GOP primary for Illinois' 33rd Senate District

Mar 14, 2012

This Republican race in Chicago's northwest suburbs pits experience against a grass-roots campaign.

Click on above audio for full candidate interviews.

First interview is with Karen McConnaughay.

Second interview is with Cliff Surgess.



The current 33rd Senate district is centered much closer to Chicago.  Since 2007, it has been represented by Democrat, Dan Kotowski.  Illinois’ new political map pushed the district’s boundaries west, forcing Kotowski to run in a separate district.

As of now, no Democrats are running in the new 33rd  district, which includes parts of northern Kane and southern McHenry counties.  But two Republicans are vying for the seat in next week’s primary. 

Karen McConnaughay chairs the Kane County Board.  She’s running against business owner Cliff Surges.  McConnaghay and her opponent share similar views on a number of key issues facing the state.  She says a key difference between the two candidates is that she has a background in a larger government setting:

“I have the experience of being an administrator, an elected CEO of the fifth largest county,” she said, “where I’ve had to face many of the same challenges the state has had to face.  We’ve had to cut budgets.  We’ve had to cut head count.  We’ve had to live within our means.”

Cliff Surges has served as a trustee in the villageof Gilberts.  He admits he doesn’t have a lot of political experience.  But he believes voters will appreciate a fresh perspective:

“I believe we need someone who can stand up to the leadership of both parties,” said Surges, “raise his hand in the air and say, ‘Excuse me, I don’t get it.’ How is that in the best interest of the people of Illinois?  And how is that going to make it within our goal of getting back on budget, making government smaller, and making it work for the people like it used to?’”

McConnaughay believes a focus on infrastructure is what’s needed for the 33rd district:

“The Kane County/McHenry County area is part of what is considered to be some of the fastest growing communities in the entire country,” she explained. “And our ability to thrive as part of a region -- to encourage businesses to locate or stay in our region, besides good business policy at the state level, really requires strong investment in infrastructure.”

When he talks with voters in the 33rd, Surges says a common theme is not having enough people in Springfield who can be trusted:

“Restoring the public trust and telling the truth,” he said, “far and away the most unanimous thing that I have heard.  And that starts with cultural shifts; that starts with ethics. You know that starts with personal responsibility at everyone’s individual level.”

Both candidates say that, to spur job growth in Illinois, the state needs to create a better business environment by doing things like rolling back last year’s income tax hike.  They also say a pension overhaul should involve making changes to benefit plans for current state workers.  McConnaughay favors a proposal previously introduced in the legislature:

“You can move into a 401k,” she said. “You can keep your current benefit, but pay more into it.  Or, you can reduce the level of benefits you’re currently receiving for the same amount of contributions.  That gives the current employee different options to look at, but also begins to reduce the obligation on the part of taxpayers.”

Surges says he’d also like to look at altering health-care benefits for retirees.  He believes they should be given only a pension payment and nothing else:

“It is not supposed to be a benefits package,” Surges explained, “which is what I’m understanding it has become. ‘Hey, if you get free health-insurance, or you get extended this or extended that.’  No, it was supposed to be a pension.  It was supposed to be in lieu of Social Security.”

The Republican race for the 33rd Senate District has become a hotbed for personal attacks between these two candidates, ranging from questions over Surges’ property tax history to accusations of pay-to-play activities involving McConnaughay.  These attacks have come only from the campaigns of the two candidates.