Candidate Kugler rebuffs special interests

Ann Knef Jan. 20, 2006, 4:16am

Jay Hoffman

The contest for state representative in the 112th District is not expected to be a top-tier, battleground race--it more closely resembles a David vs. Goliath match-up.

Compare Democratic incumbent State Rep. Jay Hoffman's $671,291 war chest to Carol Kugler's $992-- as of the last campaign reporting period -- and seasoned observers would dismiss Kugler's chances outright.

Add the power of Hoffman's close-knit relationship with Governor Rod Blagojevich and the influence he wields as chairman of the House Transportation Committee. By those measures, he has reason to be confident.

Hoffman, 44, of Collinsville, knows his way around Springfield and how to win elections.

In 2004, Hoffman got 88 percent of the vote to independent write-in candidate Kugler's 12 percent. The district primarily encompasses Madison County and a northern portion of St. Clair County.

Hoffman has handily defeated opponents in the last four elections.

The last time Hoffman was seriously challenged was in 1998, when Republican candidate Steve Reeb won 45 percent of the vote.

The last time House Republicans formally challenged Hoffman came in 2000 when recruited candidate Ginny Ryan won only 41 percent of the vote.

In 2002, Hoffman trounced Republican Terry Wright, who only got 31 percent of the vote.

In 2004, Hoffman got 38,813 votes to Kugler's 5,368.

But that general election was different. It will be remembered as the year legal reform began its march, by the election of Lloyd Karmeier to the Illinois Supreme Court.

While the number of votes earned by Kugler pale in comparison to Hoffman's, hers were earned the hard way. As a write-in candidate, her numbers were impressive because she compelled 5,368 people to take action on her candidacy which was undeniably a referendum on medical liability reform.

Carol Kugler, 61, a self-proclaimed moderate independent and wife of an outspoken activist physician, once again is mounting a challenge to incumbent Hoffman on the Republican ticket. Confident that she can carry the party's vote, which could net her approximately 45 percent of the vote total, she also hopes to attract traditional Democrat voters.

This time, Kugler, a retired teacher from Collinsville, emphatically says that she is not a single-issue candidate. Tax and ethical reform also will be discussed in her campaign, as will the need for further legal reforms she believes will encourage economic growth in the region and state.

She also doesn't plan to let Hoffman off the hook for his support of the medical liability reform package passed in the last General Assembly. The bill that was ceremoniously signed into law by the governor last August--Hoffman at his side-- caps non-economic damage awards at $500,000 for doctors and $1 million for hospitals.

"He turned around on that," Kugler said. "He fought it tooth and nail and in the 11th hour he changed his mind. He sent out a mailer claiming responsibility and got in on the photo op."

Kugler says she wants a ticket to Springfield so that she can make a difference.

"I'm a 61-year-old school teacher," she said. "I am not so concerned about my political career. I'm not too concerned about being re-elected. I'm more for what people want rather than donations."

"As doctors say, they work for their patients," Kugler said. "That's what legislators ought to be doing, working for the people, not the private corporations and biggest donors."

Kugler, whose last campaign had the backing of a grassroots political action committee, said she expects the same from a strengthened and better organized SMASH (Statewide --formerly Southern Illinois-- Medical Alliance for the Survival of Healthcare).

Founded by her husband, Morris Kugler, M.D. a Metro-East general surgeon, SMASH tapped the medical community to get politically involved in Karmeier's election. The doctor-patient relationship proved to be a powerful dynamic at the polls.

In addition to the bi-partisan SMASH support, Kugler plans to heed the political advice of close family friend Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, (R-Okawville).

"I have an excellent mentor," she said. Kugler said she holds Luechtefeld and another family friend, Lloyd Karmeier, in the highest ethical regard.

Morris Kugler, Luechtefeld and Karmeier played high school basketball together for the Okawville Rockets.

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