Election Day was supposed to be a big day for Champaign County government, particularly the new 22-member county board.
The board is being downsized from 27 to 22 members. Instead of nine three-member districts, there will be 11 two-member districts. The redrawing of the district boundary lines, which follows the decennial census and is required to account for shifts in population, means that all 22 seats will be up for election.
But, alas, there's not much drama and little of note for the voters. The election results, for the most part, have been fixed.
Like most races for the Illinois General Assembly, most races for the county board have been pre-determined by the manipulation of district boundary lines that are designed to give the Democrats a board majority for the next 10 years.
Democrats drew the map to pretty much ensure Republicans will control 10 seats at most in Districts 1 to 5 while ensuring that Democrats will fill at least 12 seats in Districts 6 to 11.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. A bipartisan group of board Democrats and Republicans tried to arrange a nonpartisan map-drawing process to ensure compact districts and competitive elections. But hard-core partisans hijacked the process at the last minute, and the result is that the new board map is as gerrymandered as the current one.
So rather than contest unwinnable races, members of both parties have stood down in areas where the geography makes it very difficult to win.
So only three of the 11 districts up of election Tuesday feature any competition whatsoever.
County board districts 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11 have either two Republicans running unopposed or two Democrats running unopposed. It's a terrible insult to the voters of Champaign County.
Following are our endorsements in the three races where voters have a choice:
Incumbent Republicans John Jay, a board veteran and leader of the GOP caucus, and Gary Maxwell, who was appointed to fill a vacancy, face Democrats Eric Thorsland, who has run previously, and Eugenia Lamb Watson, who was slated by her party to fill a vacant ballot spot.
Jay, a retired farmer, and Maxwell, a retired engineer, are a good fit in this district, which includes the Mahomet, Foosland and Fisher areas. Thorsland, a university engineer and organic farmer, is making his third run for the county board, and he's a solid candidate as well. Watson, a nurse for 39 years, offers voters an alternative, but does not have a strong grasp on county issues.
The News-Gazette endorses Jay and Maxwell for the two open seats. Thorsland provides a credible alternative.
Republicans Jeff Kibler, a software manager, and Max Mitchell, a Realtor, face Democrats Brad Diel, a firefighter and mass transit district board member, and Tracy Luchik, a teacher and union leader, in this Champaign-based district.
All four candidates bring a wide array of experiences and a solid grasp of the issues to the race, making this contest the most interesting of the three districts where voters have a choice.
Because Kibler and Mitchell are off to a good start as representatives of this district, we see no reason to make a change. They are endorsed.
Diel and Luchik are credible candidates, but we are troubled by the latter's inflexible approach to the county nursing home problem. She indicated that she would never consider closing or selling the county nursing home, no matter how serious its financial problems, and would prefer instead to raise property taxes to keep it afloat. While we share Luckik's concern for the nursing home's continuation, that kind of hidebound approach to issues is not in the public's best interests.
Incumbent Democrats Giraldo Rosales and Michael Richards face Republican challenger Sher Hampel, a former member of the Champaign City Council.
Rosales, a university dean, has been an independent thinker on the Democratic-controlled board, less inclined to follow the partisan line, and for that The News-Gazette endorses him for re-election. Richards has taken the opposite approach, which is no surprise considering that he's a professional political operative who earns his living trying to get Democrats elected to office. There's nothing disreputable about Richards' occupation, but hard-core partisanship has been poisonous to the board and the public. Indeed, it's the sole reason voters have so little choice in these board races and makes it impossible to endorse Richards.
It's hard to imagine that Hampel, who works in her family's business, has any chance to win in a district drawn to elect a Democrat. However, she was a conscientious member of the city council, and there's no reason to believe she's be any different on the county board. In this district, The News-Gazette endorses Democrat Rosales and Republican Hampel.