Rob Roman is hardly an old man — he's just 48 years old — but he thinks his life experiences make him a better candidate than his opponent for the Republican nomination in the 102nd House District.
His opponent, however, is an incumbent legislator — the youngest one in the General Assembly — 26-year-old Rep. Adam Brown of Decatur.
"I think Representative Brown is a fantastic young man," said Roman, who lives in Chrisman and is the director of utility resources at the University of Illinois. "He's got a great future ahead of him. But I've pushed the brooms. I've carried the rifle. I've gotten hot, sweaty, dirty, dusty. I've had a lot of different pairs of boots in my life. That's what brought me to this place today. I think experience is huge, to be able to understand how all these issues impact all these different people."
Roman has served in the Marines and has been a police officer, a volunteer firefighter and is currently a township supervisor.
Brown's resume is a bit thinner. He's a farmer and a former Decatur City Council member. But he's also already in the Legislature and enjoying a benefit of incumbency. He has a huge fundraising advantage over Roman, something on the order of 10-to-1.
When it comes to actual issues, there are few that Brown and Roman differ on. Both want to repeal last year's 67 percent state income tax increase and oppose a cigarette tax increase. Both are opposed to term limits for rank-and-file legislators. Both support an elected — versus appointed — University of Illinois Board of Trustees. Neither supports broadening the state sales tax to include services. They're for requiring photo identification in order to vote, for a concealed-carry gun law and for restricting the purchase of "junk foods" with SNAP and LINK cards.
"I think we're both somewhat conservative," deadpanned Roman. "The difference in my opinion is that you make a commitment and you stand by it. That's a huge difference. He started in politics very young and was the youngest person on the Decatur City Council but only served a year.
"Quite honestly I think of Representative Brown as a politician. I see myself as a citizen legislator. I think we need to get back to citizen legislators and away from career politicians."
Yet not only has Brown piled up the campaign cash, he's also been endorsed by numerous groups and influential Republicans, including U.S. Reps. Tim Johnson, Aaron Schock and John Shimkus; Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka and Treasurer Dan Rutherford; and state Reps. Chapin Rose and Bill Mitchell. Among the groups backing him are National Rifle Association, the Illinois Farm Bureau Activator, Illinois Federation for Right to Life, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce PAC, AFSCME, the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, the Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Stand for Children Illinois PAC.
Brown speaks the language of the voters in his heavily Republican and rural (Paris with a population of 8,400 is the largest municipality) district.
"In order to attract business and create private sector jobs," he said in response to a News-Gazette candidate questionnaire, "Illinois must first get its fiscal house in order. The state cannot continue to overtax, overborrow and overspend.
"More than anything businesses want stability from state government. Illinois needs to truly balance its budget and reduce its long-term debt."
Roman's campaign has focused on his refusal to take political action committee contributions.
He said he was dismayed in his interviews with interest groups to find that their support often depended "on supporting their platform.
"My response was, I will as long as your platform is good for the people of the district that I'm elected to represent. That's my first responsibility, to the people who elected me."
More recently Roman has said he hopes if elected to serve both in his UI job and as a legislator.
"And I will not double dip. I don't know how that would work out," Roman said. "All I'm asking is that my family doesn't take a loss of income by me being a representative. That's all I want. I already have my health plan through the state. I already have my retirement program from the state. I just don't want them to suffer by me being a representative. The combination of the two salaries would not be more than what I am now making at the university."
Roman said he is making $110,000 in the current fiscal year.