One has to go back a decade to find a truly competitive election for the 29th Senate District, a North Shore district represented since then by state Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest).
Garrett’s looming departure, after an impressive legislative run, has created a political vacuum on the Democratic side, where two candidates will square off against each other in a bid to face Republican Arie Friedman, a Highland Park pediatrician, in the fall.
The Democratic primary between Republican-turned-Democrat Julie Morrison, who is West Deerfield Township supervisor, and Lake Bluff business consultant Milton Sumption pits a political veteran against a candidate who never has appeared on a ballot.
The district they’re running in stretches along the lakefront from North Chicago to Glencoe, covers Lake Forest and Deerfield and reaches as far west as Buffalo Grove.
Morrison, of Deerfield, has been elected township supervisor four times and is now in her 15th year in office while Sumption’s most noteworthy political experience has been working as an aide to former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).
“I’ve gotten to see in human terms what the economy does, even to very nice, somewhat affluent communities like the ones I represent,” said Morrison, whose office administers general assistance to families facing financial crisis. “I’ve balanced a budget. I levy. I know what that means. I know what it’s like for a local unit of government to be accountable,” she said.
Virtually every Democrat of note in North Shore political circles backs Morrison, including Garrett, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) and state Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills). Morrison also is supported by the Illinois AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood of Illinois and Personal PAC.
On top of that, Morrison held a smothering fund-raising lead over her rival, with more than $63,000 in her political account, at the end of the last reporting period, compared to only $500 for Sumption.
But Sumption thinks his business background and experience in the financial sector can counteract some of his opponent’s advantages. “I have the right experience for addressing the biggest issues facing Illinois at this time. I have a mix of public and private sector experience, and she just has her township experience,” he said.
Sumption has been endorsed by IVI-IPO and by his former D.C. boss, Daschle, who described Sumption as “a trusted legislative assistant in my U.S. Senate office, a hardworking staff member who dedicated himself to serving my constituents’ needs and solving problems.”
Sumption hopes to exploit Morrison’s longtime status as a Republican.
Between 1992 and 2006, she pulled Republican primary ballots before voting Democratic in the 2008 and 2010 primaries, Lake County clerk’s office records show.
“I’m the only lifelong Democrat in the race,” he said. “I’ll let voters decide if that’s something that’s important to them. I know how I feel.”
Morrison attributed her political about-face to a Republican Party that allowed itself to be “hijacked by the far right” with no desire to include moderates like herself under its tent.
“I think people are going to relate to me, honestly. If I didn’t have the same values and principles, I don’t think you’d see people like Jeff Schoenberg and Jan Schakowsky endorsing me,” she said.
On the issues, Morrison and Sumption have subtle differences. Both oppose allowing Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons. Sumption favors legalizing gay marriage, but Morrison is undecided.
Neither thinks a three-tier pension system designed to make existing state workers and teachers pay more toward pensions is close to being legislative soup yet. And on gambling expansion, Sumption opposed the plan that passed the Senate last year and included a Chicago casino, while Morrison said she favors “limited expansion” that could include a Chicago casino.