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Thursday, March 15, 2012 11:48 am

The new 96th

Five candidates vie for Illinois House seat representing part of Springfield

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Republican candidate Dennis Shackelford and Democrat candidates Winston Taylor and Sam Cahnman answer questions from moderator Rich Bradley (second from left) during a Citizens Club of Springfield primary forum at Hoogland Center for the Arts on March 2.
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE

Five candidates are running, but only one will win the race to represent parts of Springfield and Decatur in the new 96th Representative District. The first leg of the race is the March 20 primary election that will eliminate all but two candidates. To this point the Republican candidates are running a clean campaign, while the Democratic side is getting dirtier each day.

The new district is part of the revised legislative maps created by majority Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly. It stretches from Springfield’s east side – including downtown and the Mid-Illinois Medical District – south to Kincaid and into most of Decatur, encompassing parts of Sangamon, Macon and Christian counties.

In the running are two Republicans – Jared Perry and Dennis Shackelford – and three Democrats – Springfield Ward 5 Ald. Sam Cahnman, Sue Scherer and Winston Taylor.

Some candidates have offered basic ideas of how to improve Illinois’ financial problems, while others have remained vague and offered few ideas on how to directly address issues facing the 96th district.

To make sense of this five-way race, Illinois Times interviewed the four candidates who made themselves available to find out who they are, what they stand for, and what they want to do. Democratic candidate Sue Scherer of Decatur was not available.

Jared Perry a Republican candidate running in the 96th district race.
Photo courtesy of Jared Perry

Jared Perry (Republican):
‘Five goals in 100 days’

Jared Perry of Decatur began his career in Illinois politics in 2007 as campaign treasurer for Adam Brown, a Decatur Republican who was preparing at the time to run for a seat on the Decatur city council. Brown later went on to win a seat in the Illinois House.

Prior to being Brown’s campaign treasurer, Perry was in the Illinois Army National Guard from 2000 to 2006 and was later deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2005. Perry said that his time in Iraq better prepared him for his campaign in the 96th district by teaching him to be ready for the “unknowns.”

“In Iraq, we had to be ready for improvised explosive devices or mortars, but it taught us to be instinctive,” Perry said. “If we got attacked, we pushed through the kill zone and finished our mission. In Illinois, we know there are problems, but we know what we are up against. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. It’s going to be a challenge, but we must work to fix things.”

Perry, a truck dispatcher for Archer Daniels Midland in Decatur, said that the current Illinois pension system has been under-funded for years, but he believes it is not the responsibility of local school districts to pick up the payments.

“The Chicago Democrats are trying to force pension payments onto the local school districts, and that is just not an option,” Perry said. “That would mean another tax increase, which would be detrimental to our schools.”

Perry, who received a bachelor’s degree in arts management from the University of Illinois Springfield, favors repealing the income tax increase that took effect in early 2011. He believes repealing the tax increase would create more jobs and provide a more business-friendly environment in Illinois. Perry is also a strong supporter of firearms, opposing recent Illinois legislation that would create a $65 firearm registration fee and an ammunition tax.

“When I was serving my country in Iraq, I lived with a weapon for a full year,” Perry said. “I believe it is our right to own a gun and I support conceal and carry.”

Perry’s campaign efforts consist of going door-to-door to citizens in the 96th district and handing out informational campaign fliers about where he stands on certain Illinois issues: jobs, firearms legislation, pension payments, income taxes and facility closures. Perry’s campaign flier also doubles as a survey, allowing citizens to check off the issues that are most important to them. Perry said that he has received many of the surveys back.

He said that his campaign has a “grassroots” feel to it, with local friends giving him small campaign donations and helping distribute fliers throughout the 96th district. The Illinois State Board of Elections website doesn’t have any financial contributions reported by Perry yet.

Perry said that he is not in support of the Quinn administration’s decision to close correctional facilities.

“They (Quinn’s administration) are taking about closing the Jacksonville Developmental Center and it feels like they are targeting the people that can’t help themselves,” Perry said. “That just isn’t right.”

Perry said that closing certain correctional facilities like the supermax prison at Tamms in southern Illinois could increase prison overcrowding and ultimately lead to an even more dangerous atmosphere for correctional facility employees.

If elected, Perry wants to act on five issues within his first 100 days in office. They include “repealing the 67 percent income tax hike on working families, implementing tax incentives to create and keep jobs in Illinois, reducing by 10 percent the pay of state elected officials, implementing term limits, not raising new taxes and fee increases and fighting to allow law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons.”

Perry does not have a campaign website.

Volunteer Keith Killen, left, helps Republican candidate Dennis Shackelford put up campaign signs in Rochester.
PHOTO BY NEIL SCHNEIDER

Dennis Shackelford (Republican):
‘Making today’s goals tomorrow’s achievements’

Dennis Shackelford, owner of Judy’s Hallmark Shops in Springfield, has wanted to run for public office for the past five years. But due to his children being “too young” and “having a bigger business,” he has been unable to run until now.

