PEORIA — A Peoria County man who ran for a County Board seat last year says his name is pig slop thanks to prominent Republicans Aaron Schock and Darin LaHood, who alleged in a letter sent to voters that he was banned from showing championship hogs at the state fair years ago.
Richard Burns, who lost to Republican Brad Harding in November, claims in a lawsuit filed earlier this month in Peoria County Circuit Court that nothing was further from the truth. He’s a cattle judge, he states in the Oct. 5 suit, not a hog guy as alleged in a two-page letter sent out with Schock’s and LaHood’s signatures days before the November election to boost Harding’s candidacy.
And he’s never been banned, for anything, Burns said in his suit, nor did he cheat to win “large prizes” for showing hogs at the fair.
“It’s one thing to say that this is politics as usual and bad things are said,” Burns’ attorney Christopher P. Ryan said, “but it’s another thing to completely fabricate a lie. It takes only a few minutes to call the state fair to see that this is a lie.”
There aren’t large monetary prizes for such a category, the suit states flatly. And even if there were, Burns doesn’t do swine.
“In fact, Richard Burns is currently a judge at the Illinois State Fair in the beef category,” the suit claims.
Burns’ beef with Schock, a former U.S. representative who resigned in March amid questions about his campaign and taxpayer-funded office spending, and with LaHood, a former state senator who was elected a month ago to replace Schock, is that the letter trashed his reputation and likely cost him the election and also hurt his reputation in business as well as when serving as a professional judge of cattle.
The letter, the suit alleges, implies “not only the potential of criminal conduct but also impropriety in Mr. Burns’ professional integrity in agriculture as well as in his professional reputation as a judge for cattle shows.”
Also named in the suit is the Peoria County Republican Central Committee, which, campaign disclosure records show, paid printing for Harding.
Harding, however, isn’t named in the suit, though his campaign records also show an in-kind contribution from the county GOP for a mailing.
Ryan said the suit wasn’t filed for political gain. Rather, it’s to limit or correct the damage done to Burns’ reputation as the allegations have had an impact on his judging at the state fair.
“This isn’t political. Mr. Burns didn’t attempt to file this immediately before the special election (to replace Schock) or to damage anyone. We are trying to get them to stop saying these things,” the attorney said.
When asked about the lawsuit Thursday, LaHood and Schock both declined to speak, with each saying he hadn’t yet been served with the suit and couldn’t comment.
Burns’ wife, Colleen Callahan, ran unsuccessfully against Schock in 2008 for 18th Congressional District seat.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.com/andykravetz. Chris Kaergard contributed to this report.