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Targeted Republicans say County Board races about Toni and taxes, not Trump

Illinois Republican Chairman Timothy Schneider, left, speaks to the City Club of Chicago in 2014. File Photo. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times; Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, right, speaks during a press conference last month. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times.

Suburban Republican commissioners targeted for defeat by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in her new role as Democratic county chairman accused her Monday of trying to ease her path to a future tax increase.

Commissioner Tim Schneider, who also doubles as chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, said Preckwinkle is seeking to eliminate the last of the “checks and balances” that helped lead to the repeal the unpopular county pop tax.

“She would like to have free rein to pursue her agenda of raising taxes, or in her words ‘revenue,’” said Schneider, who is one of only four surviving Republicans on the 17-member County Board.

Cook County Democratic Party officials revealed last week that the party plans to make an unprecedented push to remove three of those four last Republicans — Schneider, Sean Morrison and Gregg Goslin — in the November election.

ANALYSIS

Only Goslin expressed surprise, saying he thought he had a good working relationship with Preckwinkle. Schneider and Morrison said they’ve been hearing rumors for weeks and planning accordingly.

Democrats are hoping to take advantage of widespread opposition here to President Donald Trump to drive suburban turnout, in part by calling attention to the Republican leadership roles of Schneider and Morrison, the county GOP chairman.

The Republicans argue their elections should be decided on their performance as fiscally responsible stewards of county government, not where they stand on Trump.

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Jacob Kaplan, executive director of the Cook County Democratic Party, did not respond to the Republican predictions of a tax increase, but said it was “comical” that they don’t think Trump is a “relevant issue.”

“Furthermore, these commissioners have sided with President Trump by approving of his policies that threaten to cut our working families out of healthcare and a living wage. These are not the values that our families need and deserve,” Kaplan said.

While Preckwinkle has publicly stated she will not seek to raise taxes in her 2019 budget, the Republicans say they expect her to do so for her 2020 budget, if not sooner.

Cook County Commissioner Gregg Goslin, left. File Photo; Democratic challenger Scott Britton, right. Photo from scottrbritton.com
Cook County Commissioner Gregg Goslin, left. File Photo; Democratic challenger Scott Britton, right. Photo from scottrbritton.com

Democrat Hillary Clinton carried all three suburban districts in question over Trump in 2016, although Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner handily won the same areas in 2014 — an indication of the independent nature of the electorate.

“I’m perfectly aware that Donald Trump is not popular in my district,” said Schneider. “I think this election should be a referendum on Tim Schneider, not a referendum on Trump.”

As chairman of the state party, Schneider announced the state delegate vote for Trump at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and led some cheerleading on his behalf — a moment that Democrats are hoping to use in their favor.

Illinois Republican Chairman Timothy Schneider, left, in 2014. File Photo. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times; Democratic challenger Kevin B. Morrison, right, in February. File Photo.| Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Illinois Republican Chairman Timothy Schneider, left, in 2014. File Photo. | Michael Schmidt/Sun-Times; Democratic challenger Kevin B. Morrison, right, in February. File Photo.| Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Schneider, who is much more closely aligned with Rauner, takes a similar approach to Trump as does the governor. He said he doesn’t like some of the president’s rhetoric but has been pleased with his policies, particularly his tax cuts.

Morrison told me pretty much the same thing, but wouldn’t commit to supporting Trump for re-election in 2020, saying “it depends on what the field looks like.”

Cook County Commissioner Sean M. Morrison, left, in 2017. File Photo. Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times; Democratic Cook County Board candidate Abdelnasser Rashid, right. | Photo courtesy of Rashid’s campaign
Cook County Commissioner Sean M. Morrison, left, in 2017. File Photo. Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times; Democratic Cook County Board candidate Abdelnasser Rashid, right. | Photo courtesy of Rashid’s campaign

A big Democratic turnout in the suburban commissioner races could be helpful to J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic nominee for governor, who is helping to bankroll the County Board push.

Asked if he expects Rauner to help the Republican commissioners blunt the Democratic attack, Schneider said he plans to have that conversation soon with the governor.

But he and Morrison both said they are hoping for other business-oriented groups to step up on their behalf, including the beverage industry that led the assault on the pop tax.

Count me sympathetic to the concept that complete one-party rule would be bad for Cook County, but also to the idea that those who continue to enable Trump should not be surprised if they are held to account.