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Column: Incumbents, elected or otherwise, have edge

Don’t underestimate the power of incumbency – special interests sure don’t.

Once you’re in office, you’re almost guaranteed an advantage in fundraising. Although money doesn’t always win elections, it usually does.

Last year, state Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, raised about $85,000 for his re-election campaign, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. AT&T was the top contributor at $4,000. The Lee County Republican Central Committee came in second with $3,000; the Illinois Hospital Association and John Deere followed at $2,000 each.

Tom Shaw, our company’s CEO, neared the top of the list at $1,000.

Oh, by the way, Bivins had no opponent.

So why did all these people donate to a candidate whose race never was in doubt?

Again, that power of incumbency certainly helps.

That’s why the GOP’s selection of Freeport businessman Brian Stewart as state representative for the 89th District is so important. He is replacing Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, who is resigning after nearly 11 years in office.

Stewart was selected from 13 candidates. The decision-makers were the chairmen of the Republican parties from the six counties in the 89th District: Stephenson, Jo Daviess, Carroll, Ogle, Whiteside and Winnebago.

The Jo Daviess County chairman interviewed each candidate. The chairmen’s votes were weighted based on how many votes Sacia got in their respective counties in the last election. They voted in a private conference call. We’re told it was unanimous.

This process complied with state law and reflects the way the Democrats fill vacant seats.

But here’s another way to look at it: Six unelected people secretly voted for a person who will represent tens of thousands of people. And that person, Stewart, now has an immediate edge over any potential rivals in next March’s GOP primary.

As party leaders point out, an election to fill the seat would be too expensive. And no one wants to leave the 89th District unrepresented for more than a year. 

But why not hold public interviews for the applicants? That would be difficult, one chairman told me. As it was, it was tough to even get his colleagues together, he said, especially because one of them was in and out of the hospital.

Yes, openness is more difficult than secrecy. It’s also better.

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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