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updated: 3/5/2012 1:29 PM

Lauzen's run for Kane chairman a test for Illinois GOP

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  • Chris Lauzen

    Chris Lauzen

  • Video: Candidates discus chairmanship


State Sen. Chris Lauzen is the type of guy who shows up to a profile interview with a 5-by-8 note card summarizing the points about himself he wants people to know. He's a little bit guarded. It's not so much the details of his life that he's trying to lock away; the note card is more about pausing before he lets his words get ahead of his thoughts.

Lauzen knows some of his political gimmicks and campaign sparring in the past proved to be a turnoff. In the past, he'd try getting CPA legally added to the end of his name to attract voters. Now he talks about building his former accounting practice to emphasize that particular skill set.

The Chris Lauzen of the past would mail out a campaign ad with dead dairy cows explicitly attacking his then-opponent, Jim Oberweis. Chris Lauzen 2.0 more subtly hires a political consultant, Jon Zahm, with a focus on opposition research.

One of the biggest obstacles to Lauzen winning a Republican primary for Kane County Board chairman against Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns is Lauzen's penchant for coming after his own party; it's what set Kane County Republican Party Chairman Mike Kenyon against him in the race. Kenyon, who is also running for re-election to a county board seat, is supporting Burns.

"Kevin doesn't tell me how to think," Kenyon said. "He doesn't tell me who to support. But that happens (with Lauzen). I don't think it's about the money with Chris. I think it's about power. He wakes up every morning and sees someone who could be somebody. And he could. He's smart. He just can't play in the sandbox. He throws sand in your face. Then you get back and throw it at him, and he says, 'Why did you do that?'

"I say to Chris, be what you want to be. Be an independent. But sometimes, keep your mouth shut. And if you're not a Republican, declare yourself a Libertarian. Be what you are."

What Lauzen is, like most people, stems from his background. He was raised in the Romanian section of Aurora on Pigeon Hill by a single mother of four with some help from his grandparents. He learned quickly that if you weren't willing to fight back against the kids on your own block, your own kind, you'd continue to be a victim.

"When I was in parochial school, the only other person who came from a broken home was a girl who had the cooties," Lauzen said. "So I spent, I don't how long, trying to prove I didn't have the cooties."

At a time when many voters in Illinois view their political leaders as infected with various forms of cooties, Lauzen is presenting himself as the man with not just a vaccine, but a cootie detector as well.

The early of days of his campaign featured a news conference that attempted to tie Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay's political contributions to companies that have received contracts with the county.

"I didn't realize that the reaction to our little news conference was going to be so ferocious," Lauzen said. "You would've thought I shot someone's dog."

But as he says that with a smile, it's hard to think Lauzen didn't anticipate that kind of reaction. He's been coming after his own party and getting similar reactions for much of his political career.

It's the same smile he gets when he talks about "crushing" Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady three times on the floor of the state Senate over SB 600. The bill would allow Republicans to directly elect their own members of the state central committee, which sets the agenda for the party. Lauzen supports that change. And it's the same smile he gets when talking about how "wrong" it is that Dennis Hastert went to Congress with $350,000 in his bank account and retired with somewhere between $14 million and $18 million.

"What the establishment is ticked off about is I'll call a spade a spade," Lauzen said. "Do you want to know why the Democrats in Illinois are so strong? It's because our Republican leadership is so weak. I don't think it's an obligation on my part to be happy-go-lucky while delivering a stern message. If the Republicans are doing the same things they are accusing Chicago Democrats of doing, then I say first you clean up your own backyard. They say I'm not being a team player. Well, define what the team is. I consider the team the grass-roots. We're not on the let's-get-ours team."

But there is no grass-roots party on the March 20 ballot. And if Lauzen wins, he won't be lobbying the voting public to get things done in Kane County. Party leadership said Lauzen's divisiveness has crippled his ability to accomplish anything in Springfield. Lauzen said if that was true, he wouldn't have one of the best track records for bringing state money back to his district. And he certainly wouldn't have won re-election to his state Senate seat for the past 20 years, he added.

Kane County is a different legislative mountain to climb. Lauzen will either have a higher precipice to plunge from, or more footholds to find his way, depending on what happens further down the ballot March 20.

Behind the scenes, Republicans on the board and in Kane County have been divided into two camps. Lauzen is among the group calling themselves the reformers. Kenyon and others on the county board say compromise comes with moderation of views when necessary, not a takeover of the party.

But Lauzen believes at least 55 percent of county board members will support his policies, especially if the board members he's backing get elected. If not, then he'll have to shake hands with some people he doesn't like.

"You want to know what keeps me up at night?" Lauzen said. "It's that I know I will be required to find the common ground with everyone. I know that it's my duty. I know that is the requirement of the job. I don't have any choice. But I think people want fundamental reform. My role is to understand and facilitate that. In this election, if we can come out and deliver a message of honest and competent administration, I think that task will ultimately unite us on the board."

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