SPRINGFIELD -- Once Democrats unveiled a new political map last year, it became clear that state Reps. Carol Sente and Sidney Mathias might have a tougher road back to Springfield than a lot of their fellow lawmakers.
Now living in the same Illinois House district, Republican Mathias of Buffalo Grove and Democrat Sente of Vernon Hills had to run against each other for re-election.
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It's the only such campaign in Illinois this year, and one that has presented difficulties for both.
Mathias had major heart surgery late last year. Sente this year broke her foot at the very time candidates are walking neighborhoods to knock on doors.
The two candidates came to the race with local roots and fighting a perception that, despite being of different parties, they might be similar on many issues.
"What struck me is we need to be much more clear in the differences in our positions," Sente said.
On one of the biggest financial questions facing Illinois, Sente and Mathias split clearly. Mathias opposes having local school districts pay more for teachers' retirements, a plan to try to ease the state's escalating annual pension payments.
Sente says she doesn't support any existing legislation that would shift the cost to local schools. But, she says, local school districts, which give teachers raises that also raise their pension benefits, should be connected to the fiscal results of those decisions somehow.
Sente labeled Mathias a "career politician" in mailers, digging at Mathias' 14 years in the Illinois House. Mathias shot back, saying Sente is backed by longtime Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, a man Republicans have increasingly tried to pull into campaigns across the state this year.
"After 30 years of leadership, we need a change," Mathias said.
Mathias entered the Illinois House in 1999 after a stint as mayor of Buffalo Grove. This year, he won approval of legislation that denies court supervision for speeders caught going more than 15 mph over the limit.
He counts mass transit issues among his legislative accomplishments, including a 2008 change for the Regional Transit Authority that changed its oversight and raised sales taxes.
"That small amount saved the system at the time," he said.
Sente was appointed to the Illinois House in 2009 to replace then Rep. Kathy Ryg and won election for the first time in 2010. She is an architect who previously served on the Vernon Hills Park District board.
Sente touts a budgeting proposal she sponsored that, among other things, essentially makes the state pay for its pension costs and debt before considering spending in other areas.
And this year, Sente shepherded legislation that sought to prevent school violence like the stabbing of Elgin teacher Carolyn Gilbert, who was severely wounded by a student in 2008 but has since returned to teaching.
"That's all about compromise and bipartisanship," she said.
Both legislators have also introduced bills that would eliminate costly bonuses to local government leaders. Sente introduced legislation that would eliminate $3,000 annual bonuses paid by the state to township assessors that add up to as much as $650,000 a year. Mathias countered with legislation that would eliminate salary stipends for a number of countywide elected officials that cost taxpayers almost $3.5 million a year. Both bills were introduced following investigations by the Daily Herald into the bonus programs.
The majority of the new 59th House District is territory that Sente represents now. It contains less than 10 percent of Mathias' current district, perhaps putting him at a disadvantage if voters don't recognize him. Still, Mathias overcame a similarly new map in 2002.
The district includes parts of Buffalo Grove, Green Oaks, Gurnee, Indian Creek, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Lincolnshire, Long Grove, Mettawa, Mundelein, Northbrook, North Chicago, Park City, Riverwoods, Vernon Hills, Waukegan and Wheeling.