Tuesday night was a big one for Republicans, to say the least.
Republicans on the Will County Board were able to recapture a once-held majority, while statewide, Republican businessman Bruce Rauner claimed victory over Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn in one of the country’s most competitive gubernatorial races.
Nationally, Republicans seized control of the U.S. Senate.
Republican Ken Kaupas held a slight 170-vote lead over opponent Mike Kelley on Wednesday in the sheriff’s election. Both candidates said it’s still too close to call, with hundreds of provisional and absentee votes left to tally.
The county treasurer’s race was another clear win for Republicans, where incumbent Steve Weber beat out opponent Laurie Summers. Weber was first elected to the treasurer’s office in 2010.
Kaupas believed Rauner’s strong get-out-the-vote efforts brought Republican voters to the polls in Will County, where the Winnetka equity investor received nearly 56 percent of the vote over Gov. Pat Quinn’s 41 percent.
Rauner had two Will County campaign offices – one in New Lenox and another in Plainfield, Kaupas said.
“The people who have been involved in [politics] for a long time were very pleased with Rauner’s business-like effort,” Kaupas said. “He had paid staff. They brought in equipment. They used modern technology. … People who were in the field had real-time data as information.”
County Board races
Republicans recouped a majority on the Will County Board, thanks to Annette Parker’s ousting of longtime board member Walter Adamic in a historically Democratic area, coupled with Reed Bible’s loss in District 5.
Parker, a Lockport Township Park Board member from Crest Hill, won one of two District 9 seats, with 6,389 votes to Adamic’s 5,018. Democrat Lauren Staley-Ferry, the daughter-in-law to board member Mark Ferry, also secured herself a spot on the board with 6,893 votes, according to unofficial vote totals from the Will County Clerk’s Office.
In District 5, Democrat Bible lost to Republicans Darren Bennefield and Gretchen Fritz, which helped tip the scale enough so that the 26-member County Board is now split 14-12, with a Republican advantage.
Parker said Wednesday she “knew going into it” the race would be an uphill battle but that her strong stance against raising taxes and overspending in county government resonated with taxpayers.
“We’re all very happy. We knew it was going to be a challenge,” Parker said. “It’s surprising, but we worked hard.”
While Parker said she thinks Rauner may have played a part in Republicans winning back their majority, County Board candidate Cory Singer, who won a seat representing District 2, had another perspective.
“It’s hard to argue that local races aren’t impacted by the top of the ticket. It happens a lot,” Singer said. “But in Will, especially with the County Board races, I think those stood on their own. I’m confident we’d have the same results whether Rauner was on the ballot or not.”
Singer and Will County Republican Chairman Edward Ronkowski said County Executive Larry Walsh’s recent budget proposal, which calls for a tax increase to help pay for major capital projects, likely didn’t go over well with voters so close to an election.
‘It’s nice to be back’
It was only two years ago that a surprise election win by Bible gave Democrats the county board advantage for the first time in more than three decades.
Since then, the 26-member board had split down the middle, with Will County Executive Larry Walsh, a Democrat, giving Democrats an edge with the power to cast tie-breaking votes.
Republican Caucus Chair Jim Moustis said he doubts there will be much of a need for Walsh’s tie-breaking vote now.
“It certainly takes away this ‘effective majority’ Walsh gets with the tie-breaking authority,” Moustis said. Last year during budget talks, Walsh cast a rare tie-breaking vote in favor of a higher levy to help pay for capital projects.
However, the new board won’t be sworn in until December, meaning Democrats hold a majority later this month when the county board votes on a new budget.
County Board Member Chuck Maher, R-Naperville, said the county needs a Republican majority right now with a number of costly capital projects on the table, such as a remodeled sheriff’s facility and a new courthouse, along with debate on how to pay for those.
“It’s nice to be back in the majority again,” Maher said. “But my goal right now is to work with all the board members to slow down and make sure we know exactly where we’re headed with the county.”
In a prepared statement released Wednesday, Walsh said while he was disappointed to lose two county board members, he remains optimistic the new board will continue the work necessary to keep the county moving forward.
“At the end of the day, our job is to serve the residents of Will County. My door is always open and I look forward to partnering with the new county board,” he said.