75 years of frustration, going on 80

75 years of frustration, going on 80

Here's a little "bonus coverage" off of Sunday's column on the lack of Democratic sheriffs in Champaign County -- at least for the last 75 years.

Champaign County Democrats, who have made inroads on the county board and in other electoral contests in recent years, haven't been able to break a drought at the county sheriff's office.
It's been more than 75 years since Democrats elected a sheriff in Champaign County and, for now at least, it looks like the streak will reach 80 years.
Champaign County Democratic Party Chairman Tony Fabri says it doesn't look like the party will have a candidate for sheriff on the March primary ballot. The filing period for candidates is Dec. 12-19. If no one steps forward, Sheriff Dan Walsh, a Republican, will get a pass and the Democrats' futility streak will continue.
Fabri said he also doesn't have candidates to oppose County Clerk Mark Shelden or County Treasurer Dan Welch.
But it's the sheriff's office -- which is often contested in even one-party counties like Douglas and Iroquois counties -- where Champaign County Republicans have had the greatest success. They've had a lock on the office since 1934. The last Democratic sheriff was Elmer Shoaf, swept into office in 1930 as part of a local and national Democratic landslide. Voters turned out in droves that year -- 21,000 in Champaign County, which was about 6,000 more than four years earlier -- to blame the Republican Party for the Depression, then in its infancy. Democrats won every countywide race that year, including county judge, treasurer, sheriff, clerk and superintendent of schools.
Since then, Republicans have won 18 consecutive sheriff's races, sometimes unopposed (as Walsh was four years ago), sometimes with little-known opponents (such as Clayton McElwee, Lillian Falconer and Arthur Slates Jr.) but seldom by fewer than 10,000 votes. The last Democrat to come even that close to the Republican candidate was the late A. James Hannagan, who lost to the late Everett Hedrick, 22,022 to 14,996, in 1970. Even a Democratic truck driver with the enviable name of Paul "Wyatt" Earp couldn't win election; in fact he couldn't even win the primary election in 1982.

Here's the list of Champaign County sheriff's elections since 1930, including the 1930 win, followed by an 18-election losing streak by county Democrats:

1930 -- Elmer Shoaf (D) defeated Webster T. Huber (R), 10,313 to 9,923
1934 -- Elmer Shoaf (D) lost to Clarence Roth (R), 12,880 to 11,713
1938 -- Shoaf (D) lost to Bert S. Walker (R), 15,287 to 11,851
1942 -- J.F. Keeler (D) lost to John Rising (R), 14,800 to 9,324
1946 -- Fred Reifsteck (D) lost to Joe Clancy (R), 18,278 to 7,571
1950 -- D.M. "Cy" Madigan (D) lost to James E. Dewey (R), 19,397 to 9,621
1954 -- Lawrence Shaff (D) lost to Everett Hedrick (R), 17,845 to 8,975
1958 -- Edford Johnson (D) lost to William Fairfield (R), 18,217 to 7,129
1962 -- Delbert Kenkins (D) lost to Everett Hedrick (R), 21,492 to 10,450
1966 -- A. James Hannagan (D) lost to Russell Chaney (R), 21,462 to 12,723
1970 -- Hannagan (D) lost to Hedrick (R), 22,022 to 14,996
1974 -- Hedrick won unopposed
1978 -- Lillian Falconer (D) lost to Hedrick (R), 26,915 to 9,123
1982 -- Clayton McElwee (D) lost to Brown (R), 30,895 to 13,046
1986 -- Mark Armantrout (D) lost to Brown
1990 -- Ron Bryant (D) lost to David Madigan
1994 -- Madigan won unopposed
1998 -- Arthur Slates Jr. (D) lost to Madigan (R), 32,648 to 14,527
2002 -- Dan Walsh won unopposed

County board outlook. As for retaining control of the county board next year, the Democrats have a difficult assignment there as well. They now have a 15-12 advantage on the board, but of the 13 board members up for re-election next year, eight are Democrats. In addition, the Democrats are threatened by the growing strength of the local Green Party, which is more likely to siphon Democratic votes than Republicans.
Two years ago, Green Party candidates ran in county board districts 7, 8 and 9 -- all in Champaign-Urbana -- and took between 11 and 19 percent of the vote. "I'm not worried about them actually winning one of those races," Fabri said, "but they could take enough votes that they could help the Republicans sneak in."
Fabri said he was concerned that some recent votes on controversial issues might make some of the county board Democrats "vulnerable among our traditional base." He cited the votes on funding for so-called "fringe roads" and for a study to see whether the county board might have discriminated against minority and female contractors in recent construction projects.
The good news for the Democrats is that only one of their incumbent county board members -- Nancy Greenwalt of District 7 in Champaign -- is not running for re-election. "I enjoy the work and the community service," she said, "but it just doesn't seem as rewarding to me as it did in the first two years. But I wouldn't rule out running for another public office in the future."
Democrats don't have a replacement for Greenwalt yet, but she said she doesn't believe that will be a problem.
Republicans will lose two of their longtime board members -- Deb Feinen of Champaign and Patty Busboom of rural Urbana -- but they already have candidates for those seats. Brad Jones, who ran unsuccessfully for county auditor last year against Democrat Mike Frerichs, will run for the District 3 seat being vacated by Feinen. Ken Mathis, who gained notoriety five years ago when he and others proposed the creation of the village of Big Grove, northeast of Urbana, will run for the District 2 seat being vacated by Busboom.
Busboom said she and her husband just want to slow down and travel "while we still can." And Feinen said she would run neither for the county board nor for the Republican nomination for the 103rd District Illinois House seat held by state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana. Feinen ran and lost two years ago. "But I might run for the Champaign City Council" in 2007, she said.
At this point, Republicans don't have a candidate to run against Jakobsson next year. Several potential candidates have rejected overtures from party leaders. Jakobsson beat incumbent state Rep. Tom Berns of Urbana, 52 percent to 48 percent four years ago, and bested Feinen, 62 percent to 35 percent, two years ago.

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