The McHenry County Republican Party shared in the national rout the GOP achieved Tuesday night.
After eight years with a small Democratic minority, the new County Board that will be seated Dec. 1 will again revert to all Republican rule after GOP newcomers defeated the 24-member board’s two Democratic incumbents and convincingly thumped two other Democratic challengers.
And Bill Prim, the McHenry County sheriff’s candidate who narrowly edged out Undersheriff Andrew Zinke in the March primary, received 60 percent of the vote Tuesday to defeat independent candidate Jim Harrison.
Republicans nationally took control of the U.S. Senate, increased their hold on the U.S. House, and gained control of several governor’s offices when most polls expected them to lose a few overall. Besides Bruce Rauner’s win in Illinois over Pat Quinn, the GOP won governor’s seats in deep-blue Massachusetts and Maryland.
New county GOP Chairwoman Sandra Fay Salgado said that while the national momentum helped, it was the hard work of a new leadership team and an invigorated Republican central committee that played the largest role.
“Since the new leadership took over after the [March] primary, we’ve been working very hard at two goals: Take back the seats on the County Board, and increase participation in the process. ... We had just an incredible voter turnout this election,” Salgado said.
Salgado was part of a slate that maintained new blood was needed at the top, and defeated establishment candidates to take control of the party. Two of her fellow executive members – Vice Chairman Andrew Gasser and Treasurer Charles Wheeler – enjoyed additional victories Tuesday night with their election to County Board seats, according to unofficial vote totals.
Gasser, of Fox River Grove, edged out Democratic incumbent Nick Chirikos in District 1, widening his lead to 382 votes after early and most absentee ballots were finally tallied early Wednesday afternoon. Wheeler, a McHenry businessman, trounced his Democratic challenger by 1,660 votes.
In District 5, Democratic incumbent Paula Yensen’s reputation as a fiscal hawk who has voted against levy increases and exposed wasteful spending on the Mental Health Board couldn’t save her. The Lake in the Hills resident fell 783 votes short against Republican newcomer Michael Rein, of Woodstock, whom she defeated to win re-election in 2012.
While county Republicans made a strong showing and fought hard, a small part of the reason for their County Board sweep can be attributed to luck. Both Chirikos and Yensen drew two-year terms after the 2012 election when all 24 seats were up because of post-census redistricting. The McHenry County Board has had a one- or two-member Democratic minority since James Kennedy won in 2006 when a Democratic rout wrested control of Congress from the Republicans.
Democratic Party of McHenry County Chairman Michael Bissett could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Gasser said he looks forward to serving. The retired Air Force officer and president of a tea party space exploration issues group said he will not take a county pension or insurance, and will limit himself to two terms.
“I’m elated, and I look forward to working for the constituents of McHenry County Board District 1 on their behalf, and I think [Tuesday’s results] show that governmental transparency and fiscal responsibility are winning issues, regardless of party,” Gasser said.
Salgado said her short-term goal will be to repair the rift between the Republican camps who supported either Prim or Zinke. After that, she said work will start now on the 2016 race, with a focus on the 63rd Illinois House District, where incumbent Democratic State Rep. Jack Franks won re-election Tuesday.
While she said Prim’s vote total was impressive, part of Harrison’s total undoubtedly came from Republicans who backed Zinke.
“The local party still has a lot of work to do regarding mending some of those relationships. It’s a shame that some of the folks who should have been supporting Prim didn’t,” Salgado said.
Overall turnout in McHenry County was average for a gubernatorial election at about 45.6 percent, County Clerk Katherine Schultz said.
Her office has to wait 14 days before it can count late absentee, provisional and grace-period registration ballots, which would not be enough to change any of the local races. But they could matter in the race for Illinois treasurer race, where Republican Tom Cross as of late Wednesday held a razor-thin 8,400-vote lead over Democrat Michael Frerichs.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the title of McHenry County GOP Treasurer Charles Wheeler.