“When the new redistricting came along and there weren’t any incumbents in the district, I began to think ‘if I don’t do this now, I never will,’ ” Shackelford said.

Like Perry, Shackelford says he is running a “grassroots” campaign that includes going door-to-door in the 96th district and handing out informational fliers, while also holding a few small fundraisers within the district. He said that he has received help from friends, family and neighbors throughout his campaign.

Shackelford is endorsed by state representatives Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, and Rich Brauer, R-Springfield. Shackelford also said that he has received a couple of $1,000 campaign contributions, but he feels like asking for campaign contributions is the worst part of the political process.

“Before I accept a contribution, I’ve got to look the person in the eye and know exactly who the money is coming from,” Shackelford said. “I really don’t like coming up to people and asking them for money.”

Shackelford, who has a master’s degree in communication from Southern Illinois University of Edwardsville, said that he is a strong supporter of gun rights and is opposed to recent proposed legislation concerning the proposed ammunition tax and firearm registration.

Shackelford would also like to see the state income tax increases rolled back, but didn’t suggest any specific changes he would like to see made to the income tax system. Additionally, Shackelford favors lowering the costs of pensions for future state employees, but doesn’t believe that current state workers should have their retirement benefits changed or cut.

If he is elected, Shackelford wants to focus on the Illinois budget, education, crime and pensions.

“They are all somewhat interrelated and intertwined,” Shackelford said. “I’m a business man. I know that jobs and job creation are important, and creating a business-friendly atmosphere is something that needs to be improved in this state.”

Shackelford has also has served as a member of the Business Advisory Board for Central Illinois Banks, as a charter member of the Rochester Education Foundation and as a member of Chamber of Commerce organizations in Christian, Macon and Sangamon counties.

Schackelford’s campaign website is www.DennisShackelford.com.

Democrat Sam Cahnman speaks with Tony Niendock in Blue Mound about issues within the 96th district.
PHOTO BY NEIL SCHNEIDER

Sam Cahnman (Democrat):
‘Put the Cahn Man in the House.’

Springfield Ward 5 Ald. Sam Cahnman is one of three Democratic candidates running for state representative in the new 96th district.

Cahnman, who has a law degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been involved in politics before, both as an elected official and as an advocate for certain public policies. Cahnman led a 2006 campaign to allow voting in a primary election without declaring a party affiliation. Despite receiving support from 80 percent of voters in an advisory referendum, Illinois legislators twice rejected the “open primary” measure.

Cahnman responded by gathering 20 volunteers and collecting around 3,000 signatures of registered voters in Decatur, which eventually led to the question being placed on the March 20 ballot for Decatur voters to decide if they want an open primary.

Cahnman, a Springfield resident, is opposed to potential legislation that would require local school districts to pay for teachers’ pensions instead of the state.

Cahnman, along with fellow Democratic candidate Winston Taylor, has also been the target of recent negative fliers mailed to voters by the Democratic Majority, a campaign fund chaired by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago). One such flier shows three masked individuals standing behind a politician with a heading stating “you can tell a lot about politicians by the company they keep.”

The flier seeks to discredit the qualifications of Cahnman and Taylor by suggesting that the two candidates surround themselves with supporters who have criminal histories. In reality, the flier is focusing on only one individual, Ronnie Ballard of Decatur. According to court records, Ballard violated the sex offender registry act in 1997 after previously being convicted of aggravated sexual abuse in 1993. Ballard has circulated nomination petitions for both Cahnman and Taylor.

Cahnman has had his own brushes with the law, including most recently having a no-contact order placed on him, resulting from alleged inappropriate sexual contact with a 23-year-old woman in his apartment last summer. Sangamon County prosecutors declined to press charges against Cahnman after an investigation into the incident.

Cahnman said that the flier’s claims are “lies.”

“She (Scherer) says these fliers are about my character, but the fliers really don’t say anything about anyone’s character,” Cahnman said. “They (the fliers) indicate her poor character by sending them out and engaging in gutter politics. These fliers are misleading and are filled with the same two paragraphs of lies. They (Scherer’s campaign) are just trying to buy this election and put somebody in this seat who will follow the orders of Mr. Madigan and the Chicago Democratic machine. I don’t think the people want this kind of representative.”

Cahnman’s campaign strategies have included radio interviews and speaking at various public forums on issues such as Medicaid, pensions, firearm legislation and the state budget. He has also gone door to door in Decatur, Springfield and Blue Mound distributing pamphlets and press releases that tout his qualifications for office. Cahnman is the only candidate from either party who has served in elected office.

Cahnman has received $23,675 in campaign contributions, with the biggest campaign contribution coming from the Southern-Central Illinois Laborers Political League in the amount of $2,000.

