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Out here: Recognizing partisan reality in county races

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 1:15 a.m. CST

Recently, I wrote that Whiteside County voters tend to choose Republicans for down-ballot races.

Sure, the county supported Barack Obama for president last time around. But that’s a high-profile race. Voters pay attention.

For low-profile contests, voters often go with their party affiliations. That’s the case all over the country.

All of Whiteside County’s countywide elected offices are held by Republicans. What’s the reason for that?

Tom Boken, a Democrat and Sterling native, took exception to my conclusion that Whiteside voters tend to favor Republicans in down-ballot races, noting that the County Board is majority Democrat.

Boken, who now lives in DeKalb, is running against Republican Tom Demmer of Dixon in the 90th House District race.

He said Republicans in countywide races have run unopposed for decades.

“The Morrison Republicans have held the county offices for many, many years,” he wrote in an email. “It isn’t that voters choose Republicans over Democrats for those positions. They have been unopposed.”

Whiteside has traditionally been Democratic in the more populous east side and more Republican in the west, Boken pointed out. True enough, but that doesn’t explain why Democrats have refrained from running for countywide offices.

When I made my observation in the previous column, I was referring to the race for county recorder, which is between Republican incumbent Dawn Young and Democratic challenger Joan Padilla.

Boken defended Padilla.

“Do not dismiss the Padilla candidacy,” he said.

I wouldn’t do that. I was just pointing out partisan reality. Some candidates are exceptions to trends, and Padilla may well be one.

“Joan Padilla is a strong, viable candidate running in a presidential election year, where turnout is generally higher than off-year elections,” Boken wrote. “This higher turnout should benefit Joan Padilla’s campaign.”

Padilla’s campaign, he said, is causing Young to seriously campaign for her position.

In other words, it could be a real horse race.

‘Even by Illinois standards, this is brazen’

The Chicago Tribune is endorsing many incumbents in next Tuesday’s election, but that isn’t the case for the 36th state Senate district, which has been changed to include most of Whiteside County.

In the race, Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, is running against Republican Bill Albracht.

The Tribune is backing Albracht, a former Secret Service officer and Vietnam veteran. It noted that Jacobs inherited his seat in 2005 from his father, former Sen. Denny Jacobs, whom ComEd later hired as a lobbyist.

“Does Mike Jacobs recuse himself from ComEd legislation to avoid a conflict of interest? Of course not. He signed on to be chief sponsor for ComEd’s ‘smart grid’ legislation,” the Tribune said. “When another senator questioned the ethics of that move, Jacobs punched him on the Senate floor.”

That’s what others accused Jacobs of, but he was never charged.

State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, who raised the question of whether Jacobs had a conflict, contended the Democrat punched him afterward. Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, and others backed up McCarter’s account.

Jacobs denied it.

Everyone agrees that Jacobs approached McCarter’s desk on the Senate floor. Jacobs said he went up to McCarter to express his disappointment in him. He acknowledged a “dust-up” in which he may have touched McCarter.

In an interview after the incident, Jacobs said McCarter was bringing up personalities, which violated Senate rules. He said the Republican noted his father worked for ComEd, which backed the bill to raise rates to pay for a smart grid that would reduce the number of outages.

The Tribune called Jacobs “ethically obtuse.” Referring to the situation involving Jacobs and his father’s ComEd connection, the newspaper wrote, “Even by Illinois standards, this is brazen.”

“This should not even be close,” the newspaper said. “Albracht would bring discipline and integrity to the job. He is warmly endorsed.”

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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