Tom Kacich | Low turnout was rule for most area counties

Tom Kacich | Low turnout was rule for most area counties

Champaign County's puny 13.27 percent turnout for this month's local government election wasn't that much different than in other nearby counties.

Macon County, where there was a three-way race for mayor of Decatur, had a countywide turnout of 14.4 percent. Kankakee County's turnout was 12.8 percent. Madison County's was 11.8 percent. In McLean County, the turnout was 13.2 percent. Bloomington, which has a separate election commission, had a 9.37 percent turnout.

Danville, with a four-way race for mayor, had a 26 percent turnout, but the rest of Vermilion County was well below that.

Champaign County's was lower than comparable elections in recent years primarily because of the lack of a competitive mayoral race in Champaign. This year's election — led by incumbent Mayor Deb Feinen versus perennial candidate Azark Cobbs — drew just more than 7,000 voters in the city. That was far below the more than 12,000 who voted in a four-way race for mayor in 2015 (along with a school district tax increase referendum) and the 8,000-plus who voted in a two-way race between Don Gerard and Jerry Schweighart in 2011.

The low turnouts have raised anew concerns about the cost of these nonpartisan, consolidated elections. It's too early to calculate the cost of the election in Champaign County but it's worth noting that the county clerk's office has a budget of $130,000 just for election judges and workers. Divide that sum by the unofficial total of 17,014 who cast ballots and you have a cost of something like $7.60 per ballot cast.

There are ways to reduce the costs of these and other elections although the Legislature isn't discussing them. One election-related bill that cleared the Illinois Senate last week had nothing to do with cost-efficiency. It would mandate that anyone running for president release the most recent five years' worth of tax returns in order to appear on the ballot in Illinois.

Former Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten had proposed that the county be permitted to establish 20 to 25 voting centers — as opposed to the current approximately 100 polling places — that would operate on Election Day and days or weeks before each election. Similar voting centers are used in about a dozen states. But Hulten's idea went nowhere in Illinois.

I couldn't get the new county clerk, Aaron Ammons, to address the issue or to offer his thoughts. An office spokesperson said Ammons hopes to address ideas for "streamlining" elections later this summer. That unfortunately will be too late to affect any changes for the 2020 elections.

Davis fundraising

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis' campaign staff has been busy replenishing the congressman's campaign fund, which was down to just $19,576 on Jan. 1.

Davis spent more than $3.8 million in the 2017-2018 election cycle, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

As of March 31, Davis' campaign fund was up to $393,546. Still, that's less than comparable dates in 2017, when the Rodney for Congress fund had $579,804, and 2015, when there was $417,772.

But Davis' team brought in $508,351 during the Jan. 1 to March 31 period and spent $166,140.

As in the past, more than 80 percent of Davis' campaign funds came from political action committees. He got $414,647 from PACs in the first quarter and $94,704 from individual contributors.

The heaviest hitter to Davis thus far: the GOP's Take Back the House 2020, which gave his campaign $89,153. Other big donors included $10,000 each from the Deere & Co. PAC, the Anheuser-Busch Companies PAC and the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. Davis also got $8,000 from ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) and $6,500 each from the Fed Ex PAC and the International Paper PAC.

Contributors at the $5,000 level included the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors; Home Depot; the American Hotel and Lodging Association; the JET PAC affiliated with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Air National Guard pilot; the Trucking Political Action Committee; the International Union of Operating Engineers; the National Association of Truck Stop Operators; the American Institute of Architects and the Williams Companies, a Tulsa-based energy infrastructure company.

Many of Davis' contributions come from groups and companies with legislation before his two main committees: Agriculture and Transportation & Infrastructure.

Davis' 2018 election opponent, Springfield Democrat Betsy Londrigan, announced last week that she would run again for the Democratic nomination in 2020. Davis' campaign fund responded with a fundraising appeal, calling her "Left Wing Londrigan," and claiming that she would be "nothing more than a rank-and-file, rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi's agenda ... "

Halbrook tweet

One of the more amusing anecdotes to Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot's visit to Springfield last week was her decision to pose for a photo with state Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, the chief sponsor of a House resolution to split Chicago from the rest of Illinois, and three of his GOP allies.

Just a few weeks ago, Halbrook told a crowd in Effingham that dividing the state would "make Illinois great again."

"Let's build a wall around Chicago; let's get Cook County to pay for it," he told the boisterous crowd.

But last week he posted the photo on Twitter and wrote, "Conservative members from east central and south eastern Illinois reach out to Chicago mayor-elect to start the discussion how to make Illinois the thriving economy it should be."

Lightfoot didn't seem to be worried about Halbrook's secessionist effort.

"Obviously, we'll watch it," she told reporters. "But I don't have any concerns of any secession effort actually taking hold."

With good reason. Halbrook's House Resolution 101 to make Chicago the 51st state has just four cosponsors out of the 118 House members.

Tom Kacich's column appears on Sunday in The News-Gazette. He can be reached at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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