Cahnman’s campaign goals include creating full-time jobs in Illinois, continuing the push for an open primary and addressing the budget.

Cahnman does not have a campaign website.

Sue Scherer (Democrat):
‘Send a teacher, not a politician.’

Democratic candidate Sue Scherer of Decatur is backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Photo courtesy of Sue Scherer's campaign
Sue Scherer, a first grade teacher at Maroa-Forsyth Grade School, is running a different style of campaign than her two opponents, using mailed attack fliers and apparently avoiding public exposure. Scherer, a Decatur resident, is responsible for the numerous mail fliers that attack Cahnman and Taylor.

Scherer has received $50,683  in campaign donations from the Madigan-controlled Democratic Majority, accounting for nearly 60 percent of her total $86,586.44 in campaign donations.

Scherer’s campaign fliers center on concepts that she “isn’t a career politician,” and she “knows how to live within her means.” Both slogans are featured on a few  mailing fliers.

According to her fliers and her website, www.SueSchererForStateRep.com, Scherer’s campaign goals include working to create jobs, demanding accountability in state government spending and protecting programs like education and senior services. Additionally, Scherer intends to fight against tax breaks for large corporations and putting unemployed workers back to work through an annual program of rebuilding Illinois’ roads and bridges.

 Scherer did not respond to numerous attempts – including two weeks of phone calls, an email, and even a trip to her campaign office – by Illinois Times to obtain an interview. Scherer has also kept a low profile during the campaigning process, including skipping a number of candidate forums.

Democrat Winston Taylor (far left) speaks with Brandi McConnell, Audrey Wise and Bill McConnell of Decatur about issues concerning the 96th district.
PHOTO BY NEIL SCHNEIDER

Winston Taylor (Democrat):
‘Together we can make a difference.’

Winston Taylor of Decatur has taken an unusual route that culminated in his running for state representative.

Taylor, a former middle-linebacker for the University of Illinois and the Miami Dolphins, said that after he experienced a knee injury while playing in the National Football League, he didn’t know what the next step in his life was going to be.

Taylor soon found a position as the legislative liaison for the Capital Development Board and eventually the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which he believes helped him understand what being a state representative is about.

“I did basically some of the functions of a state representative,” Taylor said. “We drafted and amended legislation, we did committee calls, we testified in committee. The only thing that I didn’t do was debate a bill on the floor.”

Taylor said during his five years working as a liaison, he noticed that one of the bigger problems in Illinois was how finances are distributed to communities.

“Not everybody is getting their share, and a lot of people are not even being told about funds and resources that are available to them,” Taylor said. “I want to share my knowledge on these situations with the citizens and help the communities re-grow.”

Taylor’s campaign has been helped through the efforts of friends and volunteers, which have gone door-to-door in the 96th district handing out informational fliers about Taylor, as well as offering rides to voters interested in voting early.

Taylor’s campaign goals include creating a job-friendly atmosphere in Illinois, modernizing schools to promote a successful future for students and working with community members in the 96th district to develop effective ways to combat violence in their neighborhoods.

Taylor has received $7,042.95 in campaign contributions, with the largest contribution of $2,000 coming from Humana Inc., a company that markets and administers health insurance.

For more information on Taylor, visit www.WinstonForStateRep.com.

Pictured is the new 96th district that stretches from the east side of Springfield into most of Decatur.

A tale of two parties
On the Democrat side, it’s anyone’s election to win.

Scherer has a strong chance of winning, based solely on the fact that she has received the largest amount of campaign contributions. However, she seems to have made few attempts to publicly address the issues of the 96th district, preferring instead to attack other candidates. If Scherer does win, it seems unrealistic that she could follow through with ideas like blocking lawmakers’ salary increases, especially considering that her campaign is primarily being funded by Madigan, who has controlled the House for most of the past three decades.

Cahnman also has the potential to win the March 20 primary election because he appears to be the most prepared and informed on the issues, which could be a result of his previous service as an elected official.

Taylor is the “wild card” in the election. He could potentially pull off an upset because he seems to have a better understanding of the voters in the 96th district and has made attempts to make sure that everyone in the district is informed on the issues facing them, while also providing transportation for them to vote.

On the Republican side, Shackelford may have a better chance to win because his campaign seems more organized and developed than Perry’s. Perry will also have to overcome a lack of campaign funding to have a chance at the seat. Overall, the Republican campaigning tactics have been much cleaner than on the Democrats’ side.

Whichever two candidates make it past the primary will have to face one another in the Nov. 6 general election. With the new 96th district drawn by Democrats in hopes of electing more Democrats to the Statehouse, the Republican primary winner will have to work extra hard to compete against his Democratic opponent in the general election. As has been the case in elections throughout history, the person who wins is not always the person who deserves to win.

Contact Neil Schneider at nschneider@illinoistimes.com.

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