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Out Here: An opportunity for Democrats?

Published: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 9:30 a.m. CST

The 61st House District, which includes Antioch and Lindenhurst, has been in Republican hands for years.

In every election but one, former Rep. JoAnn Osmond, R-Antioch, trounced her opponents, as did her husband, Tim, who preceded her. She was appointed after he died.

Only once in the last 16 years did a Democratic opponent come anywhere close to defeating an Osmond.

In 2008, Jim Parks got 48 percent of the vote. Granted, that was a good year for Democrats, with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. But that doesn't explain the entire difference. Osmond had been getting well over 60 percent in previous elections. In 2006, she ran unopposed.

Recently, I caught up with Parks, who is now in new product development at a Cary-based company. He told me he would rather have run as an independent, but the bar is too high to get on the ballot as a third party.

"Throughout my life, I have been affiliated with both parties at one time or another," Parks said. "I had a really good relationship with Michael Bond (then-Democratic state senator). He had done an excellent job in improving infrastructure in northern Lake County. I kind of played off of that to a great degree. I wanted to continue that movement."

He also said he had a lot of support from unions on the eastern side of the district.

In fundraising, though, Osmond more than tripled Parks' haul of $51,000, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which makes the close race all the more surprising.

With redistricting in 2011, the 61st District became less Republican, Parks said. Osmond got 56 percent of the vote in 2012, less than the 65 percent she got in the previous election.

"As the district stands now, I would have won," Parks said.

Last year, Osmond decided against seeking re-election. Sheri Jesiel and Loren Karner ran unopposed in the Republican and Democratic primaries, respectively. Last month, Osmond announced she would step down with six months left in her term, saying she wanted time off in preparation for her son's wedding in September. Republicans picked Jesiel as her replacement.

Despite the GOP track record of victories in the 61st District, Parks said, it could be in play this year, as long as the Democratic candidate doesn't appear to be the puppet of House Speaker Michael Madigan. But he cautioned that the northern part of Lake County is still a very Republican area.

'Get them all on the record'

I haven't been able to get in touch with Loren Karner, a project manager with Harvard-based Hartwig Plumbing and Heating, even though I have left several messages.

Last month, he sent out a news release accusing Jesiel and Osmond of a "backroom" deal to appoint Jesiel before the election. A taxpayer-funded job, he said, gives Jesiel a stronger hand to play in November.

I brought this up with House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who attended Jesiel's swearing-in, and he questioned whether Karner would also protest the recent resignation of Rep. Chuck Jefferson, a Rockford Democrat, who is suggesting his chief of staff as a replacement.

A friend of mine has long railed against mid-term legislative resignations, saying party leaders have too much power over replacements.

"I could understand a lawmaker's resignation if s/he plans to move out of state, becomes too ill to perform the duties, or wins higher office. But Osmond's stated reason, that her son plans to get married in September, is ludicrous," he said in an email. "This fall, all candidates for the Legislature ought to be asked whether, if elected, they intend to quit! Get them all on the record, and let the voters know before the election – not months afterward when it is too late."

Not a bad idea.

Money started to flow in

If money is any indication, the race in the 61st District could be quite competitive. Both candidates have been getting some big donations.

Over the last month, Karner has received $26,000 from unions, while Jesiel earlier this year got $5,300 donations from both Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner and his wife, Diana.

David Giuliani is news editor of Lake County Suburban Life. He may be reached at 847-231-7524 or dgiuliani@shawmedia.com.

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