STERLING – State Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, is accusing his opponent of lying in recent mailers.
Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, has been sending the pieces throughout the 71st House District, which includes most of Whiteside County. They are facing off in Tuesday’s election.
In the mailers, Smiddy calls himself blue collar and independent, but paints his opponent as someone whose votes benefit himself at the expense of middle-class families.
“Even as families suffer through the tough economy,” the mailer says, “Morthland has gamed the system, raking in more than $153,000 in taxpayer-funded subsidies, while voting for a utility company deal that will benefit him personally by placing a taxpayer-financed utility grid on his personal land.”
Smiddy’s campaign doesn’t say what the subsidies were for, but a search of an agricultural database shows that Morthland, a farmer, got $153,000 in farm subsidies from 1995 to 2011.
Morthland didn’t deny he had received those federal payments, but said, “It’s the same farm subsidies everyone gets.”
As for the utility grid, Morthland said, the General Assembly approved enabling legislation for Rock Island Clean Line’s power lines before he took office. Under the current proposed route, the lines would go through his farm in Cordova.
He said he, along with the Illinois Farm Bureau, opposes the company’s proposal.
Because of where the lines are allowed to cross the Mississippi River, he said, “It’s almost impossible to miss our farm.”
“Like any easement that goes through, it’s not something I’ve sought or gone looking for,” he said. “There’s not a lot you can do other than negotiate or have it go through eminent domain.”
Federal issues in
a state campaign
Other parts of Smiddy’s mailers sound as if the two candidates are seeking federal office. Smiddy’s campaign contends Morthland supports a national plan to privatize the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department, cutting health care benefits by $19 billion.
“The plan would also cut roughly $970 billion from Medicare and Medicaid. And for what? To give the wealthiest Americans a $394,000 tax break,” the mailer says.
The VA and Medicare are federal programs, while Medicaid is shared between the federal and state governments.
Morthland said he doesn’t support any plan to privatize the VA or Medicare. Besides, he said, he is running for state representative, not Congress, so he couldn’t vote on federal issues.
A mailer from the political action committee, Protecting America’s Retirees, says, “Why did State Representative Rich Morthland vote to eliminate prescription drug assistance for seniors on limited incomes while providing a tax break to wealth commodity traders in Chicago?”
The Smiddy campaign was referring to Medicaid reform, which included the elimination of a senior drug program, and tax breaks designed to help the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which was considering moving out of state. Both bills received bipartisan support, including from Smiddy’s fellow Democrat, Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline.
“My opponent is intentionally misinforming voters in an attempt to confuse them and smear me,” Morthland said in a news release. “Smiddy’s false mailers don’t even provide sources for his attacks, which makes it clear that he is lying about my record.”
Smiddy’s campaign wouldn’t take questions about Morthland’s criticism of the mailers, but it issued a statement late Thursday afternoon.
On the Clean Line project, the campaign pointed to a Morthland quote in the Quad Cities’ Dispatch-Argus in March.
“My neighbors are not very excited about [the project],” he told the newspaper. “But I think it is good for jobs and good for opportunity. And there will be payment made to property owners, and that will be helpful.”
In the same story, Jacobs said he supported the project.
Jacobs said once the Farm Bureau went from neutral on the project to against, he changed his position.
“I’m generally supportive of any project that brings jobs,” he said.
As for the federal issues, the Smiddy campaign pointed to a quote in a Sauk Valley Media interview in which Morthland said he was a “conservative Republican and generally would be a platform guy.”
Because of that, the Smiddy campaign linked Morthland to positions in the Republican platform.
But Morthland said he hasn’t taken positions on the federal-level issues.
“To say I’m a platform Republican doesn’t mean I’m deeply engaged in every plank,” Morthland said. “My job is to represent the 71st District and deal with state issues.”
‘Sleazy attacks from shadowy front groups’
Morthland noted the more than $25,000 in donations to Smiddy’s campaign from Protecting America’s Retirees. Little can be found on the Internet about the group. But the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics indicates that it’s a liberal-leaning political action committee that has exclusively supported Democrats.
The center lists Edward F. Coyle as the treasurer. Coyle also serves as executive director of the Washington-based Alliance for Retired Americans, a nonprofit organization with more than 4 million members, many of whom are affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
Alliance spokesman David Blank said Protecting America’s Retirees is an independent project of the alliance.
“Mike Smiddy is someone we’re supporting because he is pro-senior,” Blank said.
Morthland said “shadowy Super PAC allies” such as Protecting America’s Retirees are backing Smiddy’s effort to “smear my reputation and distort my record.”
Protecting America’s Retirees doesn’t disclose its donors.
“These sorts of sleazy attacks from shadowy front groups are the problem with politics day,” Morthland said in the news release.
The Smiddy campaign called Protecting America’s Retirees an independent group and said it had nothing to do with the group’s mailers.
In his statement, Smiddy defended the mailers.
“This is another case of Rep. Morthland trying to deflect attention from his own record and statements,” he said.