Analysis: The facts behind the TV ads in Christian Mitchell and Jay Travis’ race for the 26th District

Stills from TV ads praising and criticizing 26th District candidates Christian Mitchell and Jay Travis.
Stills from TV ads praising and criticizing 26th District candidates Christian Mitchell and Jay Travis.


Staff Writer

Illinois’ 26th District race has taken to the TV airwaves.

Using a fundraising advantage in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, incumbent state Rep. Christian Mitchell’s (D-26) campaign has released two television ads, while the Chicagoans United for Economic Security (CUES) political action committee has spent almost $90,000 on an ad blasting him and touting his opponent, Jay Travis.

Mitchell Ad No. 1

Synopsis: This ad focuses on gun violence. It begins with Mitchell recalling his childhood awareness of guns and the danger they represented. Spliced with footage of a man walking with a rifle, sneakers hanging from an electrical wire and a basketball game viewed from behind a chain link fence, Mitchell tells viewers “my priority is gun violence, because it all starts with public safety.”

He then adds that banning high-capacity clips and assault weapons, closing background check loopholes and spending on after school programs “are the things we know can make a difference for our kids.”

Analysis: Rather than a list of accomplishments, this ad is a brief sketch of Mitchell’s stance on guns. Mitchell, who voted in 2013 to not to override Gov. Quinn’s veto on the bill that legalized concealed carry of firearms this year, has long championed gun control.

During the General Assembly’s last session, the Illinois House failed to ban assault weapons, a move Mitchell supports. Illinois hasn’t yet banned high capacity clips, but Mitchell did sponsor a bill that required firearm vendors to check buyers for their Firearm Owners Identification.

Mitchell Ad No. 2

Synopsis: This ad takes on a more negative tone, comparing Mitchell’s record with Travis’ platform, and warning voters they stand to lose if the challenger is elected.

It does not feature footage of Mitchell, instead relying on a quivering male narrator voice laid over mostly ominous music, as a hand guides us through an iPad slideshow. The narrator begins by claiming Travis has been “smearing” Mitchell, and then providing viewers with the “truth”: that Mitchell worked to “save a public pension system bankrupting Illinois and undermining retirement security” and “strengthen teacher pensions.”

The ad then alleges that Travis has proposed a property tax increase that would result in a doubled burden on homeowners and deep cut to services, and that she is “outrageous” and “wrong for us.”

Analysis: The ad’s main claim – that Mitchell saved the pension system – is a matter of perspective, echoing Mitchell and other Democrats’ claims that last year’s pension reform bill prevented the State from becoming insolvent.

Even if Mitchell’s could rightly argue that he has strengthened teacher pensions by co-sponsoring HB 3711 – an amendment to the Chicago Public Schools Article of the Pension Code – the bill remains stuck in the House Rules Committee. And needless to say, on the heels of last year’s pension reform deal, Chicago teachers aren’t happy: The Chicago Teachers Union is one of Travis’ top donors, and their leader, Karen Lewis, has been outspoken in her criticism of Mitchell.

The claim that Travis is proposing doubling property taxes, however, is an exaggeration. The statement is based on a Tribune questionnaire in which the candidate stated her opposition to the General Assembly’s pension reform bill. Mitchell’s campaign claims – using a Sun Times editorial from last October as proof – that her opposition would result in higher property taxes and a cut to services. But this claim relies on a quote by Mayor Emanuel and a statement by the Sun Times editorial board, and Travis has never said she would seek to generate revenue for pensions by doubling property taxes.

Anti-Mitchell/Pro-Travis Ad

Synopsis: The Chicagoans United for Economic Security PAC – a group funded in part by the Chicago Teachers Union, which has endorsed Travis – has run an ad dovetailing with messages in its mailers that Mitchell has betrayed his electorate in favor of special interest money.

“He sold us out,” a foreboding male narrator says. “Christian Mitchell is supposed to have our back. Instead, he raided our pensions.” For betraying the workers, he adds, Mitchell received “$47,000 from corporate special interests out to cut pensions.”

Labelling Travis “a better choice,” the narrator touts her as a community leader that will “protect” pensions and schools and “put our families first.”

Analysis: Whether or not this ad rings true depends on the interpretation of the language used. The accusation that Mitchell has raided pensions all boils down to whether one believes that last year’s pension reform bill – supported by many Democrats – constitutes theft. While Mitchell and others have framed the legislation as a necessary move in order to protect the state’s system from insolvency, conservatives and progressives alike have argued that the bill was either unconstitutional or an unconscionable default on a promise made in good faith.

The “$47,000” claim, meanwhile, is true, in the sense that the We Mean Business political action committee has donated that amount total to Mitchell’s campaign since 2012. The group’s stated goal is “to promote fiscal responsibility in Illinois, including but not limited to, the adoption of legislation to reform public pensions in the State of Illinois through non-federal political activity.” But Crain’s Chicago Business’ Greg Hinz has interpreted the group’s real mission as being to “reduce pension benefits and/or require workers to pay more for them,” and a cursory review of the PAC’s recipients reveals a primarily Republican roster.