A fight is brewing in the McHenry County Republican Party over a tea party candidate who wants to run against Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks in November.
Tonya Franklin of Woodstock wants to be appointed to run for the 63rd House District in which Franks, D-Marengo, has run unopposed in two of the previous three elections. County GOP leadership turned her down as a political neophyte without a solid grasp of the issues in Springfield, while others have privately expressed reservations about her politics, such as questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States, being extreme.
But two precinct committeemen – election activist Sharon Meroni and county political blogger Cal Skinner – are helping Franklin force the issue through a special Saturday meeting of the county GOP Central Committee to override leadership and get the party’s blessing.
Provided, that is, that committee members have a quorum and conclude that the meeting is legal under the party’s bylaws. If Franklin gets the nod, she will have two days to collect and submit 500 signatures needed to get onto the ballot.
To her supporters, county GOP Chairman and state Rep. Mike Tryon is obstructing an opportunity to challenge Franks, the county’s sole Democratic representative in Springfield. But Tryon, who has been in Springfield for the past week of the spring legislative session, said the decision of the party’s Executive Committee to not slate Franklin is strictly one of experience and knowledge.
“I think what’s happening is that there’s a perception that I’m the sole person opposed to putting Tonya Franklin on the ballot,” Tryon said. “She could be a good candidate, but when you interview someone, they have to have a grasp of the state’s issues.”
Meroni, a newly elected write-in committeeman known for filing challenges to petitions to force candidates to provide proof of citizenship, is actively trying to get a candidate onto the ballot.
Meroni, of Barrington Hills, said a “group of conservative women” asked Franklin, a tea party activist, to run for the 63rd after the April convention in which the party did not put up a challenger against Franks. No Republican ran in the March primary for the 63rd District.
Franklin, a medical instructor who moved to Woodstock in 2009, said she was “shocked the Republicans would give him a free pass.”
“That’s one of the reasons why I’m running. I feel that strongly for not giving anyone a free pass, the way things are in Illinois,” Franklin said.
Franklin first met with Tryon, and then with members of the Executive Committee, who have the final say in approving policies, actions or expenditures.
The committee rejected her, Tryon said, because she never had served as a precinct committeeman, had not voted in two of the past four elections, and did not have a platform to members’ satisfaction. Tryon said they told her to get more involved, become a precinct committeeman, get to know constituents and then run in the 2014 primary.
“The recommendation was that maybe she should work for another year,” Tryon said. “We felt that with the resources we would commit as a party, it would be better if she got more active.”
Skinner, creator of McHenry County Blog and retired six-term state representative, called the decision not to support Franklin a lack of leadership. Skinner, a longtime critic of Franks, began blogging daily about Franklin, and with Meroni began calling precinct committeemen to force a meeting.
“The problem is, no one has [run against Franks] for two of the past three elections? What is wrong with this picture?” said Skinner, of Lakewood. “Parties are supposed to recruit candidates, not say, ‘Oh, we can’t find anybody’ or ‘Oh, we can’t find anybody good enough.’ “
Meroni, Skinner and Franklin said they came up with the 25 percent of the committeemen required under the bylaws to call a special meeting.
Tryon and Franklin said that her political beliefs – which some in the party and commenters on Skinner’s blog have criticized as extreme – did not come up for discussion.
Until recently, Franklin introduced herself on her Facebook page as a “Terrorist, Enemy, Barbarian, SOB, Hobbit (?). Right Wing Extremist, Christian Conservative, Oathkeeper, Birther, Gun slinging, Bible toting, TEA Partying, Patriot Mom that Obama warned you about [sic] ...”
Franklin said the introduction was a joke compiling the labels the political left – and some on the right – have given the tea party and patriot movements that have sprung up since President Obama’s election.
On her Facebook page, she shared photos of Obama wearing a hoodie in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, and a photo comparing Sarah Palin and openly gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., as “our women vs. their women.” In a 2010 comment on the conservative Gateway Pundit blog, she called Obama “a Muslim terrorist in the White House.”
Franklin said she is not extreme, but is trying to fight public political apathy.
“The only thing I’ve been doing for the past few years is encouraging people to get involved,” Franklin said. “I was trying to get people off of their couch.”
A background check by party officials also turned up a 1995 citation while Franklin lived in Florida for serving alcohol to a minor. Franklin, who said the issue did not come up in her meetings with party leadership, said she was a bartender who was told to serve the individual by her manager.
Forcing the vote
Meroni said she is prepared to fight off questions Saturday about whether the meeting is legal under the party’s bylaws, which are now online courtesy of the ongoing rift.
It takes 25 percent of the precinct committeemen to call a special meeting, of which 10 days’ written notice must be mailed, and 40 percent of the 150 or so committeemen must be present. Meroni said she has membership lists and affidavits to prove both conditions have been met – Tryon pointed out that the May 24 date of the letter could mean only nine days’ notice was provided.
Under state law, committeemen would not directly vote for Franklin, but would vote to appoint two members who, along with Tryon, would make up a three-member committee to decide whether to run a candidate. If the two are Franklin supporters, they override Tryon’s vote and Franklin gets on the ballot.
If successful, Franklin would have until 5 p.m. Monday to collect at least 500 signatures and submit them to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Meroni and Franklin said they have “tireless” volunteers ready to canvass the 63rd District, with the aim of collecting the maximum of 1,500 signatures to survive a petition challenge.
Tryon said he does not want a situation that divides the party in an election year, especially over one race of many.
“The fact is, the party’s resources are very limited and have to be managed very strategically. Even the energy needs to be strategically placed – the energy to get [52nd House candidate] Dave McSweeney elected, to get [Mitt] Romney elected in our county,” Tryon said. “The election just isn’t about one race – it’s about strategically placing your party’s resources to be as successful as you can.”
Skinner disagreed. He said Franks, who has considerable Republican support to continually win re-election, will spend his time working against other Republican candidates if he does not have a challenger. He cited the feud between Franks and County Board Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, in particular.
“Franks has done a marvelous job of co-opting the Republican Party, but if the party is really a party, it has to run an opponent,” Skinner said.
Franks declined to comment on the issue, calling it “a Republican issue best commented on by them.”