State Sen. Bill Brady, the Bloomington Republican running for governor in the Illinois Republican primary, isn't your typical lawyer politician.
He runs a construction business and can do math with a pencil on a two-by-four. After all the trite commercials from another candidate about the hair of disgraced former Democratic Gov. Bouffantovich, it's plain arithmetic that could figure in the GOP primary. It revolves around the numbers 6 and 1.
"Mathematically, this makes sense, but what boggles my mind is that in our polls, 50 percent of the people in the Chicago metropolitan area say they're more likely to vote for a candidate who comes from the outside," he told me.
We were sitting over lunch at Ditka's. Naturally, I was compelled to order the pork chop. It was extremely tasty. Brady, now running from the center-right, asked for meatloaf. Having grown up in the food business, I never order meatloaf. Ever. It's just like ordering a Ham Salad Surprise. You never really know. And I thought conservatives were skeptics.
Bill, you don't get meatloaf at home?
"Why? Is there something wrong with meatloaf?" he said, digging in. "This is delicious meatloaf. I love meatloaf."
And he chomped on some to prove it.
This column on Brady is one in a series of pieces on the candidates running for governor. The Democrats were first in line, and now the Republicans are getting their say. My big idea was to let them do the talking and introduce themselves to readers, and to try to curb my sarcasm until after Thanksgiving.
But at least one of the candidates is using one of the columns to suggest I've endorsed him: State Sen. Kirk Dillard, the Republican from Hinsdale, caught a headline that said "Dillard a rare find in Illinois politics." The headline was about our steaks, not his politics, but my army of spies tells me he's been repeatedly mentioning "Kass says I'm a rare find!" at candidate forums, as if I'm in his corner.
Endorsements aren't my job. And politicians savvy enough to run for governor know that we don't write the headlines over our columns. So if I were Dillard, I wouldn't play such lawyerly word games. I told this to Brady while repeatedly piercing my pork chop with a forked vengeance best served cold.
"OK," Brady said. "I get it."
Hey, I'm just saying.
Brady, 48, runs his construction and real estate management business with his brothers. He was first elected to the Illinois House in 1993, and has been in the state Senate since 2002. Though a career pol now, he also works for a living.
"The No. 1 issue isn't taxes. It isn't health care, education. It's employment," Brady said. "People in Illinois are worried if they're going to have their job tomorrow. It's an 85 percent issue."
To that end, he advocates giving tax credits to small businesses for creating new jobs, eliminating the so-called death tax and cutting the bloated state budget by 10 percent.
"We need to make Illinois a competitive place to live and work," Brady said. Whether he can do it, I can't say.
In 2006, he ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination and wouldn't stand up to what I still consider the corrupt elements of the Republican Party. I didn't think he had a chance, and I figured he would split the conservative vote, allowing Judy Baar Topinka to polka dismally toward failure and give former Gov. Rod Blagojevich another term before he was indicted. And that's what happened.
But I figure that we're all entitled to a mistake, and he's older and wiser now. The other conservatives in the race are political newcomer Adam Andrzejewski and the rapier-tongued pundit Dan Proft.
I asked Brady about the state of the Republican Party, still broken by the appetites of imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan, and by the reach of Combine masters like Blagojevich's co-defendant, Springfield Republican boss William Cellini.
"The reality is that Democrats aren't philosophical, and they'll embrace their nominee regardless of where they are on the issues," Brady said. "But Republicans in their core are pro-life, pro-marriage, anti-tax, anti-corruption and anti-gambling. And they feel that candidates who aren't these things are hypocritical. And they won't support them. So to win this election, a candidate has to bring the party together.
"Our nominee [Topinka] lost 30 percent of the people who called themselves Republican conservatives. And the middle is not partisan, not philosophical, and at the end of the day they look for a candidate who is supported by their party, as long as they're not scary," Brady said.
Brady is working overtime not to be scary. And then I looked at the meatloaf on his plate. Eureka! Meatloaf isn't scary, is it?
But then, like that Ham Salad Surprise, you just never know.