Super Tuesday results: Super dead heat vs. super recovery

 

by Mike Kroll

the Zephyr, Galesburg

2/7/08

 

Super Tuesday is so named because of the presidential primary ramifications of nearly two dozen states holding primaries or caucuses on the same date but it is just a significant locally for the Illinois and Knox County races to see who will be on the November ballot. As is typically the case most local races were unopposed on the two party ballots and only two Knox County races garnered much interest, Sheriff and Circuit Judge.

Two Republicans and two Democrats competed for sheriff with Gary Ryner besting Curt Kramer (2,153 - 2,044)  on the Republican side and David Clague easily beating Jerry Friend (3,913 – 2,759).  While there was no Republican contest for Circuit Judge Democratic voters across the Ninth Judicial Circuit had to choose between the controversy shrouded former Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri and current Knox County Public Defender Jim Harrell. While Harrell out polled Mangieri within Galesburg (2,234 -1,889) that wasn't the story in rural Knox County or across the entire circuit where Mangieri prevailed (10,426-8,429). Of the six counties composing the circuit Harrell only managed to carry Knox (barely) and Hancock (by nearly 2-1) but Mangieri's sole big win was in Fulton County (3,813 – 1,767). This fall Mangieri will square off against Warren County attorney Jim Standard and most expect Mangieri to easily win that contest unless the still ongoing investigations into Mangieri's conduct as Knox County State's Attorney result in charges being filed.

Once again the pundits are proven to be no better predictors of election results than weather forecasters. The not-so-long-ago written off John McCain is now the clear front runner among Republican presidential contenders but neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama can yet claim clear front runner status among the narrowed field of Democratic presidential candidates.

Here in Illinois it was no surprise that Obama performed extremely well carrying all but 14 counties and more than 65 percent of the popular vote or that McCain won all but four counties with 47 percent of the vote. Republican contender Mitt Romney garnered 29 percent statewide and two counties (Henry and Rock Island) while fellow Republican Mike Huckabee carried two southern Illinois counties and 17 percent of the vote. Statewide Democratic voters turned out in huge numbers (twice the total number of Republican voters) and in Knox County the comparison was even more stark with 7,408 Democratic ballots cast and only 4,766 Republican ballots.

Local incumbents vying for reelection generally faced no opposition in either primary and a number of incumbents appear to be unopposed in November unless party officials slate candidates to fill out the ballot. State Representative Don Moffitt (R), Knox County State's Attorney John Pepmeyer (D), Knox County Coroner Mark Thomas (D), and Knox County Circuit Clerk Kelly Cheesman (R) are currently unopposed. There will be a race for the relatively low viability office of Knox County Recorder where Carol Hallam (R) faces Paula Monzo (D).

As is usually the case Knox County Democrats gathered at Cherry Street to celebrate election night victories and commiserate with the vanquished. It was a festive atmosphere in the now smoke-free party room and candidates and active party members watched the national presidential results on CNN. Like most of Illinois this was a largely Obama crowd who delighted in his strong showing and county chair Norm Winick noted that “Obama's margin of victory in Knox County was one of the largest in downstate Illinois.”

Knox County Sheriff David Clague was celebrating with fellow Democrats when he took a few moments to speak with me about his race against retired deputy Gary Ryner. Clague recognizes the financial limitations of Knox County and points to the recent adoption of video first appearances as just one of the ways he is reducing both the cost of his department and increasing security by minimizing the transportation of prisoners to and from the Knox County Courthouse. “Judge Mathers is very pleased with how this program has been working so far as is the circuit's administrative judge and we are looking to expand the program to other court appearances, explained Clague. He also said that he has been working to increase the efficiency of the department so that it can live within a responsible budget. “I will present realistic and responsible budgets to the county board and be committed to living within those budgets but I will be honest about the trade-offs that must be made if the money made available is less than that requested.”

Clague is not a natural-born politician. He much prefers police work to politicking but realizes the requirements of his new role. “Not a day goes by when I don't have the opportunity to share my experience on the street with my deputies and work toward making this department a source of pride for Knox County. But I also must spend a significant portion of my time attending to administrative and political aspects of the job. I have training and experience as a law enforcement administrator but very little experience as a politician but I am learning. Another important factor of this job is that it sure ain't a 9-5 position. Being Sheriff requires that I show up at the jail at 4am from time to time or work well into the evening as required by circumstances or administrative need. I know I am the right person for this job and need only demonstrate that to the voters of Knox County.”

Unlike the Democrats who can always be found in a bar on election night Knox County Republicans typically have gathered in a more subdued location in the past but this election saw no such gathering of Republicans. Ryner spent election night at the Knox County Courthouse watching the returns come in. Unlike the Galesburg Election Commission that typically wraps up the night early Knox County Clerk Scott Erickson and his crew must wait for election judges from remote county precincts to arrive at the courthouse and then process their ballots. This process is complicated and slowed down further when technology fails as happened Tuesday night. Final results for the county were delayed when a failed memory card required the manual counting of ballots from one rural polling place but final results were completed just before 10pm.

When I first caught up with Ryner he wasn't yet confident of his victory but learned of it as we spoke. “I am basing my candidacy on my experience in the Sheriff's department. I believe I know the strengths and weaknesses and am well prepared to be Sheriff. First and foremost visibility of both the department and the Sheriff himself must be improved. While we have limited resources it is important to improve the level of coverage of our road patrols, particularly in eastern Knox County. I would like to implement new patrol areas combined with a return to 10-hour shifts for road deputies. With a north and a south car patrolling the western half of Knox County where we find the greatest concentration of both population and calls and a third card covering the eastern half of the county.”

Ryner also feels that the Sheriff needs to be much more visible himself and spend more time outside of the department office on South Kellogg Street. “Of course I also want to step up both drug enforcement and drug education across rural Knox County. I would like to see a full-time deputy splitting his time between DARE and being a liaison officer with the schools across the county. We also need to improve security at the jail. I suggested that I would conduct more regular shakedowns at the debate and notice that suddenly a shakedown was conducted suggesting that even Sheriff Clague shares my viewpoint as he implements my ideas.”

Undoubtedly there will be much more give and take between Clague and Ryner as the election season moves ahead. But today's Knox County Sheriff's race differs from contests of the past where the incumbent had to defend his operation of a scandal-plagued department. This race will be about style, experience and priorities in the running of Knox Counties most complicated and expensive office.