February 8, 2014. Harwood Heights, IL. In a sleepy little corner of Rep. Mike Quigley’s north Chicago Congressional District, a dozen of his constituents set an ambush for him at the Harwood Heights public library. The Congressman was scheduled to appear there for a separate function, but he took the time to talk to angry voters, mostly over TPP and Fast Track, but also America’s lone POW Bowe Bergdahl.
Rep. Quigley scratches his head in frustration this morning in Harwood Heights. Photo: Dan Moreno.
Your author was in the rare position today of being on-hand to talk to US Rep Mike Quigley (D-IL) at a community function in Harwood Heights. For perspective, it’s one of the two suburbs, along with neighboring Norridge, that are completely encapsulated inside the city of Chicago on the northwest side. It’s also part of Congressman Quigley’s district. And while the protesters he is used to are typically young, struggling, urban, renting independents, the group that lay in wait for him today was the exact opposite - older, half being seniors, homeowners and life-long Democrats. Ominously, both groups wanted to condemn Rep. Quigley over his support of the same issue - TPP.
Meeting Congressman Quigley
This author was torn between being an independent journalist today and being a decades-long resident of the 5th Congressional District - Rep. Mike Quigley’s district. I decided to be both. Arriving at the Eisenhower Public Library, there were already four or five people assembled waiting for the Congressman. Seeing your author’s ‘Nancy Wade for Congress’ button, they immediately approached to confirm we were all waiting for Rep. Quigley.
As more and more people arrived, no more than 15 total by the end of the hour-long visit, it became apparent that assembled before me were about 6 angry residents, 6 battle-hardened grassroots activists from progressive groups like Citizens United, and 3 bulging young body guards with black ‘Security’ tee shirts on. No noticeable Libertarians, Greens, or independents - just angry Democrats.
Stunned, your author mentioned to the Congressman’s lovely staffer Melanie, “Pretty hostile considering they’re all Democrats and his voter base.” It wasn’t an understatement either. The assembled crowd took turns berating Rep. Quigley over his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and giving the President ‘fast track’ authority over the very same international trade agreements.
Quigley corrects the crowd
Speaking softly and with his hands up to hush the angry mob, Rep. Quigley immediately tried to challenge the protesters’ premise. “What makes you think I support TPP?” the Congressman asked the crowd, “I didn’t sign onto either letter, not the one that’s in favor of it or the one that opposes it.” With silence from the crowd, your author offered, “The newspaper articles that quoted you recently.”
Specifically, when previously asked about the TPP agreement, Rep. Quigley was quoted in a recent edition of Crain’s Chicago Business saying, “This is a global economy. If you're not at the bargaining table, if you don't get an agreement, someone else does." He defended that quote today saying, “That doesn’t mean I support TPP. I’ll tell you the same thing I told President Obama when he asked me - I’m going to wait to read it first before I make up my mind.” The Congressman went on to attempt to prove he was for ‘fair trade’ not ‘free trade’ by citing the fact that he voted against two of the three international trade agreements he’s had the opportunity to vote on, “because they weren’t good for America.”
When pressed for a position on ‘fast track’ trade authority, he had the exact same response - he wants to read the specifics of the Bill first. But just as his past statements suggest he will vote for TPP, his statements today suggest he will also vote for ‘fast track’. “Every President since Eisenhower has had fast track authority,” the Congressman informed the crowd or saying something similar to that effect. Some of those present disagreed with him. But in the end, they agreed to disagree over the history.
On the specifics
When pressed by his angry constituents for more specific information regarding his position on TPP and fast track, Congressman Quigley would only revert back to his original disclaimer. He repeatedly told the crowd that he wasn’t going to take a position on a piece of legislation that he hasn’t read yet, or in this case, doesn’t even exist yet.
When asked why 400-plus other members of Congress could take a position one way or another but he couldn’t, he again repeated his disclaimer and added the revelation that many members of Congress are supporting their own conjured-up versions of what the trade deal may or may not eventually include. For his part, Quigley said there were over a thousand aspects to a global trade deal and he wasn’t about to go down the list one by one explaining which potential version he may be for or against.
Illustrating that, Quigley explained that he has the UAW and other auto workers unions in his office saying the same thing, ‘Don’t support it if Japan isn’t kicked out of the 13-nation treaty.’ Apparently, American auto workers are either afraid of competing with their Japanese competitors on the supposedly level playing field TPP may create. Or they’re afraid of the crooked anti-American playing field TPP may create in favor of Japanese manufacturers.
With the TPP treaty still being written in secret, nobody knows for sure what’s in it anyway. Your author tried to present the secrecy of TPP as reason enough to oppose it. But Rep. Quigley merely glanced at his November opponent Nancy Wade’s button on my lapel, smirked, rolled his eyes at me and ignored the question, moving on to the next constituent who repeated the same question again to his disbelief. It was like that for 45 minutes - 15 people barraging Quigley with the same 4 or 5 questions over TPP and ‘fast track’.
