Local races for state senate have attracted a large number of candidates in the primary election, leaving Northwest Cook County voters with key choices to make in Tuesday's primary.
In the 22nd, 23rd and 29th districts, there is primary competition on the Democratic side, while in the 23rd and 28th district, there is competition on the Republican side. Here's a closer look at the candidates in the various races:
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Both Democratic candidates running for the 22nd District state senate race agree there needs to be state pension reform, but they have different ideas on what that means.
Tim Elenz, a Streamwood businessman and political newcomer, said perhaps it's time for the state to get out of the pension business.
The district includes parts of Elgin, Streamwood, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates and Carpentersville.
Incumbent Michael Noland, of Elgin, is working with other lawmakers on Gov. Pat Quinn's pension reform panel and said he is focusing now on learning and listening rather than advising or suggesting.
Elenz has spent a lifetime working in and around politicians in Chicago's wards and now has his own insurance brokerage business. His challenge against Noland is his first foray into candidacy. He said he is a strong supporter of skilled labor and believes in the potential of union control of pensions.
Noland said he has a law and economics background with no experience on prior pension committees in the state senate or house, which makes him a minority on the governor's pension reform panel. "I am somebody that comes to this with a fresh set of eyes," Noland said.
In the district, three Democrats are vying to take on incumbent Republican Carole Pankau or her primary opponent.
Greg Brownfield, a 51-year-old Bartlett attorney, is running against Addison marketing executive Kevin Allen and Villa Park Village President Tom Cullerton in the district, which includes parts of Bartlett, Bloomingdale, Carol Stream, Itasca and Villa Park.
Brownfield said he would handle tough budget choices by giving constituents the facts and prioritizing spending according to need. He said he supports the work of Gov. Pat Quinn's Budgeting for Results Commission as it works to eliminate duplicate efforts, and he believes a tax overhaul including progressive income tax rates will be necessary to balance the state's budget in the future.
Allen, 47, said he thinks politicians propose too many insignificant budget cuts that don't add up to the state's entire deficit. He says changes to the tax structure to bring more revenue will be necessary along with broad spending cuts.
Cullerton, 42, said he favors making budget cuts by examining each department's spending and asking employees who do the day-to-day work for their money-saving ideas.
On the Republican side, Pankau of Itasca is being challenged by Rep. Randy Ramey of Carol Stream in an often contentious contest.
Ramey has charged that Pankau has been ineffective in her nearly 20 years in Springfield. And Pankau has run television ads showing police video of Ramey's recent DUI.
On gambling, Pankau voted for the most recent gambling expansion proposal and favors slot machines at horse racing tracks like Arlington Park. She doesn't like the idea of a Chicago casino, though.
Ramey is the opposite, favoring a Chicago casino but voting against the most recent expansion plan that included slots at the tracks.
Both candidates say the state's retirement systems need to be changed, but they differ on exactly how.
Ramey has opposed a plan from House Republican Leader Tom Cross that would, among other things, make teachers and state workers pay more to keep their pension plans or decide to take a less lucrative one. He says teachers should have a seat at the bargaining table because it's not their fault the state's pension system is in trouble.
Pankau would favor Cross' plan, saying teachers have already had a chance to weigh in.
"They've just said, 'No, no, no,'" Pankau said.
The Republican hopefuls for the 28th Senate District seat say state lawmakers need to cut the low-hanging fruit and not just focus on big-ticket items, such as pension reform and Medicaid reform, when trimming the state budget.
Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski and Jim O'Donnell of Park Ridge, a chief financial officer, are vying for their party's nomination. The winner will face state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Democrat now representing the 33rd District, in November.
The 28th District runs from Roselle east through Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village, Des Plaines, Rosemont and Park Ridge.
O'Donnell and Smolinski tout their personal experiences with making tough financial decisions in their private and public sector jobs, respectively.
O'Donnell said his employer's revenues declined more than 50 percent during the 2008 financial downturn.
"We were in survival mode," O'Donnell said. "Everybody in our company took 12 furlough weeks. We all cleaned the office ourselves."
O'Donnell said state lawmakers need to similarly scrutinize departmental budgets to eliminate waste.
Smolinski said the state needs to cut taxes on businesses and individuals so fewer businesses and families leave the state, which ultimately hurts tax revenues. She also favors downsizing nonessential government services.
"We have to get off the idea that government is there to do everything for everybody," Smolinski said.
Smolinski said her village board made significant cuts over the last three years to reduce a $1 million deficit caused by the economic downturn.
Julie Morrison has been both a government staffer and a township supervisor. She has won office as both a Democrat and a Republican, and she is Susan Garrett's choice to succeed her as state senator from the 29th district.
Milton Sumption, who is challenging Morrison for the Democratic nomination in District 29, has a background in business and finance -- in both the public and private sector -- and worked for a short time as a legislative aide to U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle.
The district includes parts of Buffalo Grove, Arlington Heights, Wheeling and Mount Prospect.
Morrison, 55, of Deerfield, has been the West Deerfield Township supervisor for 15 years. Sumption, 48, is a business consultant from Lake Bluff. The winner will face Republican Arie Friedman, a Highland Park pediatrician, in the November election.
Garrett, first elected to the seat in 2002, announced her retirement in July.
Both Morrison and Sumption say improving the state economy and bringing jobs to Illinois and their district are their top priorities.
Sumption's experience includes a mix of private and public sector work including serving in Africa with the Peace Corps. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and has worked in finance for more than a decade.
Sumption added that he is a lifelong Democrat, while Morrison ran and was elected as a Republican a few times before switching parties in 2007.
Morrison worked in the Governor's Office of Manpower and Human Development in Springfield in the 1970s and in 1986 was appointed to the Statewide Advisory Council for the Department of Children and Family Services. She served on that council for 10 years and was the committee chairwoman from 1994-1996.
On the question of expanding gambling in Illinois, both are concerned that adding more gambling sites will just spread the money around as opposed to bringing more money into the system.
Morrison said she would support more gambling only if there were buy-in from local governments, while Sumption said there is enough gambling in the state and adding more casinos or slot machines would not be beneficial.