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As candidates quit ballot, Lake County GOP leaders are scrambling

former Illinois Rep. Nick Sauer, R-Libertyville, | Twitter

Lake County politics has been rocked to the core this month by the abrupt resignation of state Rep. Nick Sauer (R-Lake Barrington) and the announcement by Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor that he is dropping out of his re-election campaign after earlier disclosing that he was suffering from drug addiction.

It’s really a mess up there.

The local state’s attorney has taken over the investigation of the allegations against Sauer that he used nude photos of an ex-girlfriend to “catfish” men on the Internet.


And Lawlor, once a rising political star, faced removal from the ballot by the State Board of Elections for unpaid fines leveled against his campaign committee. The county is also investigating whether he improperly used his government credit card.

Both men are Republicans, which means GOP leaders are scrambling to find last-minute ballot replacements and trying to deal with the huge fallout during a year that doesn’t look like it’s going to be great for their party anyway.

Lake County Republican Party Chairman Mark Shaw is being forced to navigate pressures on all sides while trying to choose replacements who won’t anger too many factions.

You may recall that Shaw challenged Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider for his job after Rauner barely won the March primary. After a nasty selection process that resulted in threats of lawsuits, a last-minute deal was cut that made Shaw a state party “co-chairman.” Shaw was also given the helm of the Illinois Republican County Chairmen’s Association, which isn’t much of an organization (it raised almost no money in the second quarter and had just $62K in the bank).

Gov. Rauner is reportedly backing Barrington Village President Karen Darch to replace former Rep. Sauer. Darch was president of the Illinois Municipal League in 2017, so she has some state experience. She’s also done battle with her local unions, which is one reason I’m told why Rauner likes her so much.

But insurgent Republican Dan Proft tipped his hand in the House seat replacement sweepstakes by publishing a story in one of his 40 newspapers (the Lake County Gazette) about how Darch has “increased property taxes collected by the village by more than one-third since 2010.” Proft backed Rep. Jeanne Ives against Rauner in the primary and the two men are avowed enemies.

Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods) last week endorsed Ela Township Republican Party Chairman Chris Bos to replace Sauer. Sauer’s former House district is half of McConchie’s Senate district. So, McConchie carries some weight and Chairman Shaw has a delicate decision on his hands.

Some top House Republicans would like to see a woman named to the Sauer seat. Darch would fit that bill, but so would Helene Walsh, the wife of former GOP Congressman Joe Walsh, who, like Proft, hosts a conservative radio talk show.

Another drama is also playing out in the county. As I write this, Rep. Sam Yingling’s SB2544 is sitting on Rauner’s desk.

Yingling (D-Grayslake) made the unusual move of running cable TV ads supporting his legislation in late June. The bill would allow Lake County voters to decide whether to elect the county assessor. The position is currently appointed by the county board chairman, the soon to be departing Aaron Lawlor.

Julie Simpson, a Democrat who was running against Chairman Lawlor until he dropped out, also ran an ad touting the legislation, which passed both chambers with strong veto-proof majorities. And Yingling gathered 1,000 petition signatures favoring the legislation. Yingling represents a district that was once represented by a Republican, so he is a perennial target. The issue has helped him stay visible throughout the summer.

Sauer spoke against the bill on the House floor last May and Chairman Lawlor has been the bill’s most high-profile opponent, engineering a recent county board resolution urging the governor to use his amendatory veto powers to make the bill cover all counties with appointed assessors instead of just Lake. Such a move would kill a November referendum, of course, because the General Assembly won’t convene again until after the election.

The governor has until late August to act on the bill, but Yingling’s folks point out that if Rauner follows through with the request for an amendatory veto, he’ll be siding with the two most controversial political figures in Lake County. Rauner does, however, have the political cover given to him by the county board’s resolution, which passed 14-5.

The beauty of politics is how fast things can change. And nobody could’ve predicted that Lake County would be at the center of so many controversies a month ago.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

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