There are six countywide races up for election on Nov. 6, but Champaign County voters will have to give serious thought to just four of them.
That's because Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz, a Democrat, is running without opposition, as is Coroner Duane Northrup, a Republican.
In the contested races, only one elected incumbent, Recorder of Deeds Barb Frasca, is running for re-election. Another incumbent, Republican County Clerk Gordy Hulten, was appointed to fill a vacancy left by former clerk Mark Shelden, who left office to join the staff of U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson.
There will be some new faces in at least two offices, those of auditor and circuit clerk.
It's past time for a new auditor, a position that county Democrats despoiled when they appointed outgoing incumbent Tony Fabri to fill a vacancy and then backed him for re-election. Fabri's tenure as a county elected official is one of the most bizarre in county history, noteworthy only because he made a point of not bothering to come to work with disturbing regularity.
In the circuit clerk's office, longtime Republican incumbent Linda Frank opted not to run for re-election after 21 years in charge of the office.
In both cases, change will be good. Fabri has been a disgrace as auditor, while Frank's departure will allow for some fresh blood and renewed energy in the circuit clerk's office.
Following are The News-Gazette's endorsements.
The News-Gazette would prefer an appointed auditor with specific professional credentials serving a fixed term to escape political pressures. But voters prefer otherwise.
This race features Democrat George Danos, a political newcomer, against Republican John Farney, a veteran politico who works in the county clerk's office.
The News-Gazette endorses Danos, who has the better educational and professional background for the job. He has degrees in economics and actuarial science, and he has worked with budget numbers and financial forecasting in the private sector.
For his part, Farney offers a background as a past candidate for office, familiarity with current county operations because of his experience in the county clerk's office and the willingness to work hard as the taxpayer's watchdog.
The watchdog role is crucial. Given the gerrymandering of county board districts that virtually guarantees a majority Democratic county board, Farney can argue with credibility that, as a Republican, he's best suited to keep an eye on county spending. However, given his nonpartisan background, The News-Gazette is comfortable that Danos also would fulfill that role in a way that protects taxpayers' interests.
Republican Hulten and Democrat Charlie Smyth, a member of the Urbana City Council, are competing for this important office, which conducts elections and keeps track of vital records.
The News-Gazette endorses Hulten on the strength of his successful stewardship during his two-plus years in office. If it's not broke, there is no reason to make a change.
Hulten already has presided over one big election, the November 2010 race, without problems. He has maintained good relations with members of his staff, has presided over a voter registration drive that has produced more registered voters than ever in the county's history, has worked well with members of the opposite party and has run his office with the goal of scrupulously obeying state statutes.
Smyth cited his long expertise in computer information systems, suggesting that his plans to increase efficiency will result in cleaner voting rolls and significant savings. But a subtext of his campaign is the Democrats' longtime resentment of past Republican county clerks Dennis Bing and Mark Shelden. Smyth offers to end a Republican "stranglehold" on the office.
If the Republican Party does have a stranglehold on the county clerk's office, it's because the voters have consistently elected Republican candidates to run it.
The race for the post of circuit clerk, which handles records for the courts, poses a happy dilemma for voters.
In our view, both Republican Katie Blakeman and Democrat Barbara Wysocki are impressive. The News-Gazette endorses Blakeman because her background and education in information management services makes her better suited to the document-heavy office.
Blakeman, who has worked at the University of Illinois and in the private sector, and Wysocki, a retired University High School teacher and former county board chairwoman, share similar views about the challenges facing the office. Each candidate said it will be important to hire a deputy clerk to help manage the office, lay the groundwork for the electronic filing of court documents, establish harmonious relations with office employees and continue to pursue technological innovations that will make it easier to keep track of court records.
Wysocki said her background as a teacher and member of the county board proves she is "someone (people) know and trust." Because she is younger than Wysocki, Blakeman has a less extensive track record, but, in our view, is better prepared to do the job.
Recorder of deeds
This one won't take long. Incumbent Republican Barb Frasca is seeking her fifth term in office and is running against Democrat D'Anne Winston, a former recorder's office employee.
Frasca has done a fine job with limited resources, and there simply is no need to replace someone who has demonstrated her ability to run this office over the long haul with someone who has not. The News-Gazette endorses Frasca.