January 08, 2015

12 Political Hopefuls Vie For Sen. Mike Frerichs' Seat In The Legislature

Democratic party officials will be choosing a successor to State Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-52), who'll be sworn in as Illinois' next treasurer on Monday. The 12 people vying for the job spoke Wednesday night in Champaign.

Though Frerichs lives in Champaign, his replacement could come from Vermilion County, since the 52nd district stretches all the way east to the Indiana border.

Carol Ammons (D-Urbana), who'll soon be sworn into the General Assembly, says she hopes Frerichs' replacement will continue the senator's work for rural constituents outside of Champaign and Urbana.

"It is important for the person who does replace him to really understand the importance of really supporting Vermillion County, as well as Champaign," she said. "They really have to have a big heart like he did, and so I think if they do, they'll do well."

Frerichs' replacement is expected to be announced next week. The 99th General Assembly will be sworn in on Wednesday.

Listen to the candidates (in order they spoke on Wednesday):

Laurie Bonnett is the president of the Unit 4 School Board. She says her years working as a legislative assistant in Springfield make her qualified to take the seat in the Senate.
Scott Bennett is a prosecutor for Champaign County. He says investment in education and employment opportunities are key preventative measures.
Michael Langendorf is a retired social worker and has been the chair of the Illinois Association of Social Workers for 12 years. He says he'd work on reducing the amount of pension payments for the highest-paid retirees.
Pius Weibel is on the Champaign County Board, and a former board chair. He says he's in favor of overhauling the state's tax code.
Don Crist is a small farmer, a real estate broker and an auctioneer. He says agriculture is a main concern for the state's 52nd district.
Michael Puhr is a four-term alderman in Danville. He said his history working as a legislative liaison for the Illinois Funeral Home Association has given him an inside look at how Springfield works.   
Jamar Brown is on the Unit 4 School Board and works for the engineering department at the U of I. He says he wants to extend the 2011 income tax hike in order to support the state's financial burdens.
Laurel Prussing is the mayor of Urbana. She touted her success in bringing the Police Training Institute back to the community, after the U of I decided to cut it from the budget.
Lynn Foster is a former Vermilion County Clerk. She touted her political savvy and promised a winning re-election in 2016.
Robert Rasmus is the senior pastor at St. Matthew Luthern Church in Urbana. He says his long history as a political reporter and press sercretary makes him qualified to take the Senate seat.
Michael Olsta is a recent graduate from the University of Illinois, and now works for the U of I. He said he'd "do anything" for the U of I.
Brent West is the chair of the neighborhood advisory board in Champaign. He says as a Danville native, he knows both counties very well.

Hannah Meisel/WILL
January 07, 2015

Who Will Replace Mike Frerichs In General Assembly? 12 Think They Have Political Chops

Champaign Democrat Mike Frerichs is about to trade up titles. On Monday he'll go from state senator to Illinois' new treasurer. But Frerichs' successor is still a mystery.

When a legislator leaves his or her seat--in the case of death, resignation or winning a higher office--local party officials get to choose who finishes out the term.

For whoever's picked, It's a good opportunity to step up the ladder, without going through months of campaigning. A pool of a dozen people from Champaign and Vermillion counties have come forward wanting to finish out the remaining two years of Frerichs' term.

12 is more than a regular campaign starts out with on both sides of the aisle. But since Frerichs is a Democrat, this is a contest only for that party.

Political scientist Kent Redfield, from the University of Illinois Springfield, says getting appointed is an easy foot in the door, without the months of campaigning.

"It's an opportunity to serve for two years and then be an incumbent running for reelection."

Redfield says it's not surprising to have a dozen people clamoring for Frerichs' seat, especially because there has been no frontrunner.

The dozen wannabe senators will get to make their case Wednesday night in Champaign, and party officials will make their decision next week. Al Klein, Chairman of the Champaign County Democrats, says he's not necessarily in any rush.

