ST. LOUIS – The 10 applicants to be the Democratic nominee for a southern Illinois congressional seat are eligible to be interviewed publicly by a selection committee this weekend, the co-chairwoman of that panel said Tuesday without revealing the names of those vying for the job.
With 10 hopefuls submitting the required questionnaires by last Friday's deadline, it will be a crowded field of Democrats looking to take Brad Harriman's place on the November ballot. Harriman abruptly abandoned his bid for the 12th District seat, citing previously undisclosed medical reasons.
The time frame for the vetting process was lined out during a private teleconference Monday night with the selection panel made up of the district's county Democratic heads, who have a weighted say based on how many Democratic votes were cast in the March primary election in their counties.
During that conference call, the committee's members were handed various assignments, ranging undertaking from background checks of the 10 applicants to researching the district's voting patterns, said Barb Brown, the Randolph County circuit clerk heading the panel with retiring Rep. Jerry Costello.
Any of the 10 contenders can take part in the public interviews Saturday at the city hall in Chester, about 60 miles southeast of St. Louis, Brown said.
"Unless something happens, I think that vote would happen [Saturday] after the interviews are complete," she told The Associated Press.
Brown again declined to disclose names of those seeking to succeed Costello, saying the candidates deserved to retain their privacy until making themselves public during the interviews.
"Clearly, it's their option if they want to be public," she said. "It's the chairmen's feeling that if the people haven't put themselves out there, we wouldn't. It really isn't anything other than that."
Brown said the process of finding Harriman's replacement would be open and transparent. But the state's GOP chief argued that's been anything but the case.
"The selection committee has done a disservice to the voters of the 12th District by not releasing the number of applicants and their names," Illinois Republican Party chairman Pat Brady said in a statement Tuesday. "Members of the committee have spoken about potentially having a candidate by the end of the month and how 'quickly' they think they will be able to select a nominee. When choosing a nominee for Congress, is quickly and secretly really in the best interest of the voters?"
Brown waved off such criticism, touting the openness of Saturday's interviews and the belief "we're being very respectful of the people putting themselves forward in this process."
"We would never consider a vote for anyone unwilling to step forward before the public and the press," she said. "None of us have been in this situation before. We're trying to be careful and do it right."
The search for Harriman's replacement is following the same playbook Republicans employed last month, when GOP chairmen from the 14 counties in the newly created 13th District chose U.S. Rep. John Shimkus aide Rodney Davis as the November ballot replacement for longtime U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson. Johnson, citing family reasons, had dropped his re-election bid in the district stretching across parts of central and southwestern Illinois.
Davis was among four candidates the selection panel considered.
Harriman cited a worsening, surgery-requiring neurological condition for abruptly quitting the race against Republican lumber company executive Jason Plummer. Costello, a Democrat, last October said he would not seek another term after serving more than two decades in Washington.
So far, only William Enyart was known to have publicly declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, having stepped down after five years heading the Illinois National Guard. Enyart has never held elected public office.
Plummer has said he looked forward to having "serious, civil discussions" with whoever became Harriman's replacement. Plummer has declined requests since to weigh in on the Democrats' selection process.
Only two men, both Democrats, have represented the 12th District since World War II. The district stretches from the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis to the state's southernmost tip and encompasses a large swath of a chronically economically stressed territory.