Politics, pizza and promises
by Mike Kroll
The Zephyr, December 31, 2009
Colona pizza restaurateur Bobby Schilling is running unopposed in the February 2nd Republican primary for the long-shot opportunity to try to unseat two-term incumbent 17th District Congressman Phil Hare (D-Rock Island) in November. Schilling, a self-proclaimed “non-politician,” visited Galesburg Tuesday where he sat down for an interview at Kaldi’s Coffee House and Tearoom.
He was accompanied by his son, Terry, 22, who works in the family pizza place and also serves as the campaign’s manager and press secretary. Terry is a recent college graduate with a degree in political science and has worked on campaigns before, including the short-lived 2008 presidential effort of Kansas Senator Sam Brownback. Both father and son were friendly, articulate and personable and it quickly became clear that this campaign is a family affair. Married 24 years and the father of nine (with a 10th Schilling child due shortly after the February primary) Schilling is a staunchly pro-life Catholic who was motivated to run immediately following Barack Obama’s presidential election in November 2008 when Hare also won his second term unopposed.
“I was recruited by my family the day after the presidential election. My daughters were visually upset at the results and asked, ‘what are we going to do?’ I told my wife Christie that they were right, I had to do something. It was my time to step up and serve.”
His campaign materials include a favorite quote of Schilling’s by prolific 19th century American author and preacher James Freeman Clarke: “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.” He describes himself as “much more of a conservative than a Republican” and he has clearly been very influenced by ultra-conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck. A member of a Beck-inspired group calling themselves the “9-12 Candidates” <www.912candidates.org> whose motto is “the patriot standard should be the American standard,” Schilling signed a contract extolling nine principles and 12 values. These principles prominently feature God, patriotism, honor and justice along with a sacred commitment to spouse and family and a distrust of government.
“The founding fathers of America never envisioned professional politicians like we have today,” explained Schilling. “It was once an honorable and temporary civic duty to run for office with the goal of serving as well as representing the neighbors that elected you. But that hardly fits Congress today where our leaders make a career out of getting reelected losing touch with the people as they lose the servant’s heart.”
On his website <www.Bobby2010.com> he writes: “We can no longer ‘hope’ that our current representative will magically change overnight. We cannot afford to trust the same old empty promises. We want jobs, growth, and responsible government. We don’t need more taxes, spending, and government control. If we are ever going to get reform, growth, and more jobs to our district, then we need to elect new leaders. I am running for Congress because I want to bring jobs, reform and representation back to our district.”
Aside from their diametrically opposite political positions and parties, Phil Hare and Bobby Schilling share remarkably similar life stories. Both men come from humble working-class roots and both men have held both union jobs and union offices. Schilling was born in Rock Island “at the bottom of the hill” and, like Hare before him, graduated from Alleman Catholic High School. After attending Blackhawk College, Schilling worked for Container Corporation of America where he served as local union steward for the United Paper Workers International Union. He also served as treasurer of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and sold Prudential Insurance between 1987 and 1995.
In 1996 Schilling and his wife, Christie, opened Saint Giuseppe’s Heavenly Pizza in Moline. “I learned the pizza business from my little brother,” he says. By the size of his family, it seems clear that Christie has been pretty busy at home and left most of the pizza business to Bobby and the kids as they became old enough to help out. In addition to pizza, Schilling has been successful with other investments, including real estate. “The plan is that when I win this Congressional race, Terry will take over the pizza business. That gives him an extra incentive to win this campaign.” Schilling is a firm believer in term limits and has set a personal limit of no more than four terms in Congress for himself.
In fact, that is but one of the promises he says he will make to the voters of this district in his “Contract with Illinois.” This contract is still a work in progress that Terry promises should be ready sometime after the February primary, but five main points are already “pretty solid.” Schilling will not accept a Congressional pension nor will he participate in the Congressional health plan or accept raises while in office. Any money from raises while he serves in Congress will be donated to charities within the district. He is also committed to “provide constituent services that are second to no other congressional office.”
In this last point, Schilling was extremely complimentary to Hare’s predecessor, 12-term Democrat Lane Evans, for his commitment to constituent services but he feels that Hare isn’t maintaining the same level of service. “To me I don’t care what walk of life someone comes from or what their politics might be – if they are a 17th district constituent and need their Congressman’s help or support I promise to do everything in my power to address their needs. This must be any Congressman’s priority and it will be my first priority, I think this is a huge responsibility to which I will commit myself and my staff.”
Big government and wasteful spending are two of Schilling’s major issues and he believes that it is a Congressman’s duty to set the right example. That’s why he is making his contract with his constituents and also why he plans to spend less than the allowable $1.1 million office budget. “I’m not running to enrich myself, my family or my friends and there is no reason my staff members need to be paid princely sums while many folks in the district are barely scraping by. Wasteful spending and ever higher taxes are what really motivates this campaign.”
