IN THE SPOTLIGHT Part 2 of 3: Jim Oberweis, candidate for U.S. Senate

Thursday, October 09, 2003

By Fran Eaton (fran@illinoisleader.com)

GOP U.S. Senate candidate Jim Oberweis, answering reporters' questions after the NAACP forum broadcast on October 4
IN THE SPOTLIGHT -- In Part 1 of his 3-part introduction to Illinois Leader readers, Jim Oberweis shared some of his interest in financial investment and ideas on free trade and the American economy.

Today, we will learn more about his views on education, abortion and the Second Amendment.

Oberweis tells us that he is a FOID card holder and owns a gun, the only candidate who has offered that information.

We back up just a bit before proceeding in the interview. . .

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IL: This brings us back to the question, why do you want to be a member of the U.S. Senate?

OBERWEIS: Let me tell you, I?ve traveled all over this great world of ours, and there is no other country that I?ve found that has the same level of economic opportunity that we have in this country, the same level of freedom that we have in this country, and want to do whatever I can to make sure that there are freedoms and economic opportunities for my grandchildren and for their grandchildren. And I believe I can do a very good job as U.S. Senator of helping to protect those freedoms and economic opportunities. . .

IL: Who is your political base, what groups are you hoping to be your center of votes in this Republican primary?

OBERWEIS: You know, I?m really not a politician, I?m a businessman. A politician looks at what base they can pull in, what they can draw from. I?m interested in serving in serving all the voters of Illinois. I?m interested in doing what is best for our country. I believe I have those principles and will stay with those principles. Having said that, who does my message appeal to? I think my message appeals to pro-life people, I think my message appeals to people who believe in our constitution, in the second amendment, who believe that our judges should be enforcing laws, not making laws. I believe my message appeals to people who believe in freedom over markets and believe in competition, the American way of life.

IL: So that?s a pretty broad array of people. . . maybe 90 percent of the people of Illinois. . .

OBERWEIS: I hope it is. If that?s 90 percent of the people of Illinois, all I have to do is win two-thirds of those and I?ll be in great shape.

IL: When did you begin thinking about running for U.S. Senate? Was it immediately after the primary loss in 2002? You did a lot of traveling and working for the U.S. Senate nomination then. . .

OBERWEIS: Well, let me just take you back in time a little bit, I mentioned my great interest in politics at a young age, I also mentioned that I pretty much had walked away from active political involvement. I was supporting friends and candidates that I knew. In September, two years ago, we went through a tragic event. I think that event made a lot of us rethink our lives, about what is really important in our lives, and what is important in this country, and to realize that we can be vulnerable to attacks from other people who have a very different set of values from what we have.

And shortly after that, I was approached by some friends and business partners, who encouraged me to consider running for U.S. Senate against Dick Durbin. And I hadn?t thought at all about it until they started asking me and I believe my response was something to the effect, ?Well if Denny Hastert asked me to run, and if Peter Fitzgerald wants me to run, and if other Republican leaders want me to get involved, then I would love to.?

I really didn?t expect much to happen after that.

IL: You created a pretty high hurdle to cross in order to get you to run . . .

OBERWEIS: Approximately two days later I received a call from the Speaker of the House encouraging me to consider getting involved. I talked to Peter Fitzgerald, who encouraged me to get involved, I talked to other Republican leaders who encouraged me to get involved, and all of a sudden, in November of 2001, I agreed to go ahead and seek the Republican nomination. Unfortunately, it was only four months before the Republican primary vote. I had no grassroots organization, nobody around the state really knew who I was, and it was a very difficult challenge.

Having said that, in just those four months, I was able to build enough of a team and enough name recognition to come in second in a three-way race, and believe I got 33 or 34 percent of the vote, so it was a pretty respectable showing. But quite frankly, I viewed that as my one and only effort, that my political days were finished, and I went back to pick stocks for our mutual funds.

I believe Denny Hastert is a great leader, I respect him, I think he is one of the few people who have been able to go to Washington and not get caught up in Potomac fever. I look to him as a mentor and a guidepost. He is my Congressman, so obviously, I would never run against him. Peter Fitzgerald who is my senator represents many of the values that I hold dear. We have had a few differences of opinion, but very few.

I believe, for instance, in opening ANWAR up to oil exploration. We can do that today in a very environmentally-friendly way, without damaging the environment with drilling in an area that is just a few football fields in size and gain most of the oil that is available there using new horizontal drill technology, so I believe it is the right thing to do to reduce our political dependence on the Middle East. I am very much in favor of doing that, but Peter was against it.

Other than that, most of the positions he hold, I generally agree with. One vote a couple of years ago, he voted against handing out cash to airlines. The vote was 99 to 1 - Peter being the one. Quite frankly, had I been there, it would have been 98 to 2. I believe he was right on that vote. To just hand cash to companies in that fashion, in my opinion, is just wrong. If they needed our support due to some unusual thing occurring, we should have taken over, for instance the security - which is not what?s happening by the way - and we should have done things in that fashion that would have made sense.

When you just had cash over to the airlines, how do you justify not handing cash over to other industries that have been equally damaged, let?s say those providing food services to the airlines -- those providing travel services, or providing hotel services, things of that nature. So, I think it?s a very dangerous precedent to just write blank checks.

