that playbook is gonna run out of plays. The dude's 76 years old and one Big Mac away from having a grabber. So, he's not gonna be around forever. And I have a really hard time believing that the party is forever in the eyes of Trump.”

The question rural voters – and all of us face – is do we give into the temptation of anger or the desire to get things done?

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at: [email protected]

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