I received an envelope in the mail today. The return address indicated that it was from the office of the aforementioned Ms. Topinka. Before opening it, I scrutinized the exterior of the envelope and noticed two unusual things: My name and address were carefully handwritten rather than machine printed; and most intriguingly, the postage was for the full first class rate of 39 cents rather than the bulk rate, so it was with a heightened sense of curiosity that I opened the envelope. Inside were two items. The first was a glossy-coated little pamphlet with Ms. Topinka’s face on the front, accompanied by the words “From Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka.” Opening the pamphlet revealed the following brief text, printed in good old Palatino bold: “Of Interest To You: Dear Friend, While reading the newspaper, I came across this article which I found of particular interest and thought you might enjoy seeing it.” This was followed by a reproduction of Ms. Topinka’s signature, as well as a huge copy of the Illinois state seal. The other item in the envelope was a newspaper clipping from the Chicago Tribune of Sunday, March 12. It was my Irish pub song, “The Wake of Seamus O’Shea,” which I wrote about in this journal a few weeks ago!
What to make of this remarkable artifact? Well, I’m not so naïve as to think that there’s no connection between this being sent out and the election campaign that is just beginning to kick into full gear, and there’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself; it is, after all, a positive, cheerful note from an elected official, and there’s certainly not enough of that going around. It beats the heck out of listening to her attacking her opponent, so I’ll give her some points for that. But there are a few other facts that ought to be noted as well. There is no mention whatsoever of her status as candidate for governor, and no statement at all regarding her party affiliation or political philosophy. And those are probably very necessary omissions, because you see, there is a bit of fine print at the bottom of the pamphlet which reads, “Printed by the Authority of the Treasurer of the State of Illinois.” So, just to be clear about this, the mailing was apparently not paid for by her election committee; it was apparently paid for by we the taxpayers of Illinois, since she is sending this out as Treasurer. I will generously assume that she has the right to do so under the rules of her office, but it seems pretty obvious that this is a bit of soft-sell electioneering legally disguised as a bit of community outreach by our distinguished Treasurer. I will not speculate here and now as to what role the Tribune might have played in passing along my address to her office, since there are probably any number of methods her office could legally employ to obtain that information. And to reiterate, I don’t have a problem with the message, but I have a problem with exploiting legal loopholes for this sort of subtly partisan activity. Please understand this: I have voted for Republicans, Democrats, and nobody at all in various elections, so this isn’t about partisan politics on my part. But I feel that any person of intelligence who sees this, who isn’t blinded by partisanship, will feel the way I do, as if this politician is assuming that I’m stupid enough not to realize what they’re doing.
I’m not going to mail anything back to my new pen pal, Judy. But if we’re all that close, she may look in this journal, so this last statement is for her benefit:
Hey Judy, Chuck here. Glad you liked my song! After this election is over, why don’t you drop me another line. I want you to know that I’ll be impressed as hell if you do! In the meantime, please ask your people to take a hard look at what they’re doing on your behalf. I know, I know . . . your opponent is probably using the office of the governor to carry out P.R. projects of a similar nature that we taxpayers are also subsidizing, but Judy, let’s keep this discussion local – I haven’t received anything from him – only you. If your philosophy is that you are entitled to the same abuses of the system as your opponent, well, you’re not exactly claiming the moral high ground, are you? Maybe I’m setting the bar too high to even ask for a true sense of ethics from someone in your position, but I want you to know what kind of a buddy you’ve acquired in me. I will continue to look and hope for a renewed sense of ethical conduct from you and your people, and I wish you all the success you deserve in the coming election.