Primaries heating up in new 23rd Senate district

Updated 1/16/2012 5:54 PM

On one side, a race for Illinois Senate in DuPage County pits two longtime incumbent Republicans against each other in what could be one of the more spirited primary races in the state.

On the other side are three Democrats, each hoping for a shot to be a rare Democratic state lawmaker from a county that's a GOP stronghold.


The battle is for the new 23rd Senate district, which includes Carol Stream, Itasca, Bloomingdale, Villa Park and Bartlett.

The March 20 Republican primary between Rep. Randy Ramey of Carol Stream and Sen. Carole Pankau of Itasca is so far the more contentious.

The two have traded barbs over Ramey's DUI arrest in August and the subsequent public release of the Carol Stream Police Department video of the arrest, on which Ramey asks an officer, "Do you know who I am?"

Pankau's campaign shared the video with party leaders, a move that irked Ramey.

Ramey says the message he's trying to carry door to door is that he'd be a more effective lawmaker than Pankau.

"The biggest difference I put out there is the effectiveness and the ability to reach across the aisle and get things done," Ramey said.

He points to legislation he carried in 2011 that would, under some conditions, let local governments print fewer notices in newspapers to save money. He also points to a proposal that would have illegal immigrants in the Illinois prison system deported earlier.

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Pankau rejects the idea that Ramey would be more effective and says the biggest policy difference between them is their stances on the state pension systems, which are a drag on the state budget.

Pankau said she'd back a proposal to have working teachers and state employees either pay more for their current pension plans, enter a less lucrative plan, or take on a 401k-style retirement system.

Ramey doesn't back that proposal. He says he thinks the pension systems need to be changed, but that teachers in particular should be part of the negotiating process on any pension reform.

On the other side, three Democrats are trying to turn the district blue -- Greg Brownfield of Bartlett, Tom Cullerton of Villa Park and Kevin Allen of Addison.


All three have run for General Assembly seats in the past several years, but all failed.

Brownfield in 2010 ran against Ramey and lost. He worked most recently as an attorney for Prairie State Legal Services, an agency that gives legal help to people who can't afford it.

But he's been campaigning full-time since his race with Ramey, telling voters that budget cuts as deep as what some Republicans have proposed are unrealistic.

"From my point of view, if you cut education by $1 billion, that's like eating your seed corn," he said.

Cullerton has pointed to his work as the sitting mayor of Villa Park, saying that experience means he knows how to balance a government budget. And, he says he knows that balancing local budgets is harder when the state doesn't pay its bills on time.

"That just adds more stress," Cullerton said.

Cullerton is a distant cousin of Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, but said he doesn't expect his cousin to be involved in the primary race.

And Allen is trumpeting his experience as a marketing manager for a manufacturing company, saying he gets the difficulties Illinois businesses are having. He's also been a field worker for Democratic campaigns in DuPage County, including Gov. Pat Quinn's.

"I've already been out in the community talking to people for years," he said.

All three Democrats say they know and like each other and are focused on trying to pick up the seat for Democrats in November. A win like that would be rare in DuPage County, but it might be a better possibility in 2012 because of the new political map.

"We're trying to keep this as friendly and congenial as possible," Allen said.

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