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Who is Jim Allen?

Last week, Jim Allen from Farmersville got his 15 minutes of fame and more after he sent an incoherent yet offensive email to a blogger who supported Erika Harold. Rodney Davis’s campaign team quickly removed Allen’s name from the “Team Davis 2014” page on their website as the story went public.

According to the News-Gazette, Jim Allen’s worked for the Secretary of State’s office in Springfield since 1985 and is currently a storekeeper.  Jim Edgar was Secretary of State then, succeeded by George Ryan in 1991. Both administrations were known for having a lot of patronage employees. As a result of the 1990 Rutan decision by the US Supreme Court, patronage for most Illinois state jobs became less blatant than it was before. It’s likely that Republican political patronage helped Jim Allen get his job at the Secretary of State’s office.

A recent college graduate named Rodney Davis started at the Secretary of State’s office in the early 1990s after George Ryan had taken office. Ryan’s chief of staff, Scott Fawell, had taken corruption to a new level, and departments at the Secretary of State’s office were expected to meet quotas in terms of political contributions.  Davis also had strong Republican connections; in 1996, he was given leave from his job at the Secretary of State’s office to run for state representative. On Davis’ 1996 campaign disclosure forms, Jim Allen is listed as an in-kind contributor. Davis lost the race for state representative, but he and several other Ryan employees left the Secretary of State’s office to work for Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville).

Jim Allen stayed on, and in 1998, an astute politician named Jesse White became the first African American to be elected Secretary of State in 1998. Since Allen’s position was technically not subject to patronage (Rutan exempt), he could not be fired for political reasons. It seems unlikely that White’s administration would have been especially fond of Allen. The Secretary of State’s office has the job description for Allen’s position, Storekeeper, online here. Reading between the lines, it requires a high school diploma, some on-the-job training, and not much else in the way of skills or education. For someone who’s been there for over 25 years, Allen hasn’t gone too far.

Springfield and the surrounding area have had serious problems with racism. The 1908 race riots, sparked in part by a white woman falsely accusing a black man of sexual assault, resulting in lynchings and extensive property destruction. There was a lawsuit in the 1970s related to school segregation, and another one in the 1980s because the at-large city council system kept the city council overwhelmingly white.  The small towns outside Springfield are not exactly diverse.  Farmersville, where Jim Allen lives, is over 98% white. Montgomery County itself is about 95% white.

Rodney Davis was far more upwardly mobile than Jim Allen. He served as Shimkus’s project director and also worked briefly as acting executive director of the Republican party in Illinois. When Tim Johnson announced that he was stepping down after winning the 2012 primary, Davis was selected by a group of county chairmen. One of those was Jim Allen, who’d been elected chairman of the Montgomery County GOP that year after his predecessor had stepped down.  Davis narrowly defeated David Gill in fall 2012 and became the new congressman from IL-13 in January 2013.

Montgomery County has 42 precincts. There were no contested races for precinct committeeman in 2012, and in 18 of the precincts, nobody ran. In a couple more of them, nobody filed but there were a few write-in votes. That would have meant that maybe 26 elected precinct committeemen showed up at the party convention to select the next chair.  Chances are that Allen had little if any competition for party chair. In 2013, election results show that a James Allen ran against Joe Tischkau for Farmersville Village President and lost badly, receiving less than 14% of the vote.

Erika Harold, an African-American former Miss America with a Harvard law degree, clearly had political aspirations. However, many Republicans were shocked when she announced that she was challenging Rodney Davis on June 4. “Primarying” an incumbent without clear party support is a risky move that can make enemies.  Harold quickly acquired a “tracker,” someone who’s sent to take video of a candidate in hopes of getting damaging material. This tracker was likely sent by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), who would have wanted to eliminate a primary opponent to Davis.

Jim Allen was apparently incensed. When Doug Ibendahl posted an entry on his blog supporting Harold, Allen sent his infamous email, which Ibendahl then posted. GOP leaders were quick to disavow him, and Allen officially stepped down shortly thereafter.

Although nothing excuses Allen’s actions, many things explain them. Allen doesn’t seem like a bright guy, and he grew up in a time and place where racism was tolerated far more than it would be today. However, incivility has become increasingly common in politics. Campaigns and outside groups spent millions of dollars producing and airing attack ads. Rather than being an isolated aberration, Jim Allen is the epitome of the things that are wrong with politics today.

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