Tom Kacich: GOP sees Jakobsson's exit as an opportunity

State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson has always had a good legislative district to run in: compact, contiguous and overwhelmingly Democratic.

And the Democratic redistricting of 2011 made her 103rd House District even better: lopping off the one sometimes-Republican precinct in southeast Urbana, plus five Champaign precincts, four of which are reliably GOP.

The result of the new map was a 69 percent to 31 percent win for Jakobsson over Republican Rob Meister last November, another big victory even though the Democratic turnout in Champaign-Urbana was down, especially in University of Illinois student precincts. Jakobsson won 49 of the 50 precincts in the district, losing only in the minuscule Champaign 3.

In Jakobsson's six successful races for the state House — she'll retire when her term ends in January 2015 — the Urbana Democrat averaged 63 percent of the vote.

The question now is whether the 103rd District will be as favorable to any Democrat, or whether Jakobsson had an unusual level of support. Election returns suggest it's the former.

Last year, for example, state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, outperformed Jakobsson in virtually every precinct, including every precinct in Urbana, Jakobsson's hometown. Further, Jakobsson often ran behind Democratic congressional candidate David Gill and some of the party's countywide candidates in individual precincts.

Still, Republicans think they have a chance — a slight chance, admittedly — of winning the district next November.

Here's why:

— It's an off-year, non-presidential election year. Democratic turnouts in Champaign County are down in off-year elections. Jakobsson's vote totals in off-year elections averaged 14,133, versus 25,409 in presidential election years.

— The likely Republican candidate is Kristin Williamson, the vice chairwoman of the local party. Williamson, a 32-year-old single mother, doesn't fit the profile of recent unsuccessful GOP candidates.

"I'm very excited about her running, and I think she would be a terrific, positive candidate," said Habeeb Habeeb, who heads the Champaign County GOP. "I'm a community person at heart, not a partisan. And if the community is thriving, it's good for everyone. We'll all make more money.

"Behind closed doors it's not like we have to say, 'Get up there and say something.' That's how I am behind closed doors and that's how she is behind closed doors."

Champaign city council member Will Kyles is still considering entering the race.

— The favored Democratic candidate — at least the one favored by Jakobsson — is county board member Michael Richards of Champaign. Republicans (and some Democrats) believe Richards is vulnerable because of his DUI arrest in 2011. He was sentenced to 18 months of court supervision after pleading guilty.

Nor is Richards the vote-getter that Jakobsson was. In last November's election, Richards trailed Jakobsson in every one of the seven precincts where the two ran together.

All bets are off, though, if Democrats get behind another candidate in the 103rd District.

A number of other Democrats are looking at the race, including Sam Rosenberg, a 28-year-old Champaign attorney, and Carol Ammons, formerly of the county board and now of the Urbana City Council.

"I'm leaning very heavily toward it," Ammons said. "We're having a family conference about it this weekend, including my son who is away at college (Jackson State University) and is coming back for the discussion.

"I have a whiteboard up that lists the pros and cons and we're going to review all of that."

Rosenberg formerly worked in both the Champaign County and Cook County state's attorney's offices, and earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago and his law degree from the University of Illinois.

"I'm interested in running for the state representative for this district, but there are a number of conversations I need to have before I make any decisions. I'd like to decide within the next few weeks," said Rosenberg, who grew up in Glen Ellyn, a Republican Party stronghold. "I'm excited about just the possibility of representing the district, and the university in particular."

Other Democrats looking at the 103rd House race include Champaign firefighter Pat Devaney and Champaign County Board member James Quisenberry.

Champaign Township Supervisor Andy Quarnstrom, also a firefighter, said last week he had decided not to make a run at the seat.

Half Century Club meeting

The Half Century Club, a successor to the Old Settlers Club of Champaign County, will meet — for its 90th time — at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at Lincoln Square Village, Urbana.

The main speaker will be former U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, who will talk about his memories of growing up in Urbana in the 1950s and '60s.

The club also will honor Richard B. Cogdal and Phil and Polly Hoggatt as distinguished residents of the community. Entertainment will be provided by the University of Illinois singing group, The Other Guys.

The Half Century Club, at that time known as the Old Settlers Half Century Club and open to anyone who had lived in Urbana for 50 or more years, met for the first time in 1923 at the First Methodist Church in Urbana. It was organized to allow longtime Champaign County residents, including pioneer families, to meet and get reacquainted.

Today, membership — which requires no dues — is open to anyone who has lived in the general Champaign County area for a while. The group meets once a year, always in the fall, and celebrates local history through conversation and music.

Tickets for the Oct. 16 dinner meeting are $27.50 per person. Call Norma Bean at 359-1360 to make reservations.

Candidates to Iroquois County

They've already been to Ford and Champaign counties, and the next stop for the four Republican candidates for governor — at least for three of them — is Iroquois County.

Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, along with Chicago businessman Bruce Rauner, will appear before the Iroquois County Republican Women's Club at noon Oct. 17 at Celebrations in Watseka. Steve Kim, who is Dan Rutherford's running mate, also is scheduled to appear.

Tickets are $15 and are available at Illiana Backyard Fun in Watseka. For information, call Harriett Mowrey at 815-682-4422.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at tkacich@news-gazette.com.

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