Kugler officially announces in political minefield

Steve Gonzalez Mar. 15, 2006, 4:24pm

Carol Kugler, candidate for state representative in the 112th District

She called it her official announcement, but it was more like a re-assertion of candidacy.

On the steps outside Madison County's Courthouse, Carol Kugler, 61, of Collinsville officially announced Wednesday that she would run against State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly in November.

But since Kugler filed her candidacy with the Illinois State Board of Elections on Dec. 19, 2005, she's had second thoughts.

When the most successful write-in candidate in the state's history chose the easier path to election -- appearing on the ballot -- she had no idea she was stepping into a political minefield.

As it turns out, her opponent is receiving support from the Illinois State Medical Society for his crucial about-face vote on medical liability reform last year -- but the local medical societies, of which her activist husband Morris Kugler, M.D. belongs, will not support Hoffman.

In the final days of the 2005 legislation session when it appeared that a reform package would once again fail, Hoffman -- a powerful House member, who's closely aligned with the governor, and a trial attorney who fought against capping non-economic damages for doctors and hospitals -- changed his mind.

Hoffman, of counsel with the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River, has said his vote was based on the need to address access to healthcare.

More than 160 physicians have left their practices in the Metro-East because of skyrocketing malpractice insurance rates.

At a recent St. Clair County and Madison County Medical Society meeting, doctors were told that the Illinois State Medical Society was not pleased with Carol Kugler's decision to run against Hoffman.

The ISMS contributed $2,500 to Hoffman's campaign last year, several months after the caps bill was signed into law.

In 2004, Kugler, touting tort reform, ran a write-in campaign against Hoffman in which she garnered more than 6,000 write-in votes -- the most of any write-in candidate in Illinois history.

Her campaign was helped by SMASH, a political action committee co-founded by surgeon Morris Kugler, which has flexed considerable political muscle over the last two years by helping elect Lloyd Karmeier to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2004 and driving medical liability reform.

SMASH's roots are grounded in the Metro-East, the epicenter of the state's physician exodus crisis, but include medical professionals from all over the state.

Morris Kugler has said that Hoffman "is a thorn in the side" of Metro-East physicians and medical liability reform.

At a recent fund-raising event, candidate Kugler said she had given some consideration to stepping down, but decided to press forward on principle.

She plans to focus her campaign on three major topics, tort reform, tax reform and fiscal responsibility and ethics reform.

At her announcement, Kugler told gatherers that Illinois ranked as the 46th worst state in legal fairness. "The problem can be traced to the way we choose our judges," Kugler said.

Kugler says she will push for a bi-partisan committee to choose judges as they do in Kansas, or place a limit on how much could be donated and spent by judicial candidates.

"Anything that will get away from the system of buying judges that we have would be better," Kugler said.

Kugler also said that the funding of education in Illinois is not adequate.

"Because Illinois is the second highest state out of 50 states in local funding, we must develop a new funding formula for education in Illinois that will make education opportunities across the state more equitable and lower property taxes."

Kugler also said that Illinois cannot afford to fund pre-school for three- and four-year-olds when K-12 is not properly funded.

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