BULLETIN-TAB

Bernard Schoenburg: Endorsements rile some in local GOP

Staff Writer
Wicked Local

All of a sudden, it’s extra-fashionable to run for election as a Sangamon County Republican precinct committeeman.

At least, that’s the impression left by the activity in some races for those grass-roots party posts.

Could it have something to do with the fact that there’s a potential challenge to the leadership of county GOP Chairman TONY LIBRI? You be the judge.

Even after withdrawals by some candidates, more than 35 precincts — of the 182 in the new Sangamon County political map —have contested races for GOP committeeman. In addition, brochures are being distributed by some of those candidates, including non-incumbents, saying they are endorsed by the county GOP when the other candidates say they weren’t aware they had a chance to be endorsed. 

At least some of the fliers are being designed by party folks close to Libri, and the party is footing at least part of the cost. Libri estimated the party is spending $1,000 to $2,000 on that effort.

“There was a process and it was well announced,” Libri said of the endorsements. “It was all in the screening committee.”

Precinct committeemen picks were made Oct. 19, when party officials made other endorsements, including the one for GRAY NOLL for state Senate. Libri said individual names of all committeemen candidates weren’t read, but opponents hadn’t emerged, and it’s usually difficult just to fill all the precinct slots. He did also say that endorsements were basically automatic if a candidate had been recruited by party officials.

“If we recruit them, then that means we want them to be on the ticket,” Libri said.

Libri also said he hasn’t talked to the committeeman hopefuls about the possibility that someone might run against him for chairman. The candidates I’ve talked to agree that they are not being pressured to back Libri.

However, there is some consternation over the endorsement issue.

“I really don’t understand what process Tony is following,” said Sangamon County Board Chairman ANDY VAN METER, who is running for committeeman against KATHLEEN ALCORN, who has the party endorsement in the new Woodside 1 precinct. “I thought we gave all candidates notice and the opportunity to be heard before a screening committee that then made a recommendation, and a majority of the precinct committeemen decided all endorsements.

“I’m very surprised if the committeemen met and voted to spend money to defeat me,” Van Meter said. “I wasn’t asked to attend any meeting.”

Libri noted that Van Meter filed for election after Alcorn.

“If these people chose to get in the race after we’ve endorsed somebody, I mean, what am I supposed to do about that?” Libri said.

Filing for committeeman began more than five weeks after the October endorsement session cited by Libri.

Alcorn said she entered what she thought would be an unopposed race at the request of party stalwarts DON CASPER and JIM EDWARDS. She sent her photo to BRIAN SCHACKMANN — the party’s vice chairman — to have the flier made.

Libri notes that the fliers all include a list of party-backed candidates, and Alcorn said she specifically had Van Meter included for re-election to the county board.

MIKE COFFEY JR., an incumbent committeeman, is also running  in the new Capital 52 precinct. He finds himself running against a candidate endorsed by the party, former state Rep. LINDA WILLIAMSON.

“I thought the party had learned its lesson,” Coffey said about endorsements, which are a sore subject for him. Coffey, we may recall, was the GOP choice for Springfield mayor last year until he lost the endorsement following his third-place finish in a nonpartisan primary. He and Libri clashed over the details of discussions regarding Coffey’s potential withdrawal from the race.

Coffey didn’t withdraw, and some point to that episode as a catalyst for the depose-Libri movement. 

“I think we need to get somebody that’s going to unite the party,” Coffey said.

He added that he doesn’t think the party should endorse in committeeman races.

“The idea behind precinct committeemen is to allow Republican voters to select who they want to represent them,” Coffey said.

Williamson formerly represented Northlake in the Illinois House, but she lost a re-election race in 1990 and moved to Springfield 14 years ago. She said she’s been a friend of Schackmann since he was on House staff and they’ve long talked about her becoming more involved with the party.

When she decided to run for committeeman, Williamson said, she assumed Coffey wasn’t running, given that he had been “bashing the Republican Party” over the mayor’s race.

JOE VOLPE, a former committeeman who worked for Libri in the circuit clerk’s office for seven years, said he was asked to run again by Libri. He said he wants Libri to remain as chairman.

“Tony and I are very old and close friends,” Volpe said. Volpe took a photo to GOP headquarters for use in the flier.

“They paid for everything,” Volpe said. He is opposed by PATRICK KETCHUM in Capital 49.

MICHAEL LITTLE is running in Precinct 25 against CHARLES IRV SMITH — a grandson of former Sangamon County GOP Chairman IRV SMITH, who has become a strong critic of Libri.

Little said his community involvement includes working with Toys for Tots, and WES BARR, local coordinator of that holiday toy drive and a committeeman, asked if Little was interested in running.

Little said he feels passionately that more Republicans should vote — Democrats too, for that matter, he said — so he filed for committeeman.

He said he paid part of the cost of his flier, and Schackmann helped with the design.

One potential problem with at least some of the fliers is that they do not include a statement saying who paid for them. State election law holds that, in general, if a political committee pays for any part of a communication mentioning a candidate in the next election, that committee should be “clearly identified within the communication as the payor.”

STEVE SANDVOSS, chief  legal counsel to the State Board of Elections, says if there is a complaint about any flier, it will be up to the board to determine if the piece is in compliance.

Committeemen elected in the March 20 primary will meet April 18 to choose the next party leader.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bschoenburg.