The two candidates in the March 20 Republican primary election for the 33rd Senate District may have had vastly different journeys to the same point, but both say their background will help them adjust to the demands of Springfield.
Karen McConnaughay, 54, of St. Charles and Cliff Surges, 48, of Gilberts are vying for the Republican nod for the newly created 33rd District, which covers an area bounded by Batavia in the south, West Dundee in the east, Hampshire to the west and Lakewood to the north.
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McConnaughay, the chairman of the Kane County Board, says while leading the fifth-largest county in the state has provided a great vantage point of the inner workings of government, there are also a number of similarities between the position she would leave behind and the role she seeks.
"The state is no different from Kane County in that you have a vast array of interests and constituencies that have different agendas," McConnaughay said. "It is that experience ... that makes me well-suited to understand the complexity of that dynamic of legislators."
McConnaughay, who moved to the Fox Valley in 1979, first got involved in politics when a bike path was proposed along the Fox River that would have gone through her backyard, she told the conservative blog Illinois Review last fall. McConnaughay and neighbors set into motion what they called a Stop Taking Our Property campaign.
She was first elected to the Kane County Board in 1992. In a Daily Herald interview earlier this month, she called herself an "accidental politician."
"Some people determine that this is their career path," McConnaughay said. "Others, it just kind of chooses you."
Among the accomplishments McConnaughay touts on her website is demanding cost cutting at the county, imposing a hiring freeze, and requiring county departments and offices to trim their budgets by 1.5 percent without sacrificing services.
McConnaughay said she decided to retire from her chairman post after two terms long before the new state legislative map was released. But then she saw that the map revealed an open, Republican-leaning Senate seat. She decided to make the jump.
Surges, meanwhile, said his relative obscurity and lack of experience are key to working across the aisle of the Illinois Senate without getting stuck in a rut of partisanship.
Surge is a business owner who served on the Gilberts village board from 1997 to 2001. He and his wife had moved to the suburb in 1990.
His website touts that he helped secure the village's facilities planning area, develop its water and waste facilities,
improve parks and recreation amenities, and create the long-term strategies that are now part of Gilberts' comprehensive plans.
Since leaving the village board, his website says, Surges has worked with the Municipal Design Group, which helps local municipalities, developers and organizations navigate the state's bureaucracy.
"I don't believe for a second right now that it is time for politics," Surges said. "The red team versus blue team, and I have been saying it for months, that game is over. It is time to be able to turn to your neighbor, reach out and say, 'Is this the right thing for the people of Illinois?' It is that simple."