County GOP has choice to make
Who knew that nominating a candidate for public office would be so difficult?
It appears that nothing is going to be easy for local Republicans trying to find a nominee for the Champaign County circuit clerk's office.
Ordinarily, the matter would have been settled on primary day — March 20. But as is often said when describing fiascoes, there were unexpected complications.
Because of his solid political pedigree, former state Sen. Rick Winkel was the odds-on favorite to defeat GOP county board member Stephanie Holderfield. But Winkel, who came out of political retirement to run for the circuit clerk's office, decided to go back into political retirement when he was offered a good job opportunity at the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs.
Despite dropping out of the race — unfortunately, too late to have his name removed from the ballot — Winkel won the primary election anyway. On Tuesday, Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten certified Winkel as the winner, an action immediately followed by Winkel's official withdrawal from the race.
What's next? There are conflicting legal opinions. The State Board of Elections advised Hulten to recognize Holderfield as the winner and GOP candidate in the fall election against Democrat Barbara Wysocki. But lawyers from State's Attorney Julia Rietz's office read the law differently, informing Hulten that there is no provision in election law allowing him to ignore Winkel's votes. Hulten is following Rietz's advice.
Therefore, county Republican precinct committeemen will have to name a candidate — either Holderfield or someone else — to fill the ballot spot vacated by Winkel.
So far, three candidates — Katie Blakeman, A.J. Ruggieri and Sami Anderson — have stepped forward along with Holderfield to seek the blessing of the committeemen. Another would-be candidate, Scott Perkins, decided not to offer his name for consideration and has endorsed Blakeman.
County Republicans have scheduled a 7 p.m. Thursday meeting at their headquarters to choose their candidate.
Democrats, meanwhile, must be chortling over the GOP's political confusion because there's no guarantee Republicans will actually have their candidate even after the committeemen have made their selection. Holderfield has hinted that she'll take her case to court if she doesn't get the nod.
It would be good to get a definitive legal opinion on the question of whether Winkel's votes should be counted. But the last thing Republicans need is a lawsuit that will delay the matter further. That, however, may be unavoidable.
Assuming Holderfield is not legally entitled to the nomination, precinct committeemen have no obligation to select her as their candidate. Instead, they have an obligation to choose the individual they believe best qualified to carry out the public's business in the circuit clerk's office.
Of course, it's fair to ask where these other three candidates were during last year's filing period. But there's a good answer — Winkel was such a formidable candidate that no one besides Holderfield was interested in running. Besides, she was already in the race when Winkel announced.
It is a long time until November, and there's time for the GOP to recover. But they've dug themselves a big hole, and there's no indication when they'll be able to begin their climb out.