"The legislators are sworn in on the 14th and there is an organization session that it would be nice for our senator to be present for, although not critical.

Klein will make the decision with Vermilion County Democratic Party chair Frank Wright, though Klein has a majority of votes. This will be the first major appointment Klein will make as the county's party chair.


December 31, 2014

Hear The Sounds Of 2014 In Illinois Politics

Brian Mackey compiled this audio montage for Illinois Public Radio, of some of the voices that made news in Illinois politics in 2014.

Most of the action was in the campaign for governor ... in which Bruce Rauner became the first Republican to win that office since the late 1990's. But you'll also hear the voices of Rauner's GOP primary rivals including Bill Brady and Dan Rutherford, Governor Pat Quinn, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and the late state comptroller, Judy Baar Topinka.


the Illinois capitol dome as seen from inside the capitol looking up
Hannah Meisel/WILL
December 30, 2014

Illinois Politics Year In Review/Look Ahead

It's been quite a year in Illinois politics. After a lively and contentious race for the governor's mansion, Gov. Pat Quinn was ousted by Republican challenger Bruce Rauner. When Rauner is sworn in as governor in two weeks, it'll be the first time a Republican has held the office in 12 years.

(Audio is marked with specific subject matter; just click on WILL icon within SoundCloud track)

We asked Illinois Public Radio's statehouse bureau chief Amanda Vinicky to give us the rundown of what happened in 2014, and how a new Republican administration could shift the dynamics in Springfield in 2015.

Though Rauner ran on the promise to "shake up Springfield," Vinicky notes that the party change in the governor's mansion was one of the only adjustments; Democrats in the General Assembly held onto their veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate in November, and down-ballot Republicans did not do as well as Rauner -- as in the case of the race for state treasurer. Weeks after Election Day, state Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) was finally declared the winner of that contest against former Republican House minority leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego). 

Much was made of Democratic plans to extend the 2011 income tax hike, but the New Year will see that tax rate roll back, something Rauner will have to contend with as the state faces a gaping hole in its budget. 

And what of Gov. Quinn? He's been around state government for four decades, in roles actually in government, or as an antagonistic gadfly, calling for good-government reform. Where will Quinn go after holding the state's highest office?

Democratic candidate for state treasurer Mike Frerichs talks to reporters on election night
Keenan Chan
December 01, 2014

Mike Frerichs Prepares For State Treasurer's Office

Before State Senator Mike Frerichs is sworn in as Illinois' treasurer next month, he's got a few more votes to cast as a legislator.

But Frerichs, a Democrat from Champaign, doesn't think one of them will be for extending the 2011 temporary income tax increase.

He says Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner will have to cope with a hole in the state's budget when the tax rolls back in the new year, without the action of the General Assembly.

"The people chose a new governor and he's going to have an opportunity to come in and look at the budget and propose his own budget and there's going to be some real difficult decisions out there," he said. "We'll see his vision, I think, in February."

That's when Rauner is scheduled to give his first budget address.

Many of Frerichs' Democratic colleagues in the General Assembly have lobbied for the past year to extend the 5 percent income tax rate. But legislative leaders have since backed off of that promise after incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn lost the governor's race. (Frerichs himself favors a progressive income tax system, rather than extending the tax).

Frerichs' personal Election Day stretched for two weeks longer than his colleagues, as he waited on results in the extremely tight race for Illinois State Treasurer.

But he finally pulled ahead of his opponent, Republican Tom Cross, by more than 9,000 votes, and was officially declared the winner on Sunday. 

He's got a little more than a month before being sworn in, and he says he's trying to learn all he can, including tips from outgoing state treasurer, Republican Dan Rutherford.

Frerichs had been critical of Rutherford's investment strategies during his campaign, but he says he'll take care to include Rutherford's staff in his transition period.

Frerichs will likely not take a vote on any more state pension legislation, as his colleagues in the General Assembly are waiting on final word from the Illinois Supreme Court about whether or not the state's pension overhaul law, passed last year, will be allowed to move forward.