Bowe Bergdahl and the media
In the end, 11 of the 12 constituents present opposed TPP vehemently while one seemed to be a ringer, seed, plant, or whatever term you want to use. She took up half the group’s allotted time to ask three questions in a row, which really weren’t even questions, only rave endorsements of the Congressman’s awesomeness. At that point, your author butted in again, apologizing for the interruption, but pointing out, “That’s her third question in a row. There’s thirty of us here waiting to ask a question.”
At that instant, I was put on the spot but suggested someone else get a turn, not necessarily me. But after being encouraged by a few of my fellow attendees who seemed to appreciate my public show of affinity for Food and Water Watch and the Green’s Nancy Wade, I stepped up to an obviously resentful Congressman Quigley and asked my question.
“What about Bowe Bergdahl, Congressman? America’s lone POW?” your author nervously announced loud enough for every person present to hear it plainly, “He’s been held captive for four and a half years.” Sincerely wanting to know what he thought, I first began, “What can you do to.” I stopped myself, deciding to be as serious as the seriousness of the cause and put my US Congressman on the spot.
“What have you done to help bring Bowe Bergdahl home?” I bluntly asked him. But Rep. Quigley quickly and smugly brushed off the question before I finished asking it. Like so many other times the previous hour, he tried to disagree with the facts of the questions being asked insisting, “We have a lot of individuals who are being held captive that we’re trying to get back.”
“No!” I sternly but quietly took back the conversation as he turned to take another one, knowing full well we were in a library with muscle-bound security guards giving all of us dirty looks, “We have only one POW, just one, Bowe Bergdahl, taken in Afghanistan four and a half years ago. It’s time for him to come home.”
With a confused look on his face as if he were searching the rolodex of names in his head, and oblivious looks of curiosity from all the anti-TPP folks present, Congressman Quigley quickly turned to his staffer and asked, “Can you pull the file on that? Can you get our notes on that?” He then assured me they would get back to me after the meeting at some point with the information. Knowing I was going to get an email about TPP, your author then reiterated, “Bowe Bergdahl, not TPP. I’m against TPP too. But I’m here for Bowe Bergdahl, America’s only POW/MIA.”
One moment that sticks out is when Congressman Quigley broke from his usual soft-spoken voice to speak over the crowd saying, “I don’t live in the same world you do!” It was a Kodak moment for his Green Party opponent if anyone had gotten it on video. But he quickly finished his thought saying, “I live in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where they will stop anything we try to accomplish.” The obviously progressive crowd cut him some slack and looked past his poor choice of words since they seemed to be sympathetic to the sentiment.
Another humorous moment worth mentioning was in the opening seconds of the gathering when Rep. Quigley walked up to us. He informed us all this wasn’t a town hall meeting, just an informal chance to talk plainly to each other. “Unlike last Saturday,” the Congressman grudgingly said. Paraphrasing again, he added, “You picketed me.” At first, your author thought that was funny, in a grassroots protester kind of way. But then Congressman Quigley said something remarkable. “Nobody ever bothered to call and ask for a meeting,” he said of last Saturday’s anti-TPP protest outside his north side Congressional office, “Nobody ever even tried to contact me.”
Before your author stepped away to talk to the Congressman’s wonderful staffer Melanie, the crowd was treated to Rep. Quigley stopping the entire public gathering and demanding that the photographer from Univision (WGBO-TV) turn off his camera. He was the only official member of the media in attendance and even had his press badge displayed around his neck and hanging from a lanyard. Readers can find one of those banned pictures at the top of this article, compliments of the generous nature of that photographer from Univision, Dan Moreno.
"The news shouldn't be left wing or right wing, conservative or liberal. It should be the news. It should be independent" - Mark Wachtler, Illinois Herald owner/editor
For a glimpse into America’s ‘free press predicament’, consider this fact. There are two official candidates in November’s General Election for the 5th Congressional District - the Green’s Nancy Wade and the Democrat’s Mike Quigley. At any of the Wade campaign functions, your author and the Illinois Herald are officially members of the media, complete with press credentials. But at a Congressman Quigley function, this publication is simply a blog, without the rights and protections granted to America’s free press. Just an interesting observation.
In the end, Rep. Quigley supports global free trade agreements, just maybe not TPP. And he also supports a Bill giving the Executive Branch ‘fast track’ trade authority, just maybe not the final version of this one. Congressman Quigley doesn’t seem to know who POW Bowe Bergdahl is, but he knows there’s a bunch of Americans being held out there somewhere. When we receive the promised statement on America’s lone POW from Rep. Quigley, we’ll let you know.
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