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updated: 1/23/2012 5:07 AM

Why some suburban politicians are aiming for higher -- or lower -- office

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  • David Barkhausen is a Lake County Board District 13 candidate.

      David Barkhausen is a Lake County Board District 13 candidate.

  • Des Plaines mayoral candidate Marty Moylan holds up a campaign sign signed by supporters in 2009.

       Des Plaines mayoral candidate Marty Moylan holds up a campaign sign signed by supporters in 2009.
    BILL ZARS | Staff Photographer

  • Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay

       Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Marty Moylan

      Marty Moylan

  • Chairman of the Kane County Board Karen McConnaughay, left, works to get out the vote in 2008.

       Chairman of the Kane County Board Karen McConnaughay, left, works to get out the vote in 2008.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan hugs his mother Shirley Moylan of Arlington Heights after he was elected in 2009.

       Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan hugs his mother Shirley Moylan of Arlington Heights after he was elected in 2009.
    BILL ZARS | Staff Photographer

  • Karen McConnaughay

      Karen McConnaughay

  • Video: Lester on ABC 7

 
 

After 19 years in the Illinois Senate, repeated squabbles with Republican party leadership and seemingly unending state budget problems, state Sen. Chris Lauzen felt it was time for a change.

He didn't have to look far for an example.

His former statehouse colleague, Elmhurst Republican Dan Cronin, had recently left the Senate and made a successful bid for the DuPage County Board.

Instead of working with 58 other senators to reach consensus on an issue, Cronin now presides over 18 board members.

Instead of representing roughly 250,000 people in a Senate district, Cronin represents 1 million in the state's second-most-populated county. To boot, he got more than a $50,000 raise from his $67,000 Senate base salary.

That sounded like a pretty good deal to Lauzen, now running for Kane County Board chairman. He is opposed by Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns in the March 20 GOP primary.

Lauzen's not alone in his bid to change up his political role, campaigning to stay in the game but at a different level than before.

Some, like Lauzen, seek a more local position, where some believe they can be more effective.

Former state Sen. David Barkhausen, who once thought he was done with politics, is running for the Lake County Board. He faces Lake Bluff business owner Rick Lesser in the 13th District Lake County GOP primary.

Others are following a more traditional route up the political ladder to the statehouse, in some cases lured by the once-ever-10-years district remapping that opened up new opportunities.

Current Kane County Board Chair Karen McConnaughay, for example, hopes to move in exactly the opposite direction as Lauzen. She's running in the 33rd Illinois Senate District against former Gilberts Village Trustee Cliff Surges in the Republican primary.

And Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan is among several local leaders seeking election to state office. He is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for the 55th House District, a post that pays about seven times as much as mayor.

Lauzen, in the Illinois Senate, said he was weary of seeing the state's budget mess grow, year after year. Yet, he watched Cronin work successfully in his new post to reduce county spending and toughen ethics ordinances -- all in his first year.

"Problems are not supposed to be chronic, they're supposed to be solved," Lauzen, of Aurora, said.

Lauzen said he believes that, unlike at the state level, "the power to do good in the county board at the local level is in the process. It's not about the individual."

He is running to replace McConnaughay, who is finishing her second term and said she decided to retire from her current post long before the details of the new political map were released.

"Two terms is plenty," McConnaughay, of Geneva, said. "You come into it with a strong agenda of things you want to accomplish. If you're lucky, you get those things done, and then you ask yourself that question, what else am I here to do?"

Then the new legislative map was released, revealing an open, Republican-leaning Senate seat in a district that covers Kane and McHenry counties, reaching from Geneva to Elgin and north to East and West Dundee, and including Sleepy Hollow and Huntley.

McConnaughay decided to make the jump.

She says she plans to use her experience in the executive level of government, "in the broader sense," if elected to the state Senate.

She calls herself an "accidental politician."

"Some people determine that this is their career path," McConnaughay said. "Others, it just kind of chooses you."

Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan began working in politics as a volunteer in Chicago's 37th ward. "When you're in your 20s, you're really not sure where you're going to go but I really enjoyed it," Moylan said.

After moving to Des Plaines 25 years ago, he was elected to the city council as second ward alderman.

When then-mayor Tony Arredia was reaching the end of his two-term limit, Moylan saw an opportunity to run in 2009 because he didn't like what was going on at city hall.

Two years into his term as mayor, Moylan says he's reached a similar conclusion about Springfield. In the 55th House District, which includes Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Elk Grove Village and Rosemont, he aims to replace longtime state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, who is in a three-way write-in race in the GOP primary.

Traveling to Springfield to advocate for Des Plaines' interests as gambling legislation was debated, Moylan said he became "completely dissatisfied with what was going on."

Barkhausen says he was persuaded back into "the game" long after he thought he was through with politics.

Barkhausen, of Lake Bluff, served in the Illinois House in 1980 and 1981, before being elected to the state Senate in 1982, serving through 1996.

He said he did not run for re-election in 1996 because he wanted to spend time with his two young sons. He also correctly predicted Republicans would lose their majority in the General Assembly. "I figured if I dropped out when I did, I would be going out on a high note."

Barkhausen said he had no desire to get back into politics. However, in 2003, he said he was tapped by the village president of Lake Bluff to run for trustee because it didn't look like there would be enough candidates.

In 2005, he was elected Shields Township clerk after he became involved in a property tax fight. Those positions gave him a keener interest in local government, he said.

The Lake County Board bid, he says, comes from a love of the county's forest preserve property. The county board also serves as the forest preserve board.

"I don't think any of us are running for the Lake County Board to spend half of our daytime for a $40,000 salary," he said.

• Daily Herald staff writer Lee Filas contributed to this report.

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