Illinois politics can be tough. Just getting on the ballot this election cycle has proved to be difficult for many potential candidates. One political underdog is now trying take on House Speaker Mike Madigan and he says he wants people to know just how rigged the system is.
For Mat Tomkowiak politics is personal.
“My mother is schizophrenic and my brother is bipolar. I saw how their life was torn apart by the disease,” he says. “I saw how the system threw them away through no fault of their own.”
The 31-year-old openly gay Polish immigrant first tried to change the system through policy, pursuing his PhD at Princeton.
“The politicians I would speak to weren’t taking my advice seriously. They would take my advice throw it in the trash and then listen to whatever healthcare lobby told them to do.”
He now wants to run for congress. He’s also trying to get on the ballot for 3rd District State Central Committeeman. It is a post currently held by Madigan.
Tomkowiak says he went door to door collecting signatures. He only needed 100 to get on the ballot. A documentary film maker even followed him around.
“There’s this idea in the public that if you want to run for office, grab a clipboard, go to a train station and start collecting signatures. That’s a very naïve way to think about democracy. That’s not how it works.”
But that’s what he tried.
“I actually went door to door knocking, dragging a public notary with me through rain and snow and icy sidewalks, to get people to swear that they signed my petitions. Yes, they are real people. They are absolutely real.”
His petitions are now being challenged. A handwriting expert for Madigan has thrown many of the signatures out even though Tomkowiak has signed affidavits from registered voters.
“And he’s saying they don’t exist. They’re fake. No. those are real human beings who wanted change in our district and he’s erasing their voice.”
Election specialist Burt Odelson says he’s seen more petition challenges this election cycle than ever before.
“The election laws are very difficult in Illinois,” he says. “And if you don’t follow them precisely, you’re going to get a good lawyer on the others side (and) put you through the ringer.”
Steve Brown a spokesperson for Madigan says it’s not personal, it’s just about following the rules.
But Tomkowiak says the rules in Illinois are rigged.
“It shouldn’t be this way. You shouldn’t need a team of lawyers to get on a ballot.”
He doesn’t have a lawyer because he says he can’t afford one.
Thursday this case goes back in front of the Board of Elections. He will argue one last time why he should be on the ballot. The last person who challenged Madigan has filed a federal lawsuit. That suit claims Madigan put sham candidates on the ballot to split the vote.