The decision by state Rep. Jack Franks to run for McHenry County Board chairman rather than re-election to his Illinois House seat makes the seat prime for a GOP pickup, according to the Republican candidate.
Reclaiming the 63rd House District seat that Franks first won in 1998 has been a target for the McHenry County Republican Party since, but no candidates, when they have been fielded, have come close to ousting him since his first re-election campaign in 2000. But Steven Reick, the GOP nominee taking his second shot at winning the seat, said Franks’ decision changes the game.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that it makes the race more competitive. Jack’s been here nine terms, he has a lot of name recognition, and it means we start with a clean slate,” said Reick, a tax attorney now living in Woodstock.
Ending months of speculation, Franks, D-Marengo, announced his run for chairman Sunday morning, just after the Democratic Party of McHenry County slated him to challenge Republican nominee Mike Walkup.
This race is the first ever for the chairmanship, following a 2014 referendum in which voters chose to make the office popularly elected instead of chosen by board members themselves.
Franks chose not to run for a 10th term in Springfield and plans to focus on the chairman’s race instead – state law allows someone to run and hold both seats simultaneously. He intends to fill out the remainder of his House term.
Reick almost chose not to run this year after losing to Franks in 2014. But pledges of financial and staff support from the Illinois House Republican Organization – especially after a GOP candidate that party members suspected was a Democratic ringer entered the primary – prompted Reick to change his mind.
He handily won the primary, and said he believes that Franks’ departure from the race will translate to more support.
“I would expect so. [The state GOP] stepped up for me during the primary, like they said they were going to,” Reick said. “I can’t imagine at this point them getting me past that milepost and then saying you’re on your own. I think they smell the smell of victory and they’re going to follow through.”
McHenry County Republican Party Chairwoman Sandra Salgado echoed Reick’s sentiments. She said the party was confident of winning the seat this time around, even against Franks.
“We’ll have two individuals not running as incumbents. It will be a good race, we’ll get that seat back in Republican hands, and it will stay that way for a very long time,” Salgado said.
The most important unanswered question right now is who the Democratic Party will select to run against Reick in the 63rd District, which covers northern and western McHenry County and includes all or parts of Marengo, Union, Harvard, Hebron, Woodstock, McHenry, Wonder Lake, Ringwood, Richmond and Johnsburg.
One of the reasons Franks has survived and thrived in an otherwise Republican-dominated county is his consistent votes against tax increases and larger government, and votes seen as bucking the will of House Speaker Michael Madigan. Because the Democratic Party has an exact 71-seat House supermajority, Franks has sunk more than one Madigan initiative.
Because the 63rd House District lies entirely in McHenry County, the choice is the county Democratic Party’s to make. Chairman Michael Bissett said he anticipates that the choice will be made in June, after the end-of-May deadline passes for candidates caucused in after the primary, such as Franks, get the signatures needed to get on the Nov. 8 ballot.
“This was a bombshell announcement, and I think everyone is sitting back right now trying to absorb the impact of it,” Reick said. “We’ll be coming forward soon with a plan aimed toward the fall.”
Walkup also is running for his seat representing the board’s District 3, which covers Nunda and parts of McHenry and Algonquin townships.
He wants to hold both offices so he can continue to vote on board issues, because state law forbids a popularly elected chairman in a county the size of McHenry’s from voting on anything.
Five Democratic Party nominees ran to get on the March 15 ballot in all but one of the County Board’s six districts. Besides Franks, county Democrats have since slated candidates for state’s attorney and recorder, and five more County Board candidates.