The nation’s deep divide that ended early Wednesday morning with an election upset for the ages was reflected in local turnout.
While Republican President-elect Donald Trump carried McHenry County, he did so with just under 50 percent of the popular vote, with Hillary Clinton not too far behind with 42 percent, according to unofficial totals. Libertarian Gary Johnson won just under 5 percent, with the remaining 3 percent split almost equally between Green candidate Jill Stein and write-ins.
And like voters nationally, who not only elected Trump but also gave the GOP continued control of Congress, McHenry County voters – almost – did the same for local candidates.
Republican candidates won 11 of 12 County Board races, kept the 66th House District in GOP hands with the impending retirement of Rep. Mike Tryon, and Republican candidate Steven Reick won the 63rd House District seat that had been held for 18 years by Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks. But the Republican Party’s gain resulted in a high-profile black eye – Franks instead ran for County Board chairman, handily defeating Republican candidate Mike Walkup in the first-ever election for the seat. Republican newcomer candidates for state’s attorney and recorder, however, had an easy time winning Tuesday evening.
While McHenry County Republican Party Chairwoman Sandra Salgado said she was not surprised by the party’s local showing, she said that while she was expecting a close presidential race, she did not expect Trump to win.
“I think the people are looking for someone to come in and shake things up and move this country in the right direction,” Salgado said. “I’m confident that Trump is really going to show his leadership over the next few years.”
Democratic Party of McHenry County Chairman Michael Bissett said he and his party did not expect Trump to win, either. And while he said he was willing to give Trump a chance, his outlook was not nearly as optimistic. He said his fellow Democrats are “absolutely horrified” of a Trump presidency.
“If Trump’s going to govern the way he campaigned, we’re in for a horrible four years,” Bissett said.
Both Salgado and Bissett agreed that work needs to be done to heal the wounds inflicted by one of the most vicious presidential races in U.S. history.
Salgado acknowledged that the primary system elevated two unlikable candidates, with very high negatives among their detractors, to lead their parties as the presidential nominee. She said an opportunity exists, for Republicans and Democrats alike, to evaluate the system and the process and apply some lessons learned.
“This is a great time for us, even at a local level, for both parties, to re-examine the way we do things, the process,” Salgado said. “Even locally, there were some distasteful things going on.”
Bissett said that healing partisanship wounds will not be easy, if how the Republicans handled themselves during President Obama’s two terms are any predictor. But Congress may be able to help in that regard by putting some of the partisanship aside.
“I think Trump is going to realize that the powers of the presidency are limited by design,” Bissett said. “That’s going to be frustrating to him, and perhaps, from my perspective, the only way they’re going to learn to govern is by figuring out what both sides want, and move the other stuff off to the side for a while.”
Bissett said Tuesday’s losses were buoyed by Franks winning the chairmanship and by the election of Paula Yensen to a County Board seat. Yensen, who served on the board between 2008 and 2014, is a Lake in the Hills trustee and Bissett’s wife – just as she did when she first was elected, she will have to resign her trustee seat.
“It’s clearly a significant indication that the voters of McHenry County want something to change, even though they elected a lot of Republicans again,” Bissett said.
Salgado acknowledged that the fight for the chairmanship was not handled well. She said the party, which had a lot of races to focus on, lacked organization for the chairman’s race from the beginning, and faced an uphill battle against a very experienced Democratic legislator. She said the party will focus on winning the seat in 2020.
“Jack didn’t win that race. The Republicans for sure lost that race. We gave it over to him,” Salgado said.