Next week, Republican voters in the 75th Illinois House District will choose the person they want to represent them in the general election this fall. The choice comes down to the man who has attracted positive national attention during his half-year in office and a long-time county government leader.
On a map, the 75th district looks like an awkward pixilated blob plopped atop four counties at the fringe of Chicago’s suburbs. Portions of Kendall, Grundy, LaSalle, and Will counties make up the traditionally Republican district. Republican John Anthony has represented the district since last August, when he was appointed to replace Representative Pam Roth, who moved out of state. The former sheriff’s deputy from Plainfield is facing his first political challenge, from fellow Republican Ron Severson of Morris. Severson is the Grundy County Board chair, and a beef cattle farmer.
This is a primary race with a huge funding disparity. University of Illinois Political Scientist Chris Mooney says the incumbent John Anthony has about 100-thousand dollars in his campaign chest…and that puts him at more than a ten to one money advantage over Ron Severson. Mooney says the Republican establishment is going all in for Anthony, which means they must see Severson as a threat:
In these kind of races, if you are a well-known person, and chairman of the Grundy County Board will make you a person who is pretty well-known.
Severson takes that vote of confidence with a grain of salt: he says half the people know you because they don’t like the decisions you’ve made. You’re known more, but you have time to build up enemies, too. He says he's never worried about the next election.
Mooney says the money is pouring in for Anthony from the state’s most conservative GOP funders and business-related PACs.
They like having an African American in their caucus. I think that’s speculation on my part, but not radically wild speculation. One of the problems Republicans have nationally is a appealing to non-white people, basically. This is not a secret.
Mooney says Anthony is the first black Republican in the state legislature since the days of cumulative voting. As for Anthony, he says his party is behind him for his character, not his skin color. But he’s enjoying his ability to take their message to a new audience.
I’m someone who can go into Chicago-land area and enlighten the people of Chicago and educate them to the ways of what true conservatism is. The Republican party has been lacking that. They have the message they just haven’t been able to articulate that message in a way where people can not see the Republican aura as the scarlet letter.
As for the issues: one of the big differences between the two 75th district Republicans is what they thought of the pension reform plan that passed in the legislature. Anthony was one of the few Republicans who voted for it. He said he struggled with it because he wanted to save the pensions of the workers affected…and it was the only option.
It was not the best bill. Was it the first step? Yes. Was it the right first step? Up to the courts to make the decisions for us.
Severson says he would NOT have supported it, based on his county board experiences negotiating with unions:
It says right in the constitution that you can’t change or diminish. So we go back and lose a year. You made the deal. Stick with it, but incoming people, you just have to say “we’re broke.”
Both Severson and Anthony plan to use the skills they honed in their jobs to “clean up” state government. Severson says that’s why he’s running: his biggest accomplishments in Grundy County government were rooted in ethics and accountability:
We now have an ethics committee, a merit commission, we have a bricks and mortar amendment that says you can’t build a building and bond it without okay of the taxpayer.
Anthony says he’s already taken steps to fight corruption in state government. The first bill he introduced was to eliminate payments to people who sit on state boards that don’t even meet. He says that saves 4 and a half million dollars, beats cutting social services, and sets a good example.
Both candidates oppose continuing the temporary income tax hike.
The winner of the Republican primary will go on to face Democrat Martha Shugart this fall. The registered nurse is a former Morris City Council member AND former Republican.