He wants to scale back government and return to the days of greater personal and community responsibility. He opposed the bailouts of big banks, insurance companies and the auto industry. And he sees Obama’s economic stimulus plan as “a tax giveaway to secure political support and expand welfare that has done little to create jobs or improve opportunity for Americans.” Schilling is a Reagan Republican who believes that government can never solve problems as well as the private sector and only makes things worse by trying.
He also is committed to transparency and enforced limitations on the spending of Presidents and Congress alike. “There is a reason we have a legally set limit on the national debt but we let the same people who love to spend our tax dollars simply raise that limit whenever they feel the need to spend more. That is why we must wrestle control of spending away from career politicians and focus on reducing the amount of money spent so we can reduce the tax burden on citizens and businesses.”
Health care is another issue that Schilling sees as critical. “It is the number one concern of people I have spoken to across this district. People want better coverage and more affordable coverage but they don’t want that coverage to be run by the government.” On his website Schilling writes: “The current 2,000-page bills many in Congress, including my opponent Phil Hare, are promoting are ridiculous. ...These bills focus on government control of the health care system, which will destroy the greatest system of care in the world by allowing bureaucrats to control it and driving doctors and nurses out of it. The government has horribly mismanaged the Medicare and Medicaid programs – these programs have widespread fraud and waste, and are headed into trillions of dollars of debt.”
Schilling believes that the best role that government can play in health care reform is to get out of the way of the private insurance industry. He would focus on tort reform and regulatory changes to promote creation of health insurance co-ops to make affordable health insurance available to more employers while reducing regulations on the health industry so they can better reduce costs. He believes that, like most things, people must assume a greater degree of personal responsibility for their own health care and related expenses. In his own case the Schilling’s utilize a private catastrophic health insurance plan costing just over $300 per month along with a family health savings account and managed frugality. Saint Giuseppe’s Pizza provides no health insurance to either the Schillings or any other employee.
“The government’s greatest responsibility is to protect its citizens. Our military must continue to have superior training and equipment, and our civilian leadership must be as committed to our security as our soldiers are.” Schilling is extremely critical of President Obama’s delay in providing the additional troops requested by General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan. He supported the war in Iraq and sees escalation in Afghanistan as absolutely necessary to our national security whereas Hare opposed the war in Iraq and has publicly called for withdrawal of American troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
On other traditional issues Schilling is very pro-life and pro-gun and he would like to see the federal government get out of regulating education. “Teaching students takes place at the local level, and that is where decisions regarding instruction and funding need to be made.” he supports family farms and believes that federal farm subsidies should go to such smaller farmers rather than “millionaire corporations” and he believes that the federal estate tax should be repealed because it makes it more difficult for such family farms, or small businesses, to be passed down from one generation to the next.
On two issues of special local concern, Schilling and Hare appear to agree, both are strong supporters of expanding and improving Amtrak and high-speed rail and both discriminate between free trade versus fair trade supporting the latter. Schilling points to Amtrak as a very good example of how he has learned much from meeting with constituents and elected officials in the district. He originally was opposed to Amtrak and the high-speed rail initiative but has seen the light. “There is no question in my mind now that Amtrak and high-speed rail are critically important to both the economy and the environment of the Midwest.” On his website Schilling notes: “Trade with other countries stimulates the economy and creates jobs by expanding markets for American business. However, we need to ensure that trade is fair for our businesses in our agreements with other nations.”
Just to demonstrate that Schilling is independent of the standard Republican platform, he told us that he would favor repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and that there should be no discrimination against gays in the military or any other government employment. However, with respect to energy policy and the environment, Schilling is firmly within the Republican fold. He strongly supports dramatically increased domestic production of oil and gas and his gut reaction to our initial question on the subject of energy was “Drill, baby, drill.” He quickly said that was just one way to reduce our dependence on overseas oil. He supports the revitalization and expansion of the American nuclear power industry. Additionally, he supports government incentives for conservation as well as development of new energy sources such as solar and wind energy.
“We must do what we can to be more efficient and less wasteful and to generate less pollution. I don’t believe that global warming is really a crisis or even that it’s influenced by man’s actions. Rather I believe nature is cyclical and the evidence is not yet compelling. But regardless of the truth of global warming, I also believe that we have a duty to minimize our environmental impact and to conserve wherever possible, because it is the right thing to do.”
Schilling is absolutely convinced that Phil Hare does not represent the constituents of the 17th district but getting that message out will not be easy. At this point, Schilling does not anticipate funding or assistance coming from the National Republican Congressional Committee. “We are running our own campaign.” As of the last federal report filing date, September 30th, Schilling had $10,963 in his campaign account and $10,000 in debt while Phil Hare had $642,878 in cash available. The average cost to win a contested Congressional seat is over $1 million.
Schilling is not deterred. He says he offers the real opportunity for improving the local economy while taming the federal government and when people meet him, they will agree. “I am a diamond in the rough as a potential congressman. Phil Hare has never faced someone like Bobby Schilling. I am totally committed to victory and will work tirelessly to make it happen because it is my kids’ future that is at stake.”