Tom Kacich: 40 years is enough for Urbana GOP committeeman

Tom Kacich: 40 years is enough for Urbana GOP committeeman

His friendly foe in Urbana's Cunningham 10 precinct retired in 2016, and now Jan Miller — the Republican precinct committeeman in what is generally regarded as the most Democratic precinct in Champaign County — is stepping down after 40 years.

Back in 2009, then-County Clerk Mark Shelden said that Miller and his Democratic counterpart, Bernadine Stake, had set the county record for most consecutive two-year terms (16) as committeemen in the same precinct.

Miller has been a GOP committeeman since 1978. Stake had served for Democrats from 1980 to 2016.

"We're still super active, but 40 years, that's enough," Miller said of the work he and his wife, Karen, have done for the party in the precinct centered around Carle Park in Urbana. "It was really more than 40."

Before he became committeeman in Cunningham 10, Miller said, he was the GOP committeeman in a Coles County precinct near Eastern Illinois University, while he was a student there.

That's where he met former Gov. Jim Edgar, who had lived in Charleston, attended EIU and later represented the area in the Illinois House.

"I got to know him really well. I have a picture of my 1965 Chevrolet with a giant Edgar roof sign on it," said Miller. "We used to go out and take groups of kids down to Paris and other towns to work for him. We had a lot of fun, and I made a lot of good friends."

Then he moved back to Urbana, settling down in his boyhood home on Garfield Avenue.

"I've lived in my house here on the park for my entire life. When I was in high school, (the late Lawrence) "Bud" Hatch was our Republican precinct committeeman. He lived about three houses away, and I used to work for him, taking material door to door when I was still in high school," Miller recalled.

At that time, he said, the precinct "was much more Republican. I would say this was right after the end of the Vietnam War, and people were pretty worked up, so I would say it was about 50-50. But if you went back five or six years before that, it tilted Republican."

But the precinct has become more Democratic as more University of Illinois faculty members moved in.

In the 2016 presidential election, for example, Cunningham 10 went 80 percent to 11 percent for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.

"I've knocked on enough doors," said Miller. "I'm still active with the party, and I'm still as committed as ever. But I don't know how much an effect a committeeman can have in my precinct. My wife lately has been doing more of the work in terms of getting names for petitions and all of that. We've kind moved on to where we just write checks. We heavily, heavily support all of the candidates.

"I'm doing what I saw a lot of key people doing for the party back when I was younger. I couldn't figure it out. At some point, all that knocking on doors, especially in my precinct, it's not fun."

Gene Grandone will replace Miller as GOP committeeman in Cunningham 10.

Miller has better memories from his term as county Republican Party chairman in the early 1990s.

"No regrets. It was worth it," he said. "I did my best, and I think I got a lot accomplished when I was chairman. I got us from 19 to 21 out of 27 seats on the county board. We picked up the recorder's office. I loved it, although there can be a lot of infighting. I didn't so much enjoy that."

Although he's cutting back on politics, Miller said he intends to continue working as the senior vice president at Hickory Point Bank and Trust in Champaign.

Close call for nursing home, county funds

Champaign County Board members came very close to having to hold an emergency meeting tonight over low cash on hand for the county nursing home.

On Monday morning, the nursing home had just $119,265 on hand and faced a $260,000 to $270,000 payroll draw on Friday.

But a $145,000 insurance payment came in about noon Monday, and board Chairman C. Pius Weibel was able to avoid giving the required 48-hour notice for an emergency meeting. Weibel said he was considering asking for a "budget transfer" from the county general fund to the nursing home fund.

The general fund already has lent the nursing home $500,000 this year.

Speaking of the nursing home ...

The Champaign County Democratic Central Committee may make an endorsement in the three-way race for the county board in District 6.

Robert Naiman, the second vice chairman of the party, said he plans to propose in January that the party either endorse Mike Ingram or Ingram and Charles Young.

But not incumbent Democrat Pattsi Petrie.

He wrote that "many Democrats on the central committee and our friends believe that (Petrie) is engaged in deceptive advertising by running as a Democrat, given that she has vigorously and underhandedly collaborated with Republicans" to "undermine core Democratic priorities like saving our Champaign County Nursing Home."

New auditor designated

Republican precinct committeemen Monday chose Diane Michaels to succeed John Farney as the county auditor, effective Jan. 1. Farney will become county treasurer at the same time, succeeding the retiring Dan Welch.

Michaels, of Rantoul, is a veteran county board member who serves as the board's deputy chairwoman for finance.

Michaels' appointment, which is subject to county board approval, will be through Nov. 30, 2018. She also is a declared candidate for election as auditor. She will be opposed by George Danos of Champaign, who ran against Farney in 2016 and lost by 36 votes.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 217-351-5221 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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