Here's some good news for those concerned about the lack of contested races for the Legislature in East Central Illinois.
In 2012, only two of the seven area House districts had general election races.
At least three will be contested in 2014.
In the 102nd District, Republican Adam Brown, R-Champaign, already has a Democratic challenger, Matt Forcum, of Mode, in Shelby County.
In the Champaign-Urbana district — the 103rd — there are two Democrats and one Republican seeking to replace retiring Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana. The Democrats are Carol Ammons of Urbana and Sam Rosenberg of Champaign, and the Republican is Kristin Williamson of Urbana.
In the 106th District, freshman Rep. Josh Harms, R-Watseka, has a Democratic opponent, Watseka City Council member William Nutter.
For now, Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, is unopposed in the 101st District; Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, has no opponent in the 104th District; Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, is unopposed in the 105th District; and there are three Republicans but no Democrats in the 110th District where Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Charleston, is leaving after one term.
It's possible that one or more of those districts could pick up a Democratic candidate after the March 18 primary through a combination of slating and petition-gathering.
The race in the Champaign-Urbana district was anticipated, as all three candidates had announced by the middle of October.
But the races in the heavily Republican 102nd District — generally south and west of Champaign-Urbana — and the 106th District — north of Champaign-Urbana — are a surprise.
In an interesting political pivot — especially interesting if it's part of a statewide strategy — the Democratic candidates are pointing to the recent pension reform vote as evidence that Democrats are more willing to take on Illinois' problems.
"I think this pension reform is going to be helpful in the long run. I know there are some groups that are disappointed but I hope that it's going to be beneficial to everybody. The Democrats are doing some things that I think are going to change Illinois and bring it back to being a leader and a profitable state," said Nutter, a four-term city council member in Watseka who also is a 19-year firefighter in Aurora, about 100 miles from his home. "I don't necessarily think they're perfect, but they've brought some solutions that I agree with."
Similarly, Forcum, a former Republican, said he sees Democrats as problem-solvers in Illinois.
"Over the last couple of years here there has been a shift. We've examined a couple of issues here that the Democrats have had a hand in that have had a lot of success, including the pension vote," said the 27-year-old small businessman. "The Republicans seemed to balk at it. It seemed to be an issue that they talked about in the past and I would have expected it to be an issue that they would have embraced. But I think politically a lot of downstate Republicans — Chapin (Rose), Adam Brown, Bill Mitchell — they voted against it. I'm sure they've got their reasons. They voted their conscience or whatever, but I would have thought that after years of talking about how Illinois has the worst financial conditions and the worst bond ratings and they're offered a solution to rectify these concerns that they've pontificated about for years, they elected to not support it.
"That's a frustration for me. I see the Democrats as being more proactive about solving the problems that I think need to be solved and that I think affect all the taxpayers in this district. I think they're doing a better job now, which is kind of a switch."
Forcum, a former Stewardson-Strasburg school board member and a current township supervisor, readily admits he was a Republican and even considered running for the Legislature as a GOP candidate in 2012.
"My history leans very strong Republican. So this is kind of an aggressive splash to make and announce myself as a Democrat running in a Democratic primary. But again a lot of that comes from issues in the last two years that have changed the dynamics what I thought before. I thought I was with the Republican Party and I thought they were proactive about doing the better job, and here in the last couple of years that has disintegrated. Honestly in my mind that's the best word for it," said Forcum, who has a real estate franchise in Effingham and works at the family-owned Forcum Excavating Inc. in Mode.
Asked if he would vote as a Democrat or a Republican in the Legislature, he said, "I'm going to vote for whatever is best for the 100,000-plus people in the 102nd House District."
The 102nd District includes all or parts of Champaign, Douglas, Edgar, Macon, Moultrie, Shelby and Vermilion counties.
Forcum said he has "absolutely no problem with Adam Brown as an individual. We've met; we've talked; we've encountered each other. I think he's a quality person. I certainly wouldn't want to bash him.
"I just feel that when he ran against Bob Flider (in 2010), he had a 100-day plan to fix a bunch of issues with the state at that time. He's now been in the Legislature for a while. He moved from Decatur to Champaign to keep a seat in a pretty much different territory. I just don't feel like as a representative he's genuinely stepping up to the plate to take an active role in solving the litany of issues that affect the people of Illinois."
Forcum acknowledged that in the general election campaign he likely will be linked with the unpopular Democratic speaker of the House, Michael Madigan of Chicago.
"Call me controlled by Chicago. That's exactly what Adam Brown did with Bob Flider two years ago. That was the playbook. I'll probably get hit with it again, but if (Brown) had spent time trying to be proactive and addressing some of the issues that affect this territory rather than bashing Chicago or saying we need to kick Cook County out of Illinois, I think maybe things would be more functional for him in the Legislature."
Nutter, 54, said he grew up in Oswego and has lived in Watseka for more than 20 years.
"Sitting here on the city council, not that a lot of the problems that our city faces stem from Springfield but some of them do. I found that to fix problems in Watseka I needed to run for the city council," he said. "So I think that some of the problems that face our community as well as the 106th District in general stem from Springfield. To change it you have to be there."
Asked his opinion of Harms, who has been in the Legislature less than a year, Nutter said: "At this point I've seen nothing that he's done that has changed anything here in Watseka."
The 106th District, which includes all or parts of Vermilion, Ford, Iroquois, Livingston and Woodford counties, is one of the most Republican territories in the state.
"That's what they tell me," Nutter said. "The approach I've taken on the city council is that when there's a decision to make I try to get the best information I can, that not only includes information I've found by myself but fortunately I have a very active ward that is in the know with what's going on. They ask good questions which has made me a better alderman. If elected to the House I'll try my very best to represent the 106th District in the same form and fashion."
He said his approximately two-hour work commute between Watseka and Aurora takes him through much of the district.
"My work schedule is I work 24 hours and I'm off 48 hours. And going to Aurora I actually touch a major portion of my district. Auroras is only 30 minutes from Pontiac and Dwight so I can come home and go through almost the entire district on my way to work," Nutter said.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.