SPRINGFIELD — In a surprising announcement, retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, said Thursday that he didn't believe his former chief of staff, Jerry Clarke of Urbana, should be a candidate to replace him.
"At my retirement announcement, I let people know that no one in my family or on my staff would be a candidate for the nomination. The exclusion of those individuals should also extend to my former staff as the Republican Party moves forward in the most open and honest way possible," Johnson said in an emailed statement.
Clarke, who once was Johnson's chief of staff, is the only former Johnson staff member among the announced candidates.
Johnson's spokesman, Phil Bloomer, declined to comment any further. "I'm going to have to let the statement speak for itself," he said.
It was unclear if Johnson's remarks had anything to do with the disclosure this week that Clarke had registered the Web domain name "http://www.ClarkeforCongress.com" on Feb. 10 — weeks before Johnson's sudden announcement that he would not run for a seventh term this November.
A spokesman for Clarke, Mike Cys, said the candidate "has always been ready to serve. Jerry Clarke has consistently told people he would run for this seat when Rep. Johnson indicated he would retire.
"Jerry Clarke and Rep. Johnson have been very close over the years. They have agreed on many things, including opposing out-of-control government deficits, fighting the anti-small business Obama agenda and working to create a jobs friendly climate in central Illinois. This is just a situation where they disagree."
Cys insisted the process to name Johnson's successor "will be an open and transparent process. Anyone is welcome submit their name for consideration. Jerry Clarke has been working his tail off to earn this nomination.
"With all due respect, the final decision comes down to the voters of the 13th District. We are confident they care more about how we can take the government boot off of job-creating small businesses, how we repeal Obamacare and how we can cut the massive deficits confronting us and our children."
Meanwhile, three state lawmakers said Thursday they will not apply to become the Republican candidate for Congress in the 13th Congressional District.
Until Thursday, Clarke was considered the front-runner in the appointment process to succeed Johnson.
The race may be more open now, even though three state legislators — state Sen. Sam McCann of Carlinville, and state Reps. Dan Brady of Bloomington and Jim Watson of Jacksonville — said Thursday that they would not apply to the 14 county chairmen in the 13th District for the nomination. All three either had expressed interest in the seat or had been prominently mentioned as potential replacements for Johnson.
McCann, who has served in the Senate for only a year, said he had kept the door open to a congressional run "only if the county chairmen come together and can't come to a conclusion fairly quickly, in other words if that one-in-a-million chance would occur and they couldn't reach a consensus. If my name kept coming to the top for some reason, at that point I would sit down and consider it."
But he said would not apply for the position, as the county chairmen have requested.
"I'm not planning on filling out an application," McCann said. "I have been asked by some supporters to fill out that application, but I'm not planning to do that."
Watson, a member of the House for more than 11 years and a Marine Corps veteran of wars in Kuwait and Iraq, said he had decided for "personal reasons" not to apply for the job.
Brady, who had said earlier only that he was exploring the race, said Thursday he would not be a candidate.
"I have family considerations, I have business considerations in my funeral home business (he is a partner in the Kibler-Brady-Ruestman Funeral Home), and the other thing is that I pledged to the people in the new 105th House District that I'm going to represent them," Brady said. "We've got a big mess here in Springfield that needs to get cleaned up. I see myself more focused on that than the congressional seat at this time."
There are now believed to be about a half-dozen Republicans interested in the seat: Clarke of Urbana; Rodney Davis, an aide to Rep. John Shimkus, of Taylorville; former state Rep. Mike Tate of Springfield; former Miss America Erika Harold of Chicago; former Illinois Agriculture Director Becky Doyle of rural Gillespie and Springfield truck driver Sam Spradlin.
In his statement Thursday, Johnson also endorsed the process the county chairmen have adopted to select his successor. They plan to take applications until next week, will conduct interviews on May 5 and hope to make their selection on May 19.
"I want to applaud the 14 county Republican chairs of the 13th Congressional District for arriving at a fair and transparent plan for choosing a nominee to replace me on the November general election ballot," he said. "This process requires serious deliberation, inclusion of all the chairs in equal measure, and objective analysis of the candidates. Our common interest is in choosing the best qualified to serve the district in Congress.
"Several highly qualified individuals have expressed interest in succeeding me. I believe a number of them can be successful in the general election. My obligations to my family and office prohibit me from campaigning in a way the voters deserve. It will be up to the chairmen — elected representatives of the Republican voters — to choose the nominee."