Dan Caulkins wins House race; Manar gets another term
Originally posted: Herald & Review
DECATUR — In an election that saw a shift in party control on the national level, local voters sent a slate of incumbents to the General Assembly in Springfield, and gave a win to former Decatur City Councilman Dan Caulkins, who will keep the 101st Illinois House District under Republican control.
"I think this is an affirmation of my priority to return the state to fiscal soundness first before we can start any new programs," Caulkins said Tuesday night, with a commanding 40 percent lead before all the votes were tallied Tuesday night. "I'm humbled by the support that I've received tonight, this is beyond my expectations to be honest."
Caulkins said he was proud of running a clean, on-the-issues campaign against Democrat Jen McMillin of Decatur, who went Tuesday night to congratulate Caulkins for his win at his victory party in Decatur.
"I wish the numbers had been different of course, but we showed the people of the 101st you can have more than one choice," McMillin said. "That you can have a progressive Democratic candidate getting a large portion of the vote fighting for what we believe in."
McMillin received little fundraising support from Illinois Democratic leaders, and she took tough campaign positions that voters traditionally balk at, such as her message that shoring up Illinois' financial mess will require a combination of higher taxes and fees as well as cuts to services.
Caulkins kept to a traditionally conservative platform that stressed fiscal discipline and lower state spending. He promised voters he would challenge the Illinois Democratic machine and he would not take a legislator's salary and benefits while in office.
Caulkins' predecessor, Bill Mitchell of Forsyth will retire at the end of this year after serving 20 years in the Illinois House. Frustrated by Gov. Bruce Rauner's inability to negotiate an agreement with Democrats to pass a budget, he was one of a handful of Republican legislators who voted with the other party to raise the state income tax from 3.75 to 4.95 percent to bring state government operations back to normal and public universities, community colleges, public schools and social services back from the financial brink.
With a new governor in billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker and a strong showing in state legislative races Tuesday, Democrats will likely have an embarrassment of riches at the state level since Illinois Democrats were projected to retain large majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly — something Republican voters worried about.
"There genuinely could be a lot of fear in communities like Decatur, Champaign, Bloomington and Springfield," said Evan Hall, a Decatur resident who worked with Macon County Republicans to get out the vote. "Just because of things like the mileage tax, and what could potentially happen to your average middle-class family Downstate."
If there was anything close to an upset victory, it was the incumbent Democratic state Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill who fended off a well-funded Republican challenger Seth McMillan, a small business owner and former Taylorville school board member. Manar came away with 57 percent of the vote at the end of the night.
"We're happy that voters embraced a positive message and a campaign that was based on producing results for the district in a highly partisan environment," Manar said after McMillan conceded the race. "I'm proud to be someone who has shown the ability to bring Democrats and Republicans together in Springfield."
In a moderate district with strong contingencies of both Democratic and Republican voters, Manar relied on a bipartisan message and record of legislative accomplishments, including his central role in passing a state law last year that gives more state money to needy school districts.
McMillan's newcomer campaign, which stressed the candidate's newcomer status to state politics and conservatism, was not enough to overcome Manar's deep support from the Illinois Democratic Party and his record of results in a district that he first won in 2012.
"I want to thank our awesome volunteers and the people who are dedicated to trying to take Illinois in a different direction and put a representative in office that represents what I believe are the conservative values that the 48th district has," McMillan said in a speech to supporters Tuesday night.
Within Manar's Senate district, state Sen. Sue Scherer won reelection for the fourth time in the 96th House District, one drawn by Democrats in 2012 to be favorable to their own party. The former Decatur school teacher beat Republican Springfield Alderman Herman Senor, despite his support of public sector unions and emphasis on the need for inner-city social programs — two positions not usually found in GOP platforms.
"It ended up being much closer than I thought it would be," Scherer said after winning 60 percent of the vote. "But I didn't want to wake up in the morning thinking I didn't work hard enough for the people."
Scherer's challenger, Republican Springfield Alderman Herman Senor said he was proud of the effort his team made. "We thought we would try something new and it just because it didn't work out, I think we still made some big strides," Senor said. "For (Scherer) to be the incumbent and lose by 6,000 votes. I think we did a good job."