ALTON — William Enyart believes his military and business experiences qualify him to replace U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, his fellow Belleville Democrat.
Enyart visited The Telegraph newsroom during a stop last week in Alton, where he spoke with Mayor Tom Hoechst.
“We discussed some of the issues that are really of concern to him — the new high-speed rail, all of the infrastructure improvements that have gone on here, the marina, the locks and dam — all the great things that Jerry Costello helped bring to this district,” Enyart said. “The mayor is very concerned about losing Jerry’s seniority (in Congress). But we talked about the fact that if I’m elected to Congress, I’ll bring some instant credibility because of some of the things I’ve done.”
Costello announced last year that he would not seek re-election at the end of his current term, when he will have served 24 years representing Illinois’ 12th Congressional District. Brad Harriman won the Democratic primary in March for the right to face the Republican nominee, Jason Plummer of O’Fallon, in the Nov. 6 general election.
Enyart, 62, stepped down as adjutant general, a post that capped his military career, which began when he enlisted at the U.S. Air Force at age 19. He served four years on active duty at Scott Air Force Base, reaching the rank of sergeant, followed by two years of active time in the Air Force Reserves. Enyart then took a break from service to attend Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and political science in 1974. Five years later, he was awarded a law degree from Southern Illinois University School of Law in Carbondale.
He joined the National Guard in 1982, serving as a “drilling guardsman” on weekends for 25 years while he practiced law in Belleville. Five years ago, he took the full-time job as adjutant general.
“I would never have gone to college if it wouldn’t have been for the G.I. Bill,” he said. “My parents didn’t have any money. I worked at Caterpillar Tractor Company in welding. I got through college because of the G.I. Bill and part-time jobs.”
Enyart said his experience as Illinois adjutant general helped prepare him to be a congressman.
“In my career, particularly over the last five years, I’ve had to work with Congress and the state Legislature on federal budgeting issues,” he said. “The National Guard in Illinois had about a $650 million a year budget. We built new facilities during my tenure. We built new armories in Shiloh, Mount Vernon and Carbondale. We built a fire station in Shiloh and air base facilities at Scott Air Force Base.
“That’s real-world experience,” Enyart said. “My opponent (Plummer) claims to be an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy. What he doesn’t say is he’s a lieutenant junior grade. There’s no comparison in responsibilities between being a lieutenant junior grade and a major general. If he were at the Pentagon, they wouldn’t let him make coffee, frankly.”
Plummer, who is the son of prominent Edwardsville businessman Robert Plummer, touts his business experience as a qualification for Congress. But Enyart believes his own business experience is more relevant to the job.
“For nearly 30 years, I ran a small business; I had my own law firm,” Enyart said. “I paid the secretaries’ salaries, I paid their taxes, their FICA. I had the experience of making sure that every bill was paid before I took a dollar out. I created some jobs. I had four and five and six people working for me at times.
“To my knowledge, my opponent has never earned a paycheck anywhere but in his father’s company. I think that it’s great that his father has a very successful company; good for Dad. That doesn’t make Jason Plummer a businessman. I’ve created more jobs in 30 years than Jason Plummer ever thought about creating. His Dad owns a big company; Jason Plummer has never created a job.”
Enyart has called on Plummer to release his income tax returns, which Plummer refused to do during his 2010 race as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor and has not done this year.
“When you go to Congress, you get to write tax laws, you get to write budgets, or you at least get to vote on budgets,” the Democratic candidate said. “If you’re not willing to discuss with people or show people how the tax law impacts you, how can you ask them to send you to Congress to write tax law?