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posted: 3/20/2012 10:35 PM

Neal posts easy victory in 4-way 31st Senate District GOP contest

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  • Republican primary candidate Joe Neal hugs Rita Praefke, of Racine, as she congratulates him Tuesday at the Savanna House restaurant in Wadsworth for his win in the primary for the 31st Senate District seat.

       Republican primary candidate Joe Neal hugs Rita Praefke, of Racine, as she congratulates him Tuesday at the Savanna House restaurant in Wadsworth for his win in the primary for the 31st Senate District seat.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Republican Joe Neal and his campaign manager Lauren Fleming are happy Tuesday night as they watch his victory in the Republican primary in the 31st Senate District at Savanna House restaurant in Wadsworth. Neal, a Wadsworth resident, will face Democrat Melinda Bush of Grayslake in November.

       Republican Joe Neal and his campaign manager Lauren Fleming are happy Tuesday night as they watch his victory in the Republican primary in the 31st Senate District at Savanna House restaurant in Wadsworth. Neal, a Wadsworth resident, will face Democrat Melinda Bush of Grayslake in November.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
 

Backed by the Republican establishment in Lake County, Joe Neal will represent the party in the November general election for the 31st Senate District seat.

With all 132 precincts counted, unofficial results from Tuesday's GOP primary show Neal received 6,407 votes. He was followed by Grayslake resident Lawrence "Larry" Leafblad with 4,122, Round Lake Beach's Linwood "Lennie" Jarratt with 3,093, and Lindenhurst resident Michael White with 2,286.

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Melinda Bush of Grayslake, who was unopposed in the Democratic primary, will face Neal in the November general election. District 31 covers most of northern and parts of central Lake County.

Jarratt, Neal, Leafblad and White pursued the seat Republican Suzi Schmidt of Lake Villa won two years ago. Domestic problems led Schmidt to not enter Tuesday's primary.

Neal said fiscal responsibility and job creation will be at the top of his agenda in the general election campaign. He said his decision-making skills and common sense gained as a civil engineering corps officer in the Navy would serve voters well if he's elected as a state senator.

"That's what's needed in Springfield," Neal said.

Leafblad said Neal was the preferred candidate of GOP operatives. He said he plans to remain active in his community, just not necessarily with Republican Party decision-makers.

"I'm upset the Republicans can marshal $68,000 against another Republican," Leafblad said. "I refuse to participate in a corrupted organization like that."

Neal responded that he earned the financial support. He said the Republicans need as much money as possible to retain the 31st Senate District seat because the Democrats "are going to come at us with the kitchen sink" in November.

Bush offered her congratulations to Neal and said she's ready to start campaigning. She said she already has an office, interns and a campaign manager along with having raised at least $50,000 on her own without outside help.

Now that she has an opponent, said Bush, specifics on what she plans to do if elected will emerge.

"As the campaign goes on, we will differentiate ourselves rather quickly," Bush said.

Bush, a Lake County Board member, and Neal are making their first run at state Senate.

Neal's campaign received financial support from Schmidt, state Rep. JoAnn Osmond of Antioch, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce political-action committee and others considered part of the Republican establishment. Jarratt's financial supporters included conservative political activist Jack Roeser of Barrington.

On the issues, Leafblad and Neal offered similar ideas about wanting a pension plan with options for public employees in an effort to save taxpayers' money. Jarratt said a way to fix the struggling system would be to have a maximum annual pension payout of $75,000 for a 40-year public employee.

Jarratt said he believes all four GOP candidates improved as they competed against each other in forums and other venues. He said Lake County Republicans who want to retain the 31st Senate District seat in the November election need to discuss conservative ideals.

"He has to make it clear what the differences are with Bush," Jarratt said of Neal.

White said the state constitution may have to be changed and pensions removed from it.

All four GOP candidates opposed an idea for local school districts to assume responsibility for teacher pensions.

On the issue of civil unions continuing in Illinois, White, Neal and Leafblad said they are in favor. Jarratt said he opposes civil unions because they are a "slippery slope" toward same-sex marriage.

During the primary campaign, White said he would refuse a state pension. White said Tuesday night he'd encourage Neal to make a similar pledge to show voters he's serious about reform.

Neal, in response to White during the campaign, said he'd accept what's provided to state senators, but prefers the state shift to a plan similar to a private-sector 401(k) plan.

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