Having said all that, there?s no way I would have run against Peter Fitzgerald. People did call me and encourage me to do so, and I said, ?No way. Peter?s a good guy, I?m definitely not running against him.?

It came as a total shock when he chose not to run. It wasn?t a shock just to me, but most Republicans, and probably a lot of Democrats throughout the state. When that happened, I started getting a lot more calls from people who were saying, ?Jim, we didn?t know you two years ago. You got into the race too late, but by the time we met you and we liked you and what we saw, we were already committed, but if you run now, we?ll support you. We?ll support you with volunteer help, moderate financial support and so on," and I had to give it some serious thought.

I wasn?t really sure if I was willing to go through the wife-uprooting trauma of running for the U.S. Senate again. But as we formed an exploratory committee, and as I began to travel throughout the state, and as I heard the strength of conviction of people asking me to get involved, I eventually decided that I?m not only willing to do it, I want to do it.

IL: This is a different setting from the last time when you had three different candidates. Now you?ve got a whole array of candidates with different strengths and weaknesses. How are you going to break out of the pack?

OBERWEIS: Well, fortunately we have a great strength on the Republican side for the U.S. Senate race, we have several very strong candidates that represent the party well. How do I differentiate myself from the other candidates? I would mention several things: I?m a candidate who has the name recognition to be necessary to win in November. I think we need, as Republicans, to focus on not who can just when the primary, but who can actually win this seat and keep it in Republican hands. I believe I have the right name and the right name recognition to do that.

I believe I have the issues to win against any Democratic nominee, whoever that is. I believe I have the background and the experience - I know what it?s like to run statewide, I know what it?s going to take to win this election. I believe I?m the strongest candidate to keep this seat in Republican hands.

IL: What is your position on the Second Amendment? Would you encourage stronger gun control laws at the federal level?

OBERWEIS: I went to a military high school, I?m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and I?m a FOID card holder.

IL: Do you have a gun?

OBERWEIS: Yes.

IL: Okay. . .

What are your thoughts on the education issue?

OBERWEIS: As I said, I started my work and career as a math and science teacher. I believe I understand some of the problems in the system. I think there are a number of problems, but we?re taking some steps in the right direction to address those issues. In addition to testing and measuring, which I think is a beginning step in the right direction, I think that there are many more things we can do.

You know, in business, we reward the people who do the best job. We give them bonuses. Why don?t we do that in education? In education, we pay people based on how long they?ve taught, not on how well they teach. Let?s start trying to make a determination of who the best teachers are in every school district, in every school, and let?s provide bonuses for those teachers, let?s reward outstanding achievement by teachers.

The argument against that, of course, which typically comes from the teacher?s unions is that somehow that?s unfair, somehow whoever makes those determinations, whether it?s the school board or principals or other teachers, might be unfair in their rewarding of those bonuses. Well, sure, that could happen, but you know what? That can happen in business when we try to find out who is our best ice cream store manager or deliveryman.

But we try to make those determinations nonetheless, and try to provide bonuses to our best managers in most any business. Let?s do that for our best professional teachers, as well. Will it be perfect? No. Will it be better than nothing? I believe so. I will go one step further. I propose a somewhat controversial plan, and that is this - if we can determine and select our best teachers, let?s create a situation that will allow them to teach to larger classes. That?s an idea that should be discussed.

IL: What are your thoughts about the President?s No Child Left Behind program? There are federal control issues and funding issues that are being debated there.

OBERWEIS: I don?t think it?s a perfect plan, but I think it?s a step in the right direction. I?m delighted to see us moving to address the problem. I think the President is doing the right thing by taking a leadership role in moving forward to improve that situation.

I don?t think this has all the solutions, but we?re not sitting back doing nothing. We?re trying some things to see what works. We?ll work through this - this is a long term problem. This is not going to fix everything in six months or twelve months or 24 months, but over the next five or ten years, we?ll see some progress.

IL: Would you have supported the D.C. voucher plan that was recently voted on in Congress?

OBERWEIS: Yes.

IL: Our readers are also interested in your views on abortion. There has been some controversy and speculations about what really is the Oberweis position on abortion . . .

OBERWEIS: I don?t know why there should be any speculation whatsoever. I am and have been have been a lifelong prolife advocate. Our only brochure out this year (so far) has my prolife stance as the number one statement on that card. So there really can?t be any doubt about that, there can?t be any controversy, except to the degree that opponents might want to try to confuse the issue.

IL: Evidently, there are things you've said on record or public statements in the past that weren?t as strong as that position. . .

OBERWEIS: There was an inarticulate comment that I made before I was a candidate last time around that started with the statement, ?I am prolife,? and then went on to express my concern about the government playing too large of a role in our lives, and that was successfully twisted by one of my opponents.

IL: Do you hold any exceptions on abortion?

OBERWEIS: Only the life of the mother, and that happens almost never.

IL: So, I am to assume you would be in favor of the partial birth abortion ban . . .

OBERWEIS: Absolutely.

IL: Parental notification . . .

OBERWEIS: Absolutely.

IL: What is your position on stem cell research, do you support the President?s position?

OBERWEIS: Yes.

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Oberweis talks more about the controversial ?Taliban? comment, responds to criticism about the promotion of his company name and his overall thoughts about the campaign in the interview?s Part 3 to be published tomorrow.


Fran Eaton has worked on the staff of the Illinois Leader since its inception in June of 2002.