Conservatives tap U.S. Senate candidates' family roots

Monday, July 21, 2003

By The Leader-Chicago Bureau (chicago@illinoisleader.com)

Businessman Andy McKenna told the group he supports more tax reform, encouraged exporting "products, not jobs" in foreign trade, and called for re-evaluation of regulations that deter job creation.
 
Financial investor Jack Ryan described the difficult lives of his students at Hales-Franciscan High School located near the Robert Taylor homes in Chicago.
 
George Kocan of Winfield Township asked the candidates' views on marriage
 
Jack Ryan listened intently to questions from the audience and McKenna's responses
 
McKenna told the crowd that he has won the distinction from columnist Steve Neal of being the most "boring" candidate. McKenna's son Drew asked why that revelation was news, he said, with a slight grin.
LOMBARD -- On Saturday, Republican candidates for U.S. Senate Jack Ryan and Andy McKenna answered some prickly questions posed to them by members of TAPROOT, a conservative Republican-affiliated group that meets in Lombard.

"Republicans will have tough choice to make next spring," Dave Diersen, a director of TAPROOTS said today.

TAPROOTS is a DuPage County-based group which meets once a month on Saturday morning. This weekend, a group of close to forty persons gathered to hear from two more U.S. Senate candidates. In the previous few months, the group has heard from U.S. Senate candidates John Cox and Chirinjeev Kathuria.

"We're very pleased that our members took advantage of this opportunity to get to know our speakers Jack Ryan and Andy McKenna," Diersen said. "We hope our members get the opportunity to meet with all the GOP candidates before the March primary."

After McKenna and Ryan presented a brief introduction of themselves and their campaign emphases, the floor was opened to questions.

TAPROOT members asked about campaign strategy, senior citizen pharmaceutical assistance, school choice and the Second Amendment.

But two inquirers, George Kocan and Dave Diersen, wanted to know the candidates' views on how a U.S. Senator would work to preserve traditional marriage.

Diersen, a Milton Township GOP committeeman, asked, "If elected to be the next U.S. Senator from Illinois, would you support U.S. Senator Bill Frist's (R-Tennessee) recommendation for a constitutional amendment that would support marriage as being between a man and a woman?"

The marriage question is likely to be one that comes up often in the next few months, in light of recent Supreme Court decisions and federal policies affecting the definition of marriage. Both candidates were prepared to answer.

Jack Ryan, divorced in 1999 from television actress Jeri Ryan and the father of one son, said that he wants to encourage marriage by working "to end huge economic disincentives for those who are married." Ryan specifically referred to tax policy that encourages couples to live together rather than marry and pay higher income tax. He urged the end of tax penalties on married couples.

Ryan also said, "I don't support giving someone special privileges based on their sexual behavior."

Ryan told the group that homosexual activists are now pushing for a portion of Chicago city contracts to be set aside for homosexuals and lesbians, as reported in the Chicago news sources after Cook County voted to establish a registry for same sex couples.

"If the set-asides take place, wouldn't it be a smart thing to do to go after those 'set aside' contracts?" Ryan asked the group. "How can a person prove whether or not they should be considered for these city contracts?

"Talk about inviting the government into the bedroom," Ryan said. "Does this make sense to you?"

Andy McKenna, married for 23 years to his wife Mary and father of four young adults, said that he would always be supportive of traditional marriage, but would need to see the wording of the amendment before he committed to backing Frist's proposal.

McKenna said he does not support gay marriage or special rights based on sexual orientation.

McKenna, in his introduction, said that he is "keeping his family life at the center of all political decisions." McKenna says that his decision to run for U.S. Senate was at the urging of his sixteen year old son, and that his family and its future is the core of his purpose in running for office.

"We need to value marriage, and the best way to promote marriage is to be an example," McKenna said. McKenna is the only announced candidate that is married to his first wife.

Of the current four other GOP candidates who have thus far declared they are running, Ryan is divorced and remains unmarried with one son, Kathuria has never married, Cox is divorced and remarried a year ago, with three teenage daughters by his first marriage, and Oberweis is recently divorced, with four adult children.

How important will the marriage issue be in this Senate race?

"The issue of marriage is very important, it is foundational to our culture," George Kocan, a Republican precinct committeeman in Winfield Township, said today. "I'm concerned that Republicans are trying to avoid hot button issues like these, but they are destroying our culture."

When asked if whether a candidate is divorced matters to him and his decision as to who he will support, Kocan, who serves as TAPROOT's first vice-chairman, said divorce does matter ultimately, but whether a person is divorced doesn't matter politically today.

"Divorce is a part of our culture. But really, divorce still recognizes marriage as a part of our culture's foundation," Kocan said. "It's the destruction of marriage and our concept of marriage that is truly endangered today."

Diersen declined to say who he is leaning towards supporting in the U.S. Senate primary, but Kocan said he was personally leaning towards John Cox. "John is taking this race very seriously, and I like his positions on the issues."

"What I think is very important is that voters take advantage of every opportunity they are given to meet these candidates face to face now, before the campaign really gets heated up," Diersen said. "Now's the time to get your questions answered straight from the candidates, not someone else."

TAPROOT will be holding a picnic on August 10, and DuPage State's Attorney Joe Birkett will be speaking. For more information on TAPROOT and their planned activities, see www.taprootgop.org.