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updated: 11/5/2012 6:10 AM

Hot races to watch in Lake County

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  • Democrat Melinda Bush opposes Republican Joe Neal in the 31st Senate District

      Democrat Melinda Bush opposes Republican Joe Neal in the 31st Senate District

  • Republican Sidney Mathias opposes Democrat Carol Sente in the 59th State House District

      Republican Sidney Mathias opposes Democrat Carol Sente in the 59th State House District

  • Republican Sandy Cole, opposes Democrat Sam Yingling in the 62nd State House District

      Republican Sandy Cole, opposes Democrat Sam Yingling in the 62nd State House District

  • Democrat Chris Kennedy, left, opposes Republican Mike Nerheim for Lake County State's Attorney

      Democrat Chris Kennedy, left, opposes Republican Mike Nerheim for Lake County State's Attorney

  • Republican David Barkhausen opposes Democrat Sandra Hart for Lake County County Board District 13

      Republican David Barkhausen opposes Democrat Sandra Hart for Lake County County Board District 13

 
 

The neck-and-neck battle for the White House has occupied our attention for more than a year, but there are other close contests on Tuesday's ballots, too.

In Lake County, some of the hottest races feature veteran lawmakers, relative newcomers and elected officials seeking to jump up a rung or two on the political ladder.

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Here's a look at some of the more interesting showdowns.

31st Senate District

Democrat Melinda Bush of Grayslake and Republican Joe Neal of Wadsworth are fighting for this post, which serves central and northern Lake County.

It's a rare open seat, prompted by Republican state Sen. Suzi Schmidt's decision not to seek re-election following a string of personal difficulties that became public.

Before Schmidt, Democrat Michael Bond had the job.

It's been an expensive race, with the candidates raising more than $1 million for ads, signs, polls and other campaign expenses.

Neal, a civil engineer, claims "Springfield politicians" are chasing jobs out of Illinois and are making it too costly for companies to expand or open here. He called for an immediate repeal of recent income tax hikes.

Bush, a county board member, prefers to let those tax increases expire as planned in 2015. She's called for reductions in wages, benefits and pensions for elected officials.

She suggested spending and waste could be reduced by developing a performance-based evaluation process for state programs.

Bush favors the legalization of gay marriage and opposes the death penalty. Neal opposes the legalization of gay marriage and said he would vote to reinstate the death penalty if punishment could be administered without bias and would be reserved for cases of overwhelming guilt.

59th House

State Rep. Sidney Mathias, a Buffalo Grove Republican, is pitted against state Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, in the state's only campaign between two incumbent lawmakers.

Mathias is a 14-year veteran of the Illinois House, going to Springfield after a stint as mayor of Buffalo Grove.

Sente is finishing her first full term in the House. Appointed to replace Kathy Ryg in 2009, she previously served on the Vernon Hills Park District board.

Their relative experience has been a sticking point in the campaign, with Sente labeling Mathias a "career politician." Mathias has tried to emphasize Sente's backing from longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, who he calls the ultimate career politician.

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 as a way 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 said, local school districts, which give teachers raises that also raise their pension benefits, should be connected to the fiscal results of those decisions.

District 59 includes parts of Cook and Lake counties.

62nd House

Republican state Rep. Sandy Cole is challenged by Democrat Sam Yingling in this central Lake County district.

Cole, a former Lake County Board member, is seeking a fourth term. Yingling, the Avon Township supervisor, is making his first bid for the legislature. Both candidates live in Grayslake.

They've called for changes to the pension system, and they favor limiting campaign contributions by political leaders.

Yingling wants to consolidate and eliminate redundant layers of government to address budget and tax issues.

Cole is quick to blame Democratic leaders for the state's problems. Additionally, her campaign has been critical of some of Yingling's negative political mailers, calling them "fictitious."

Yingling favors the legalization of gay marriage and opposes the death penalty. Cole opposes gay marriage and supports the reinstatement of the death penalty for child murderers.

State's attorney

Democrat Chris Kennedy and Republican Mike Nerheim both criticized how incumbent Michael Waller has run the office, particularly in light of wrongful convictions in recent years.

Those cases were a national embarrassment for the office and for Waller, a Republican who is not seeking re-election.

Both candidates are former prosecutors now in private practice.

Nerheim, of Gurnee, wants to improve the office's forensic science training, updating it as the science evolves. He also wants to change the culture of the office by ensuring prosecutors focus on justice, not just getting convictions.

Nerheim also pledged to create an independent panel of volunteer experts that will review potential wrongful convictions.

Kennedy, of Libertyville, wants to create a conviction integrity unit within the office that will handle potential wrongful convictions.

He has called for reviews of any cases involving convicts who continue to proclaim their innocence. He also wants to create a specialized sex-crimes division.

County District 13

In this lakeside district, Republican David Barkhausen and Democrat Sandra Hart are running for one of the few open Lake County Board seats.

Republican incumbent Susan Loving Gravenhorst is stepping down after a decade of service.

She crossed party lines to endorse Hart, the vice president of the Lake Bluff Park District board.

Barkhausen is a Lake Bluff trustee and former state senator. He said Gravenhorst backed Hart because he considered challenging Gravenhorst in the GOP primary two years ago.

Gravenhorst said she believes Hart is the best person for the job.

Barkhausen supports greater traffic light synchronization and the extension of Route 53 into the county.

Hart said the board should re-examine "the role and effectiveness" of the Lake County Partners economic development group, and she favors offering businesses financial incentives to keep them here.

Redrawn for this election, the district includes parts of Lake Bluff, Gurnee, North Chicago and Waukegan. The county board doubles as the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

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