It's a law that Frerichs, currently a state senator, did not vote for, but will have to contend with in his new job, investing the state's pension funds.

He says he'd be willing to help facilitate discussions among all interested parties in the pension overhaul, but points to a bill the Senate passed last year, before the law that was ultimately agreed upon. That bill, SB 2404, was negotiated between the General Assembly and the state's unions.\

A previous version of this story implied Frerichs had lobbied for the extension of the 2011 income tax. 


Tom Cross and Mike Frerichs
November 19, 2014

Tom Cross Concedes Treasurer's Race To Champaign's Mike Frerichs

Republican Tom Cross has conceded the Illinois treasurer's race to Democrat Mike Frerichs.

Cross, state representative from Oswego, released a statement Wednesday saying he has called and congratulated Frerichs, a state senator from Champaign.

“I had a very cordial call, a very gracious call, from Rep. Tom Cross", Frerichs told reporters in Springfield. “He called to concede this race, and (say) that he’s not going to pursue a recount going forward, and we had a good conversation about the direction the state needs to be going."

Frerichs will be the first Democrat from Champaign County to hold a Statewide office. He's served in the Illinois Senate since 2007.

The hard-fought race had as few as 400 votes separating the candidates early this week. That's two weeks after the Nov. 4 balloting.

Cross is a longtime legislator who served as minority leader of the Illinois House.

In a statement, state GOP Chairman Tim Schneider says Cross provided more than two decades of “principled leadership.''

Frerichs named two people to head his transition team: state AFL-CIO head Michael Carrigan, and Congresswoman Robin Kelly, who was previously chief of staff in the state treasurer’s office.

UPDATE: This story was updated on 11/19/14 to add Frerichs' comments.

News release from Tom Cross:

With the final votes counted, this election now has a conclusive outcome and I have congratulated Senator Frerichs on a hard-fought victory. Senator Frerichs has demonstrated time and time again his commitment to our state and that will serve all of us well as he becomes Illinois’ next State Treasurer.

My entire family is extremely grateful and humbled by the incredible amount of support we received from supporters and voters across Illinois. As I campaigned across Illinois, I was continually reminded at how great a state we truly have.  I am proud of Illinois, I am honored to have served its citizens in the legislature and I look forward to new opportunities to make our state even better.


November 18, 2014

Frerichs Surges Over Cross In Late Vote Counts

The race for Illinois treasurer changed course quickly Tuesday as late votes counted in several suburban counties showed a surge for Democrat Mike Frerichs.

Frerichs took a lead of over 9,000 votes against Republican Tom Cross after posting large leads in suburban Cook County and other collar counties. Until yesterday, Cross had held a small lead -- about 500 votes -- making it the closest statewide race in history.

Frerichs' campaign spokesman, Dave Clarkin, says the mood in the Frerichs camp changed dramatically as vote counts rolled in yesterday.

"We've believed all along that Mike would run very strong in downstate Illinois and if that trend continued in downstate and the suburbs that we would lead coming out of the state by more than 1,000 votes."

Now that the race is no longer poised to be the closest statewide contest in Illinois history, Clarkin says calls for a recount would be futile.

"Although there's been talk of a recount over the last few weeks, people we've talked to on both sides of the aisle have said a recount would be frivolous if the margin was over a thousand votes," he said.

But if that were to happen, Illinois State Board of Elections Director Rupert Borgsmiller says it's a lengthy process. A campaign would have to petition the Illinois Supreme Court to rule on a recount, with a fee of $10,000. And even then, it's not a statewide recount; the campaign must point out what specific areas they want recounted based on proof of voting irregularities.

"The Supreme Court would get involved in whether or not the petition is sufficient," he said. "They would direct, then, the circuit court in the jurisdiction that would be recounted to be responsible for conducting the recount."

A spokesman for the Cross campaign did not immediately answer requests for comment.

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