This week has not been a good one for a group of McHenry County politicians – or aspiring ones – fighting political attacks waged on them during the 2018 election.
It should prompt county Republicans to reconsider their strategy – and the candidates they back.
On Wednesday, a Kane County judge threw out a lawsuit brought by two failed McHenry County Board candidates, Ersel Schuster and Orville Brettman, who had filed a defamation suit over campaign literature opposing them in 2018. The flyer was financed by a "dark money" group called the Illinois Integrity Fund, which has ties to County Board Chairman Jack Franks.
But the judge ruled that the facts on which the flyer’s claims were based – that an online threat against Franks had been traced to a computer at Schuster’s home, and that Brettman had been a party to violent acts in the 1970s with a group called the Legion of Justice – probably were true.
On Friday, two additional County Board candidates who had filed lawsuits – Chuck Wheeler and Michael Rein – withdrew their suits against the same group and agreed to pay the Illinois Integrity Fund’s lawyer fees.
Meanwhile, the Illinois State Board of Elections on Wednesday found that McHenry County Clerk and Recorder Joe Tirio had committed a campaign finance violation for failing to report a $1,200 payment made by the county's Central Republican Committee to finance his own lawsuit against the Illinois Integrity Fund. Tirio had testified to the State Board of Elections that he was paying the legal costs for the suit himself.
There appears to be no real penalty for this little misunderstanding, other than to file an amended campaign finance report – that, and how voters view the situation if Tirio decides to seek elected office in 2022.
These developments prompted some strong words from another Republican – state Rep. David McSweeney – who represents much of southeast McHenry County in the Statehouse.
“The party has hit rock bottom with losers like Brettman, Schuster and Tirio, too,” McSweeney said. “These are extremists who absolutely do not represent the Republican Party.”
McSweeney lobs his share of bombs at leaders in both parties, but here he has a point: With the 2020 elections on the horizon, it’s imperative local Republicans set their sights on fielding mainstream candidates and emphasizing ethical behavior.
The GOP long has been the dominant force in McHenry County politics. We share their typical preference for smaller government, a favorable business climate and a family-friendly atmosphere.
We share the frustration at seemingly ever-increasing taxes and the lack of spending reforms or cuts in Springfield. We’re tired of the dominance of House Speaker and state Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan, whose statewide power far exceeds the number of voters who elect him.
However, the public showed in 2018 that it still demands candidates who tell the truth and can be effective. When given a choice, they choose centrists over extremists.
The 2020 elections will be critical for the future direction of the county, state and country. We expect a high turnout of motivated voters. Solid candidates who speak to our values will win. Extremists will end up defeated, suing their political opponents in court.