Four-party system? That’s where Adams County is now

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Observing and being involved in state and local politics over the last few years has been fascinating, interesting and exhausting.

Lately, the exhausting part has seemed to have gained a grip on us.

Republicans and Democrats, nationally and locally, are split amongst themselves. We see the infighting nationally on FOX News, MSNBC or CNN. We see it here on social media. Muddy River News occasionally will look at Congressional issues that deal with the legislators who represent us (How about that proposed Illinois map?), but we don’t delve into national politics.

Adams County Republicans have had to fill numerous seats on the Adams County Board lately because of resignations. The latest was the District 2 seat for Rebecca Weed, a long-time County Board member and former candidate for County Clerk. She is suffering from illness.

Kody Wiewel, a local Republican firebrand, has organized fundraisers and done a ton of groundwork for local candidates. He said he was promised the seat by Kent Snider, chairman of the Adams County Board. But Snider ended up writing a check he couldn’t cash.

Wiewel clashed with other Republicans, including Bret Austin, vice chairman of the County Board and chair of the board’s Finance Committee. He does most of the heavy lifting (work) on the County Board for Snider. Austin said he didn’t want Wiewel on the County Board. Weed’s niece, Megan Howell, eventually was appointed to the seat.

There was a great deal of arguing and back-biting over the appointment, voted on by the members of the Republican Precinct Committee in District 2. Wiewel’s camp claimed Howell was a Democrat, because she had once voted in a Democratic primary. Weed’s supporters said that was a one-off, and she had the right to appoint her successor. (Actually, she doesn’t, but when a person retires from a seat, their influence usually carries great weight.)

Wiewel withdrew his name, he said as not to cause a distraction and “so a Democrat wouldn’t be in a Republican seat.”

Another Republican, Mark Sorensen, was put up instead of Wiewel.

The committeemen vote was even split in one household. Weed’s District 2 seatmate, Barb Fletcher, voted for Howell. Her husband, 1st Ward Alderman Greg Fletcher, voted for Sorensen. But the overall vote went to Howell.

Wiewel is planning to run for the seat. He has been a tireless campaign worker for many candidates (he is the Adams County coordinator for Darren Bailey’s gubernatorial run) and will be formidable in a Republican primary.

(PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Full disclosure: When I did campaign work between my state government stint and my current position, I worked with Wiewel on multiple projects, including the Republican mayoral primary campaign of former alderman Paul Havermale. JRG)

This County Board seat spat is only the appetizer.

The Quincy Tea Party faction of the Adams County GOP is loading for bear. They are preparing to fill precinct committee seats and fill ballots with candidates for City Council, Park Board, School Board and County Board. Seven City Council and all 21 County Board seats will be up next time around. Redistricting will also come into play.

The old guard Republican set (Snider, Austin, Adams County GOP Chair Dave Bockhold, Quincy Mayor Mike Troup, his Deputy Mayor Jeff Mays, Alderman Mike Farha would be in this group) normally couldn’t afford to lose the conservative muscle of the Tea Party. However, that would require a local Democratic Party that would appeal to most Adams County voters.

That’s not the case. Former President Donald Trump carrying Adams County with more than 70 percent of the vote in both 2016 and 2020 should make that evident.

Troup won a narrow mayoral GOP primary over the Tea Party’s candidate, Havermale, thanks mostly to an overwhelming advantage of a massive campaign war chest. He won comfortably over Democratic candidate Nora Baldner, a former local television personality and current Quincy University professor.

Many old school Quincy Democrats didn’t get on board with Baldner. Some voted in the February GOP primary for Havermale, including at least one former Adams County Democratic Party chairman and the late Richard Reis, and a former longtime Democratic alderman.

Baldner represented the extreme left flank of the local Democratic party, which is basically the local chapter of Indivisible of Adams County. She said “I bleach my lettuce” during a mayoral forum as an example of how she took the COVID pandemic seriously, then criticized the administration of then-Mayor Kyle Moore for not doing enough. That enabled the Adams County GOP to portray her as Quincy’s version of Democratic New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the poster child of the uber-liberals.

While her fellow liberals and Adams County country club Democrats (the Scholz-McClain faction of the local party before McClain fell out of favor with Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker) supported Baldner, the Rocky Point/Knights of Columbus/Harrison Pub shot-and-beer Democrats sat out for the most part.

Many Republicans who supported Havermale, however, also sat out the general election. Some even voted for Baldner out of spite. They figured she had no shot in hell, so why not?

Bockhold and Kate Daniels, chair of the Adams County Democratic Central Committee, have their work cut out for them if they decide they want to continue heading their respective parties.

Adams County Democrats used to count on McClain to shake the Springfield/Chicago money tree. That would put them on a somewhat even footing in local contests with a well-funded local GOP, led for many years by the late community leader and businessman, Harold W. “Knap” Knapheide. After Knap’s death in 2018, local Republican leaders were concerned if the party could generate revenue for campaigns and conservative causes. Troup showed it was possible, though he was still financially supported by many members of Knapheide’s family.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin did make a major contribution to Baldner’s campaign in cash and in providing a full-time staffer.

Money always is an issue in politics, but local political leaders are also dealing with the shift from two parties to, in essence, four parties — just like their national counterparts who have been struggling with the same issue for more than a decade.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The paragraphs regarding Mark Sorensen was omitted from the first version of this report. We regret the omission. JRG.

J. Robert Gough is the publisher/general manager of Muddy River News.

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