Back in January, state Sen. Michael Frerichs formally kicked off his campaign for Illinois state treasurer and posted a video online touting the fact the he’d ended “free, lifetime health care for state legislators.”
Actually, Frerichs had voted against that bill in the General Assembly. Frerichs’ campaign had to pull the video and replace it with a new one, even though he’d been planning his formal launch for at least a year.
In April, Frerichs appeared to flip-flop on his long-standing position that the comptroller’s and treasurer’s offices should be merged.
“People have said to me,” Frerichs told a WBBM Radio interviewer, “’Wouldn’t it just be a lot more efficient if we just had one financial officer?’ And I’ve said yes, we could become very efficient, efficient like the city of Dixon, Illinois, who just had one chief financial officer and she was able, from this small little town, over several years to take something like $52 million away from them.”
Frerichs was quickly forced to restate his support for the office merger.
A few weeks ago, Frerichs was endorsed by the Illinois Education Association. At the kickoff tour, a Springfield reporter asked an official why her organization backed Frerichs over Republican state Rep. Tom Cross. The official quickly deferred to her union’s spokesman, who was mostly silent for 25 very long and uncomfortable seconds while he tried to come up with an answer. He eventually cited the union’s “long association” with Frerichs and Frerichs’ support for more state revenues.
Since at least February, Frerichs has been pushing an idea to make the treasurer’s investment fund more Illinois centric.
“The current Republican Treasurer has placed a premium on investments outside of Illinois and the U.S., over the benefits that can be gained from investing in our people, our infrastructure, and our businesses,” he wrote on a Daily Herald questionnaire published Feb. 14. Over and over since then, Frerichs has criticized incumbent Treasurer Dan Rutherford for investing Illinois dollars “overseas.”
But Frerichs either didn’t check the details of Treasurer Rutherford’s investment portfolio or didn’t think anyone else would because the one and only “overseas” investment in Rutherford’s portfolio is in bonds issued by the Israeli government.
Support for Israel has long been an important statewide political issue in Illinois, dating back to at least U.S. Sen. Charles Percy’s first win and then his 1984 loss to Paul Simon because Percy had allegedly become less supportive of the nation. Mark Kirk made a congressional career out of his unquestioning support for Israel, and that stance helped him defeat Alexi Giannoulias for U.S. Senate in 2010. There are other examples, but you get the idea.
So, last week, Tom Cross’ campaign blasted Frerichs for his investment proposal.
“One country that would be singled out under Frerichs’ plan is Israel,” a Cross press release noted. “The office of Treasurer currently has $25 million invested in foreign bonds, all with Israel.”
Treasurer Rutherford later confirmed that Israeli government bonds are the only overseas investment his office makes. So, if, indeed, Frerichs wants to divest the state treasurer’s portfolio of “overseas” investments, those Israel Bonds are the one and only instruments he could sell off.
Frerichs quickly sent out a statement noting that he’d co-sponsored a bill to encourage more purchases of the Israeli bonds, and attached a quote from several Jewish state legislators claiming that he was “among the most outspoken and vocal advocates for the State of Israel in the Illinois General Assembly.” The Frerichs campaign later issued a statement which said in part: “He would continue investing in Israel bonds as Treasurer. To say anything else is flat out wrong.”
But Cross’ hit was politically legitimate. He didn’t go overboard and frantically accuse Frerichs of being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, he merely pointed out a simple fact: Frerichs has repeatedly demanded overseas divestiture and in the real world that can only mean one thing, Israel bonds.
I wouldn’t expect that this easily preventable problem will go away any time soon.
Frerichs has earned a reputation for being a hardworking state legislator. He’s easy to talk to, but educated and ambitious. He raised a ton of money early on. The downstater worked overtime to keep all potential Chicago-area candidates out of the Democratic primary. Most Democratic primary voters are in Cook County, so that was a real coup for the Champaign County legislator.
But he’s obviously not living up to expectations. He needs to up his game.
• Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.