Today, the Sun-Times Editorial Board offers endorsements in nine Chicago-area races for the Illinois Senate.
The departure of Sen. Mike Noland, D-Elgin, creates an open seat, for which we endorse Democrat Cristina Castro of Elgin. Castro has been building a public-service resume for the last eight years. She is accustomed to negotiating and compromising with Republicans as a commissioner on the Kane County Board, though we think she will find it much tougher to do so in Springfield. For the last three years she has served as a board member for the Illinois Housing Development Authority, a state agency that helps working-class families find financing to buy homes. Her opponent, Tracy Smodilla of Bartlett, is a self-made businesswoman who has done admirable volunteer work but contradicts herself on right-to-work and minimum-wage issues.
Editorial boards across Illinois constantly lament the absurdly large number of government units in this state, from mosquito abatement districts to street lighting districts to fire protection districts. What a waste of money. So when somebody actually does something about it, he or she deserves your support. Three years ago, Democratic Sen. Thomas E. Cullerton teamed up with Republican DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin to push a bill through the state Legislature that allowed the county board to dissolve or consolidate 13 government units. That has saved the taxpayers of DuPage $80 million over three years. Gov. Bruce Rauner often cites this effort as an example of the kind of thing he’d like to see more of, though he doesn’t credit Cullerton by name. Cullerton also sponsored a bill, blocked by Republicans, to abolish the office of lieutenant governor, another good idea. We endorse Cullerton, a former Villa Park mayor, over Republican Seth Lewis, an insurance agent from Bartlett.
Republican Jim Oberweis has found a pretty good fit for himself as a state senator. He has taken on a number of small-bore non-ideological issues, such as ending a ban on Sunday auto sales and raising expressway speed limits, and found success, in part because he has worked across the aisle with Democrats. He’s a staunch conservative in a conservative district, and a strong supporter of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s pro-business “turnaround” agenda. At the same time, he seems more inclined than in the past — back when he was running for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House — to eschew divisive rhetoric on social issues in favor of getting stuff done. He was an honest broker as a member of a bipartisan committee that worked, without success, on changes in workers compensation law. We endorse Oberweis, chairman of Oberweis Dairy and an entrepreneur, over Democrat Corinne M. Pierog, a member of the St. Charles District 303 School Board.
Voters in this election face a clear ideological choice, where a staunch social and economic conservative is opposed by a candidate who holds more moderate social views. Our endorsement goes to the Democratic moderate, Kelly Mazeski, a former North Barrington Village trustee. We believe her nuanced views, especially on gun laws and abortion, better reflect the values of this Republican-leaning district. She supports tighter background checks on gun purchases, including at gun shows, and favors banning assault weapons such as the AR-15 rifle. She also favors long prison sentences for illegal firearms traffickers. Her Republican opponent, Dan McConchie, who was appointed to this Senate seat earlier this year, has devoted most of his working life to pro-life issues. He favors no further restrictions on guns. Mazeski has a track record of working in a bipartisan manner, which Springfield sorely needs. She has been a member of the Barrington Hills Plan Commission since 2010, and she served on the North Barrington Zoning Board of Appeals for 10 years.
Democrat Laura Murphy, a former member of the Des Plaines City Council, was appointed to this north and northwest suburban seat last year after the resignation of Dan Kotowski, and she has earned the right to have voters return her to the General Assembly. Murphy thinks there is room for worker’s compensation reform – a goal of Gov. Bruce Rauner — but her background in the business end of alcohol and substance-abuse programs has taught her jail is not the treatment many people need. She favors closing loopholes that allow guns to slip into the hands of those who can’t legally buy them and believes the best way to bring good jobs to Illinois is to invest in the education of young people. Her opponent, Republican Mel Thillens of Park Ridge, a candidate for state representative two years ago, a business owner and a board member of the Park Ridge Park District, is a staunch supporter of Rauner.
Independent-minded and hardworking Julie A. Morrison has the ability to see issues from the perspectives of both parties, and no wonder: the Deerfield Democrat, who is finishing her first term as a state senator, is a former Republican who for 10 years was field director for former U.S. Rep John Edward Porter, R-Illinois. She switched parties about a decade ago while she was supervisor of West Deerfield Township, a post she held for 15 years. As someone who grew up in Downstate Beardstown in Cass County, she also understands both sides of the perennial Chicago-Downstate rift. Here’s just one reason we endorse Morrison: To help end the state’s budget impasse, she called Gov. Bruce Rauner last year and sat down with him in his office to discuss solutions. She also introduced a short-lived bill that would have required the governor and legislative leaders, whenever the Legislature adjourned without a budget, to meet for one hour a week until they signed off on a spending and revenue plan. She opposes Rauner’s attempts to significantly reduce funding for state universities, saying “it’s the last place we can cut” because universities are a recruiting tool for the best and brightest talent. She also ran a bill that to allow the consolidation of some local governments and voted for a two-year property tax freeze. Her Republican opponent in this north and northwest suburban district — a newcomer — is Benjamin Salzberg of Northbrook, a turnaround expert for corporations and a member of the Oakton Community College Board of Trustees.
Democratic incumbent Melinda Bush’s northern Lake County seat is a top target of the GOP this year. Voters, though, should stick with Bush, a moderate who is a former Grayslake village trustee and Lake County Board member. In Bush’s first year in the General Assembly, she co-sponsored a pension-reform bill that was never called but she believed would have passed constitutional muster. She subsequently co-sponsored and carried “Lali’s Law,” which allows family members of someone at risk of a fatal heroin overdose to carry naloxone to such an overdose. She favors measures necessary to reducing gun violence, such as cracking down on straw gun purchases, tightening background checks, state licensing of gun dealers and ensuring mentally ill people can’t buy firearms. Her opponent in this northern Lake County district is Michael Amrozowicz of Gurnee, a retired Navy veteran and co-owner of a remodeling business who in 2014 was elected chairman of the Lake County Republican Party.
For 13 years, Republican Pamela Althoff of McHenry has done a capable job of representing this far northwest suburban district, and she deserves another two-year term, which she says will be her last. She worked with Democrats on a bill to reduce prison overcrowding, and she co-sponsored legislation to require risk assessment as a condition of bail in some domestic violence cases. Democrat Melissa Coyne of Fox Lake, a small business owner who has been active in charity work and youth sports, was appointed by local party officials to run for this seat.
Democrat Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant of Shorewood supports issues she says are important to the middle class: collective bargaining and the requirement of paying the prevailing wage to workers on government projects. As a former teacher, principal and a Will County regional superintendent of schools, she is a strong supporter of equitably funded public education, with the state shouldering more of the load. She also wants to take another shot at pension reform, now that the Illinois Supreme Court has rejected the first attempt to rein in costs. Her Republican opponent is Michelle Smith of Plainfield, the board president in Plainfield School District 202. Smith is backed by Dan Proft’s Liberty Principles PAC, which in September broke the contribution limits in this far southwest suburban district.