Republican Congressional candidate Joe Walsh almost didn’t make it to his long-awaited opportunity to take on Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean in public.
Not because he was tardy to Wednesday’s forum at Grayslake Central High School, but because he would not sign off on the long-established taping rule set down by the League of Women Voters of Lake County, which moderated the event. The rule, No. 12 of 13 on the one-page contract, forbid candidates, campaigns and supporters from recording the event or using it in advertising.
Walsh only consented after organizers informed him that the show would go on without him because Bean and Green Party candidate Bill Scheurer already had consented, according to multiple witnesses from the league and the other two campaigns. Scheurer said Walsh’s reticence was the main reason why the forum started 10 minutes late.
“It was bizarre, because he’s been hounding [Bean] for months to appear on stage with us, and he’s had these rules for weeks,” Scheurer said.
League Treasurer Mary Matthews said it took three tries to get Walsh to sign the form. Walsh’s staff had said they had submitted it some time prior, but Matthews said there was not enough time left to track it down and handed Walsh another.
Matthews said Walsh signed the form but circled the taping rule and wrote that it was not enforceable. Matthews said that was not acceptable and handed him another form, but Walsh did the same thing.
Walsh campaign manager Nick Provenzano said that the campaign was concerned about what it was being asked to abide by, because it would have no power over supporters who chose to tape the forum themselves.
“[Walsh] wasn’t sure how the League of Women Voters would be able to enforce that,” Provenzano said. “There are so many people out there with video cameras, and he wasn’t sure how [the league] would put the onus on our campaign.”
The rules are uniform among league chapters nationwide, Matthews said. The league does not endorse candidates and does not allow its forums to be used in political ads to prevent the appearance that it does. She said all three campaigns received the rules at least a month in advance, and that Walsh agreed to them when he appeared at a January league forum for the six-way Republican primary.
Organizers patrolled the aisles during the contentious forum and asked people videotaping it to stop. However, there are numerous clips of the event now posted online, especially of the crowd’s reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance when told it was not on the agenda.
Matthews and league organizer Diane Sanderson said Walsh agreed to sign the form as is once they told him that he could not go on stage without it. Scheurer and Bean spokesman Jonathan Lipman said that Walsh asked for time to confer with his team as the other candidates took to the stage.
“Since we had two candidates, we did not need him, and that’s when his tune changed,” Matthews said. “He was trying to play some games to influence the forum and tried to change the rules.”
But Provenzano alleged that the league did not have a firm grasp of its own rules, and that it was not until just before the forum that they decided that accredited news media would be allowed to film. The Northwest Herald videotaped the event without incident.
“Up until the start, there was a lot of confusion as to whether credentialed videographers would be allowed at all,” Provenzano said. “For them to say we were the cause of this is very bizarre.”
Scheurer said he would not have let Walsh go on at all had he been in the league’s position. Walsh’s late entrance, he said, allowed him to get an ovation from the 350-member crowd, which overwhelmingly backed the GOP challenger. Scheurer said he was surprised by Walsh’s handling of the situation.
“It’s not the Joe I know,” Scheurer said. “We’ve gotten to know each other through the campaign, but it was just weird, and it wasn’t the only weird thing that night.”