CRYSTAL LAKE – Despite a contentious public showdown, the McHenry County Republican Party won’t back a tea party candidate who wanted to challenge Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks in November.
The last-minute political maneuvering was done in a public fashion that revealed discord and rancor within the county GOP.
Party leaders previously had turned down political newcomer Tonya Franklin’s bid to run for the 63rd House District seat because she never has held elected office. But a quarter of the local precinct committeemen called for a special meeting Saturday morning to force their leaders to reconsider. The effort failed.
The faction of Franklin supporters didn’t get enough precinct committeemen to attend the meeting. A roll call showed that 38 of the 155 committeemen were present Saturday. A quorum of 62 was needed for the party to vote to run Franklin in the election.
Franklin, a medical instructor who moved to Woodstock in 2009, reluctantly conceded that it was over.
“We put up a good fight,” she said to applause from supporters. “We should not let an election go uncontested, and I’m still going to be bothersome to Jack Franks. I’m not the terrorist, enemy, barbarian of this country that people want to call me. I’m just a mom, and I really care.”
Those descriptions actually were self applied. Until recently, Franklin introduced herself on her Facebook profile as a “Terrorist, Enemy, Barbarian, SOB, Hobbit (?). Right Wing Extremist, Christian Conservative, Oathkeeper, Birther, Gun slinging, Bible toting, TEA Partying, Patriot Mom that Obama warned you about...”
She later said the introduction was a joke that compiled the labels that the political left – and some on the right – have given the tea party.
After Franklin spoke, those present spent much of the next hour arguing about the party’s bylaws and the wisdom of letting Franks, D-Marengo, run unopposed again. Franks hasn’t had a Republican challenger in two of the previous three elections.
Franklin supporters pleaded for more time so they could round up enough precinct committeemen to establish a quorum and take a vote.
“There isn’t any time left,” party attorney Joe Gottemoller said.
Even if the pro-Franklin faction was granted more time, he said, it would be nearly impossible for Franklin to collect the 500 signatures needed to get on the ballot and submit them to the Illinois State Board of Elections in Springfield by 5 p.m. Monday.
Despite this, Franklin backers shot pointed questions at county GOP Chairman and state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, and openly questioned his leadership of the party.
Tryon tried to keep the meeting civil and at one point suggested committeemen vote on a motion to move into closed session so “we don’t have to air our differences in public.” The motion failed.
Tryon attempted to defend his actions after several jabs from the crowd.
“I feel like a rag doll torn in a political war,” he said. “I’ve been criticized by you as being an obstructionist, I’ve been criticized by you as holding illegal meetings ... and quite frankly that’s become unsettling to me. I have been my entire life a Republican, and for 25 years I’ve been active in the McHenry County Republican Party raising money and working for candidates.”
When one critic said “I think the Democratic party has seized control of the [McHenry County GOP’s] Central Committee” to cheers and applause, Tryon promptly adjourned the meeting and walked out. Some harshly rebuked the few committeemen who followed Tryon out the door.
In a letter to committeemen last week, Tryon said that attending Saturday’s meeting was up to each member and he would not tell people not to go, but wrote that he believes “the events that have transpired over the last several days are unfortunate and have not been in the best interests of the McHenry County Republican Party.”
While no political party likes its feuds being made public, the appearance of instability holds more significance when it comes to the 63rd District seat, given that GOP infighting helped Franks win it.
Franks in 1998 defeated Rep. Mike Brown, R-Crystal Lake, a candidate under attack by his own party. His 1997 appointment to fill a remaining term was criticized by some as payback for being a political insider, and Brown survived a bitter and vitriolic primary challenge by a few hundred votes.
Franks won a second term in 2000 by defeating heavily-backed Thomas Salvi in 2000. While the GOP’s desire to retake the seat remains strong, its desire to back it with money and manpower has waned, and Franks has handily defeated every Republican challenger since. Franks defeated Republican nominee Steve Cuda in 2002 and Perry Moy in 2004, ran unopposed in 2006 and 2008, and defeated GOP challenger John O’Neill in 2010.