106th House Candidates Face Off in Ill. Republican Primary
An attorney, a teacher, an insurance office manager, a nurse, and a former mayor are running in Illinois' 106th House District race. They are all newcomers to state office, running in a legislative district that are making a bid for the Illinois House in a long stretch of Central Illinois that's seen its political landscape altered through redistricting.
The five candidates have held more than 15 debates and forums, but it was simple "meet and greet" time for the candidates at a recent Republican dinner in Pontiac.
The race for the 106th includes largely rural cities like Watseka, Dwight, and Gibson City; the campaign trail stretches from the Indiana border just east of the Illinois River. It is a politically conservative area, so much so that no Democrats are running for the seat.
Former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy said he has more going for him than simply name recognition. He touts his experience helping his city cope with a 2007 flood, and fighting efforts to close the Pontiac Correctional Center.
Now a full-time software designer, McCoy said he also has the necessary budgetary experience to view cuts strategically. He wants to see more of what he calls "true conservatives" elected to office to make those difficult choices, and to ensure government is limited in other ways.
"I'm the candidate who wants to go to Springfield to remove government from your life, and we see that every day," McCoy said. "They're talking about banning cell phones from a moving vehicle altogether. We need less government period, and that's a great place to start to solving our issues in the state."
The five candidates are in agreement in many areas. Each supports a concealed carry measure, keeping the Dwight prison open, and term limits for legislators, but the dominant issue for all appears to be the economy. Attorney Brian Gabor said he holds an edge in the 106th district since he's been an alderman on the Pontiac City Council for nine years and a small business owner.
"I know what my clients complaint about, and that's the overburdensome that the state puts on us," Gabor said. "That's the higher taxes. The tax increases that Governor Quinn put on us. Unless and until we reverse that trend in Springfield, that trend of being anti-business, things are not going to turn around - and that's what we need to do."
Gabor said he also has a better understanding of the plights of communities, since his law firm represents small towns, dealing often with state regulations and unfunded mandates.
Josh Harms doesn't have government experience, but he is a member of one of the groups most impacted by Illinois' financial problems.
"I think it helps me immensely being a teacher, going in and saying the pension has to change because I'm in the pension," Harms said. "My wife is in the pension, my brother is in the pension, my sister-in-law is in the pension. I realize that it's got to give."
A special education teacher at Watseka High School, Harms wants local school boards and parents to have the most input on school policies, particularly in districts like his where 80-percent of students do not attend college, but still have to take additional science and English courses.
"It's so counterintuitive to me that you would take those kids who aren't college bound and force them into a college curriculum," Harms said.
Harms said the amount Illinois gives to state colleges and universities should be given to the students themselves, and those who don't finish school would repay the state in the form of a loan.
Tom Bennett is a former teacher, and a Parkland College Trustee. He said his experience sets him apart, as does his experience running a family farm and managing IT at an insurance office. The Gibson City resident said he will make connections across the political aisle in Springfield, and build a better business environment.
"I don't do much for the knee-jerk reactions," Bennett said. "I do my homework. I study the issues. I ask questions. And I don't go off in a corner, and flip a coin, or make a decision in a back room. I pull people in, I call people, and I expect folks to call me, too. That's the way I work."
Meanwhile, one candidate did not make the Livingston County dinner. Richard Thomas said he is temporarily given up his job as a nurse to campaign, and serve a single term in Springfield.
"I may have the smallest wallet, but I definitely have the largest ideas, and I think that's what democracy should be about," Thomas said.
The Dwight resident said his military background and experience forming coalitions in Springfield are at the root of his campaign for the 106th House seat. Thomas said his decision to run was born out of frustration with the way government currently operates, taking a cue from the Occupy Wall Street movement and Tea Party.
Thomas backs a welfare to work program that would let recipients do park and highway maintenance, as well as a plan to recall any elected official as soon as their first day in office
"We need a democracy in the 21st century that is more immediately responsive to we the people," Thomas said. "Imagine being locked in a bad state senator for 4 years or a bad state representative for 2 years in the 21st century."
When a winner emerges Tuesday night, he will have to wait to learn who he will face in November.
A spokesman for the state board of elections said after the primary, Democratic Party chairmen across the 106th district will meet and conduct a weighted vote to appoint a nominee. That person faces a June 4 deadline to submit nominating petitions in order to qualify for the November ballot.
(A map of the re-drawn 106th House District)