Tom Kacich: Klein unchallenged for party chair, could name Frerichs successor
Later this year Al Klein, the current head of the Champaign County Democratic Party, could become the most politically powerful person in the county, at least for a short time.
Klein could almost singlehandedly decide who will be the next state senator in the 52nd District, which includes Champaign and Vermilion counties.
Here's what would have to happen:
— Klein would have to win reelection later this spring as Democratic county chairman.
— Mike Frerichs, the current state senator for the 52nd District, would have to win election as state treasurer in November. He's a shoo-in to win the Democratic nomination, since he has no opposition. His likely Republican opponent is former House Minority Leader Tom Cross, so his election as a statewide official is not a certainty. In fact, the current state treasurer, Dan Rutherford, is a Republican. But Frerichs does have a lot of money and won't get beat up in a primary.
— Champaign County would have to perform to form and cast more votes than Vermilion County, giving Klein more clout than the Democratic Party chairman in Vermilion County. They're the only two who get to appoint the person to fill the final two years of Frerichs' Senate term.
The reason this is of interest now is because Klein appears to have no opposition for election to another term as county chairman in mid-April, when the county's Democratic precinct committeemen (as well as the Republicans) meet to choose their leaders. There are only 30 Democratic precinct committeeman candidates on the ballot for the March 18 primary (versus 68 on the Republican side) and most of those running for committeeman have supported Klein in the past.
The last Democrat to challenge Klein, Eric Thorsland, is busy running for Congress. The one before that, Kevin Sandefur, is moving to a new home and isn't running for precinct committeeman.
"In the fall I was encouraged to seek another term, by committeemen and candidates I talked to at the time," Klein said, "so I agreed to do so. And I know of no one else who is going to run."
Klein dismissed talk of him having all the power when it comes to possibly choosing Frerichs' replacement, but don't think it isn't being discussed among area Democrats.
"I am not thinking about those things at this time, any more than Mike or anyone else. That's too far ahead with too many roads to cross," he said. "We'll handle that when it comes."
Asked if he's noticed that he's acquired more friends recently, he laughed and said, "But I don't know for sure. It's up to us and Vermilion. I mean everyone could stay home here and Vermilion could have more votes. It doesn't get you anywhere to count your chickens before you build your henhouse."
Klein said he hasn't heard from anyone interested in the Frerichs seat "and I wouldn't expect to at this point. After all, I'm not chairman yet either."
On another matter, Klein said it's possible that either he or the party could make endorsements in upcoming primary election contests, including the contentious county board District 7 race between current board chair Alan Kurtz and former chair C. Pius Weibel.
Kurtz is in trouble with many Democrats because he won the county board chairmanship in December 2012 with the help mostly of Republican board members, upsetting the choice of the county board's Democratic caucus, Michael Richards.
Klein called Kurtz' candidacy "highly controversial" among Democrats, and said "it's possible" endorsements could be made in the race.
"I don't remember us ever making an endorsement (in a primary) but the bylaws were changed to allow it if we really thought we wanted to," Klein said. "It would have to be a very high sentiment to do it but it could be done."
He said he was not concerned that Kurtz/Weibel race would cause a rift in the party.
"There's not a rift in the party. It's a rift between Al Kurtz and the party. Al knew what he was doing when he did it. History shows that the last person that did that (Barbara Wysocki, who used GOP votes to become chair), there's alienation there now isn't there? A student of history should not be surprised if he decided to take the same route, that there would be an alienation."
More than half the members of the House and Senate are millionaires, according to an analysis of financial disclosure reports filed by the Center for Responsive Politics.
But none of the four congressmen whose districts touch parts of East Central Illinois — Republican Reps. Rodney Davis, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger or Aaron Schock — is anywhere close to being among the most wealthy members.
At least 268 of the 534 current members of Congress had an average net worth of $1 million or more in 2012, according to the reports that each lawmaker filed last year.
Davis, whose district includes Champaign-Urbana, ranked 334th in the 435-member House. His net worth was estimated at between $85,020 and $405,000, based on the personal finance disclosure forms that members have to file. The reports allow for ranges of worth, such as Davis' stock in McDonald's Corp. that he valued at between $15,000 and $50,000.
Shimkus, whose district includes Danville, most of Champaign County's geography and most counties east and south of Champaign County, was ranked 236th in the House with a net worth between $162,011 and $1.3 million. His greatest asset was a townhouse in Washington, D.C., which he valued at between $500,000 and $1 million.
Kinzinger, who ranked 349th, had a net worth of $97,006 to $280,000.
Schock ranked 261st and had a net worth of between minus $114,911 and plus $1.18 million. He listed a liability of $500,000 to $1 million on an "Old Orchard Land Trust," which was not further identified.
Frerichs closed 2013 with a fundraising surge.
He reported $95,250 in 27 separate campaign contributions of $1,000 or more, all reportedly received on Dec. 30 and 31. It's unknown precisely how much Frerichs raised or spent in the quarter that ended Dec. 31. Those numbers will be reported later this month.
The recent contributions to the Frerichs campaign included donations from business groups ($1,500 from Kraft Foods and $1,000 from Globetrotters Engineering Corp. in Chicago, whose CEO is former University of Illinois Board of Trustees Chairman Niranjan Shah), fellow Democratic politicians ($5,000 from Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle) and, most of all, labor unions. His biggest contributions were $15,000 from the Illinois Federation of Teachers and $10,000 from Illinois AFSCME Council 31.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at email@example.com.