Willie Horton comes to Cass County

Judicial candidate teams with Hank Williams, Jr.

Enough about the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about judgeships closer to home, where things really matter.

Luke Thomas, the Republican candidate to replace retiring Cass County Circuit Court Judge Robert Hardwick, Jr., has created a campaign video that features mug shots of Deon McDonald and Deandre Douglas. Featuring images of Jesus, assault rifles, Hanoi Jane and other things prone to get rednecks worked up, the video plays on fear, and that’s where McDonald and Douglas come in.

The two men from Decatur got themselves arrested last Christmas Eve, and it sure sounded bad. After swiping four televisions from a Beardstown Walmart, they did something in the parking lot that made someone think that they were armed, according to news accounts. Sangamon County deputies spotted them as they neared Springfield and gave chase, with speeds approaching 100 mph as they zoomed through the heart of the city, then onto Interstate 72, where deputies, in an extraordinary display of common sense, stopped chasing before someone got killed.

Charges of robbery, burglary, aggravated assault and either using or implying the use of a firearm were dropped, with seven of the eight dismissals coming at the request of the state’s attorney. Steve Courtney, attorney for Douglas, says stuff about guns was based on a witness who wasn’t rock solid in what she saw. “There wasn’t much there,” Courtney recalls. “We’ve all seen worse matters than this one.” Both men pleaded guilty to theft. Douglas, who was behind the wheel, pleaded guilty to eluding police and was fined $345. And that would’ve been that, save for Thomas’ campaign video.

McDonald and Douglas are black, and Douglas has the misfortune of possessing serial killer eyes that would put Charles Manson to shame. And so Thomas included mug shots of both men in his video, along with headlines about other cases -- Beardstown Slashing Suspect Identified; Village On Edge After Armed Robber Forced Open Family’s Door. Hank Williams, Jr.’s rendition of “God and Guns” serves as voiceover:

There was a time we ain’t forgot

You could rest all night with your doors unlocked

But there ain’t nobody safe no more.

Cass County is fairly peaceful, according to the most recent Illinois State Police statistics, which show no rapes, homicides or robberies in 2015, when cops handled 15 burglaries and six car thefts. Instead of plastering mug shots of TV thieves on his video, Thomas could’ve chosen two Beardstown men arrested last spring on suspicion of robbing a Chandlerville gas station – after all, his video includes a headline about the heist, but without any pictures or names. The alleged armed robbers are Hispanic. Nineteen percent of the Cass County population is Hispanic, and that total includes folks who vote. Fewer than five percent of the county’s population is black. Even in his grave, Lee Atwater, the GOP operative who made Willie Horton a household name three decades ago, can do that electoral calculation.

Before succumbing to brain cancer in 1991, Atwater apologized for saying that he would turn Horton into Michael Dukakis’ running mate. Thomas, who intersperses photos of himself and his family between images of guns and Christ and criminals on his video, couldn’t be reached for comment. Nor could Timothy Wessel, Thomas’ opponent, who also represented McDonald in the Great Walmart Television Theft Caper. Cass County, it seems, is a small world.

You may be wondering: Where’s the video? On advice of counsel, we’re not posting it because we’re not sure that appropriate copyright releases were obtained from Williams – inquiries to the artist’s management are pending. Copyright infringement, aka stealing, is both a criminal and civil offense. Even a first-time offender can be sentenced to five years and fined $250,000 for publishing stuff without permission, and that doesn’t include civil penalties. Verdicts in lawsuits have reached eight figures. But you can see it by clicking this link: https://www.facebook.com/electlukethomascasscountyjudge/videos/266796934168284/

Here’s hoping that Thomas, who bills himself the best legal mind in the race, has followed the law and gotten Williams’ blessing to use the singer’s song. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that Williams got his you-know-what yanked from Monday Night Football in 2011 after comparing President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. Some folks thought that was racist, but, with Donald Trump in the White House, ESPN last year resumed using a Williams song about football as the intro to the weekly game.

Cass County is hardly a bastion of liberalism. As the Republican nominee, Thomas would appear the heavy favorite in a county where Trump prevailed with 64 percent of the vote in 2016. And so why would he post a video like this on his campaign's Facebook page? The only answer that makes sense is that this is how he truly views the world and how he thinks his fellow citizens see things. Either that, or he’s a hopeless suck-up straight from the Tricky Dick Nixon mold who would do or say anything to get a vote, even if he’s already ahead. Which should scare the bejeebers out of all of us, either way.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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