U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, on Wednesday accused his Democrat challenger, Cheri Bustos, of East Moline, of hiring activists from Chicago to disrupt one of his meetings.
Ms. Bustos said the accusation is false, and the Schilling campaign provided no specific support for the charge, made during a joint appearance of the candidates with the editorial board of the Rockford Register-Star.
The meeting in question was a Sept. 18 town hall forum in Freeport, where Rep. Schilling was greeted by protesting workers from Sensata Technologies, which is outsourcing 170 jobs from Freeport to China.
Tom Gaulrapp, a 33-year Sensata employee, asked Rep. Schilling if he would support a bill that would penalize firms that outsource U.S. jobs, a reference to the Bring American Jobs Home Act. Mr. Gaulrapp said he wanted a yes-or-no answer.
As Rep. Schilling began to talk about how he wrote a letter to Sensata's CEO asking him to reconsider cutting the Freeport jobs, several crowd members started chanting "yes or no."
Terry Schilling, Rep. Schilling's campaign manager, then escorted his father away from the podium. Rep. Schilling returned after the protesters left.
At the editorial board meeting Wednesday in Rockford, Rep. Schilling said, "To hire people from Chicago, Ill., have them come to Freeport and intimidate and bully staffers on our staff, it's just, it's un-American."
He offered no evidence to support the allegation.
Ms. Bustos told the editorial board she did not hire anyone to attend the meeting. She did not attend it and said she only became aware of the incident after a video was posted online. Ms. Bustos said she would have stayed to answer the workers' question.
Asked Wednesday if protesters were hired or brought in from Chicago directly by the Bustos campaign to the Freeport meeting, Terry Schilling said, "I don't know. I'll let her (Ms. Bustos) answer that."
Mr. Gaulrapp said two members of Stand Up Chicago, a liberal group, were at the meeting but had no connection to the Bustos campaign. Jon Schweppe, a Schilling spokesman, said it was "clear there was coordination."
Rep. Schilling has said he opposes the Bring American Jobs Home Act because he believes local employers, such as John Deere and Caterpillar, should not be penalized for having plants abroad. Ms. Bustos supports the proposed law.
Also during the editorial board session Wednesday, Rep. Schilling said, "With Gabby Giffords being shot at the beginning of the last Congress, Cheri, I think this is a bad time for you to bring people from Chicago, Illinois, into our district from Stand Up Chicago and try to intimidate and push our people around."
Ms. Giffords is the Arizona Congresswoman who was badly wounded after being shot at a public meeting in Tucson, Ariz., last year. Although Rep. Schilling said the atmosphere was "hostile," Mr. Gaulrapp said there was no threat of violence at the meeting.
"I'm offended that they would compare something like that to what went on at the meeting," Mr. Gaulrapp said. "We have never done anything that indicated to anybody that we are anything but peaceful."