It’s been a couple of weeks since the McHenry County Board bucked Chairman Ken Koehler, State Senator Pam Althoff, State Rep. Mike Tryon and those who stand to gain financially from placement of video poker machines in local taverns and restaurants.
It’s time to tell the tale of how McHenry County Establishment got narrowly beaten in that fight.
The vote was close (13-10-1) and my guess is that video poker proponents will try to reverse that vote after new county board members are sworn in, if the people they back defeat anti-gambling incumbents like District 2’s Barbara Wheeler.
Video gambling was the first local issue taken on by Patriots United, the folks who coordinated the Independence Day TEA Party, picketed State Rep. Jack Franks’ office on a cold spring day about his sponsorship of a bill considered pro-abortion and gun control, held a well-attended forum on the Democrats’ health care reform, and co-sponsored with the McHenry County Young Republicans a candidates’ night for 8th congressional district GOP aspirants.
Members attended John Hammerand’s License and Liquor Committee meetings and sponsored a debate between proponents and opponents.
Then, Patriots United had a forum in Woodstock during which video poker machine salesmen debated three social conservatives:
- Tom Grey, the nationally- known Methodist minister who started out in Galena during the time the county board decided to site a riverboat in Jo Davies County and now Field Coordinator and National Spokesman for Stop Predatory Gambling
- Jim Blue, representing Illinois Church Action on Alcoholism and Addiction Problems
- David Smith, Executive Director of the Illinois Family Institute
They urged their members to contact county board members, but that was not what did the trick.
They used this robo call technique I first saw tobacco companies us in lobbying against cigarette tax hikes maybe ten years ago.
Call people, explain the issue and ask if they would like to speak to their county board member.
Since there are four county board members per district, how would that work?
The Illinois Family Institute selected six county board members considered to be approachable on the issue.
- Yvonne Barnes in District 1
- Jim Heisler in District 2
- Ed Dvorak in District 3
- Sue Draffkorn in District 4
- Jim Kennedy in District 5
- Dan Ryan in District 6
From 1,334 to 1,453 calls were made in each district.
From to 649 to 774 of the calls were answered by voters. After the recorded pitch, voters were asked to push a phone button if they wished to be transferred to their county board member.
There were over fifty transfers for all but one district.
From the time my father served on the county board, I can tell you that he never got that many calls on any subject. On some zoning matters, especially the landfill ones, he might have gotten fifty letters. One phone call on a subject was a big number back in the 1980’s.
Getting dozens of calls must have sounded like a tidal wave.
And it was. You can’t find an issue where that many constituents have contacted county board members by phone. Undoubtedly, some of them were friends and supporters of each member.
A little over half of the calls were answered in person; the rest went to answering machines.
Of the six county board members receiving calls, only Huntley’s Ryan, a Sun City resident, voted in favor of allowing video slot machines in establishments serving liquor in unincorporated McHenry County.
Barnes, Kennedy and Ryan are up for election this year. District 6’s Ryan is the only one with GOP primary opposition.
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Check out possible targets for the pro-gambling forces in this post.