Party support appearing in District 211, other local races
The Illinois Association of School Boards lists the nonpartisan election of local school boards among its core principles, and the first item on the organization's code of conduct states board members must refuse the influence of partisan political groups.
But concerns over partisan support for candidates Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and other local races have been raised in the days leading up to the April 6 election.
Eight candidates are vying for three seats on the District 211 board of education. They are incumbent Anna Klimkowicz and newcomers Curtis Bradley, Jessica Hinkle, Tim McGowan, Kristen Steel, Robi Vollkommer, Denise Wilson and Roxanne Wittkamp.
McGowan has used space in the Greater Palatine Area Democrats' office as a gathering site for supporters on a canvassing day and received the endorsement of Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White.
Meanwhile, Republican state Rep. Tom Morrison of Palatine is scheduled to appear at a meet-and-greet on behalf of Hinkle, Steel, Vollkommer and Wilson Tuesday evening at the American Legion Post in Palatine.
Partisan support in school board and other local elections -- at least within set financial regulations -- is not prohibited by law, according to Matt Dietrich, public information officer for the Illinois State Board of Elections.
A local election being designated nonpartisan is often just a practical consideration allowing it to bypass partisan primaries, he added.
"There is a public perception that political parties should not be involved, and that's not really the case," Dietrich said, adding that financial contributions from partisan groups are allowed, as long as any above $1,000 are disclosed.
Palatine Township Democratic Committeeperson Maria Galo said McGowan's use of the office did not constitute a $1,000 contribution, even if the organization charged for the space -- which it doesn't.
"I want to emphasize that the offices of Greater Palatine Area Democrats are open to all candidates -- and before the pandemic, we were open to community groups to use as meeting space as well," Galo said. "We do not charge for these services -- the offices are open, there is no cost to us to having the office open for these groups. We offer this as a service to the community. There is zero cost to us for letting candidates or groups use the office, so there is no reportable expenditure."
McGowan said he is not a registered Democrat and hasn't received any money from the Greater Palatine Area Democrats. He first had contact with the group last summer when it reached out to him after he organized a Black Lives Matter protest in Palatine, he added.
Vicki Martin, co-president of the League of Women Voters of the Palatine Area, said her organization hasn't heard of or taken any position on partisan involvement in the District 211 race.
But the league chapter previously responded to concerns that the Barrington Township Republican Organization and a political action committee called ACTION, or "Advancing Change Together In Our Neighborhood," were supporting candidates for the Barrington Area Library, Barrington Area Unit School District 220 and Harper College boards.
In reference to the Barrington races, Martin called the practice a bad precedent.
"When party politics become part of our local government, it directly impacts the way residents choose who they vote for," she said at the time. "Voters will be influenced by party affiliation, instead of figuring out who the best candidate is for the job."
But on Monday, Martin suggested that the league chapter's position on those Barrington-area concerns might need to be re-examined, given the comments by the state board of elections.
Other examples of party politics in suburban races include White's endorsement of challenger Mark Mueller and Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth's endorsement of incumbent Bill McLeod in the Hoffman Estates mayoral race, as well as Democratic U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood's use of her Farm Team PAC to support local candidates within her 14th District.
The challengers in the nonpartisan Round Lake Beach mayoral and village board races call themselves the Round Lake Beach Democratic slate and were supported by Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Deerfield at a virtual reception earlier this month.
• Daily Herald staff writer Elena Ferrarin contributed to this report.