In the words of a suddenly not-so-infamous former president, “Let me make one thing perfectly clear,” nothing nefarious happened as the Kane and McHenry County Central Republican Parties endeavored to appoint soon-to-retire 33rd District State Senator Karen McConnaughay’s replacement.
This exercise is simply intended to shed light on what turned out to be a fascinating political process.
For background purposes, Ms. McConnaughay announced she wouldn’t run in June, and then set an official “retirement” date of September 3, leaving a couple of months of her term. And it’s a good thing she let us know she was stepping down, because no one would’ve noticed otherwise.
Six contenders submitted applications to fill that seat despite the understanding they’d have to start campaigning right out of the gate. Since the 33rd lies between Kane and McHenry Counties, the two county GOP Chairmen created a board of elected officials from both counties to interview the candidates. Here’s how those interviews went:
1. Michael McMahon
McMahon, a retired Chicago firefighter with no connection to KC State’s Attorney Joe McMahon, never had a shot because no one’s ever heard of him. Had he gotten the nod the Dems would’ve pounced on him in November.
2. Laura Pollastrini
A Hampshire precinct committeeman, her claim to fame is performing judicial candidate Tom Hartwell’s dirty work by challenging primary opponent Elizabeth Flood’s nominating paperwork.
Having sat in on that two-day hearing, I was not at all impressed with Ms. Pollastrini or her attorney. Again, the fact that she’s another general unknown with no real fundraising prospects doomed her from the start.
3. Steve Andersson
I love Steve and thought he did as good a job as any Republican could as our 65th District State Rep. Though I will continue to sing his praises for breaking the State’s budget stalemate, the majority of Illinois Republicans don’t nearly feel the same way. Despite being the best candidate on paper, the odds of him winning an election in the demonstrably GOP 33rd fall somewhere between slim and none, and so did his chances of being appointed to that seat.
4. Carolyn Schofield
A former Crystal Lake City Councilman and Current McHenry County Board member, Ms. Schofield’s public service resume is truly impressive. That said, her consistent political problem is she’s not the brightest bulb in the pack as her senate appointment interview clearly demonstrated.
Upon being cross-examined on city council and board votes that clearly undermined her claim to a staunchly fiscal conservative mien, Ms. Schofield replied, “People weren’t as concerned about property taxes back then.” She also bragged about having union support, which certainly didn’t help her cause.
So, the interviewers quickly crossed her off their list.
5. Allen Skillicorn
Considering he’s the sitting 66th District State Rep and the former KC GOP Deputy Chairman, Skillicorn probably should’ve gotten the nod. But Allen doesn’t play well with others and the fact that his ideological tendencies are too much for today’s Illinois Republican Party really says something.
I understand his people are furious he was passed over, but this is what happens when you consistently call out your fellow Republicans in an effort to furiously pander to your base.
6. Don DeWitte
Though I’m surprised he got the gig, the former St. Charles Mayor and current RTA Board member was the most logical choice. He may not have run a campaign in over a decade, and he was never elected to anything more than mayor, but as we sift through our Gang of Six, DeWitte clearly stands the best chance of beating 33rd District Democratic nominee, Nancy Zettler.
That said, he almost derailed his appointment when his response to being asked to describe his upcoming campaign strategy was essentially, “I’m Don DeWitte!” It’s certainly a vintage DeWitte answer and I loved it, but the interviewers were not amused.
Thankfully, they didn’t let that minor ego attack alter their judgement.
7. Mark Davoust
“But Jeff! I didn’t see him in the list of contestants?”
No, you did not! But that doesn’t mean our Kane County Board member, the one who lists breathing and staying awake at board meetings as two of his major political accomplishments, didn’t try to wrangle the seat for himself.
When he told Shepro he’d apply for the gig only if he was assured of being the chosen, it didn’t sit very well with the KC Republican Chairman. In fact, it led to a rather short telephone conversation. Talk about a massive entitlement mentality! This man continues to mistake a tailwind for talent.
In the end, this is a rare case in which a political process wasn’t quite as bad as watching sausage being made. DeWitte will do fine in Springfield, or at least as well as any Republican General Assemblyman can be expected to do, and with his central Kane County name recognition and a reasonable campaign work ethic, he should easily prevail in November.
But the cast of characters did make this one a far more fascinating proposition.