Radio hosts lament missed opportunities for voters
Less than a quarter of eligible voters turned out to cast ballots in Illinois elections this month despite very good reasons to do so, the co-hosts of a Chicago-based radio talk show said recently.
"It's a huge deal that people don't pay close enough attention to," Pat Hughes told Dan Proft during an airing of Illinois Rising. "Now, that's bad news because people should participate in the election, but it's also good news."
Hughes referred to February's upset win by Andrew Gasser, who defeated incumbent Algonquin Highway Commissioner Robert Miller. Miller had held the seat for 24 years, and his family had controlled the office for approximately half a century. Gasser went on to an uncontested win in the April 4 election.
That race is an example of how off-year elections offer strategic opportunities to go after entrenched incumbents, Hughes said.
"There's a chance to make a change," he said. "Because there's a smaller electorate, you can get the vote out, you can communicate with your voters. So hopefully, if people are paying attention, this is a great opportunity to make change in the state that will then resonate not just in terms of lower property taxes or other structural advantages, but resonate at the Statehouse level, the state Senate level, all the way up to governor."
Proft and Hughes are co-founders of the Illinois Opportunity Project. Proft is also a principal of Local Government Information Services, which owns this publication.
Consolidated elections on April 4 featured hundreds of municipal races in the Chicago area alone, including mayoral, village president, school board and referendum races. Voter turnout was low, as had been expected: less than 25 percent, in what Bob Hadley, a DeKalb 14th Precinct election judge, described as "somewhere between a stream and a trickle all day," according to a Daily Chronicle report.
The low voter turnout is not surprising, Proft said.
"It doesn't have all the fanfare of a presidential election or a statewide election, members of Congress, U.S. Senate, governors and the like," he said. "But it turns out to be the election that has the greatest impact on your home value, because it's the election that determines in large measure what your property taxes are going to be."
In another highly contentious race, Orland Park businessman Keith Pekau defeated longtime Mayor Dan McLaughlin, effectively saving village taxpayers more than $1 million in the process. McLaughlin received a 375 percent raise from village trustees in October, which would have taken effect in May had he been re-elected. It would have increased his pension amount to $1.2 million.
It was a decision Orland Park voters had to make on April 4, Hughes said.
"It is so rare in government that by making a vote, voting someone out, that you know the savings you're going to get immediately," he said. "You know that if this guy goes out, that you're going to save millions of dollars, just by this vote. That's a rare thing to be able to say, 'My vote will count for X millions of dollars,' and it will. And they have the opportunity to save themselves -- themselves -- that money if they vote that way."
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