It has been more than two decades since voters in U.S. House District 14 had much to think about when they went to the polls. During that time, Dennis Hastert was most always the answer.
Now, though, voters find themselves in the midst of a raucous primary race in each party. They also know they'll be voting for basically the same set of candidates twice on Feb. 5, in a special primary and in the general primary.
The winners of the special primary will face off in a special Saturday election on March 8. The winner will serve out the remainder of Hastert's term. The winners of the regular primary face off in November, with the winner taking office in January 2009.
Of the two primary competitions, this is the easier for us to call. Fermilab physicist and Geneva businessman Bill Foster gets the nod over carpenter John Laesch of Yorkville, who gave Hastert a good run last election.
Foster touts his scientific and business background, which we believe gives him a leg up to deal with the complex problems faced today. He emphasizes border control and employer verification to fight illegal immigration, prefers good science over popular theory on energy issues, believes health care solutions should be driven by data and not ideology, and would push for better trade enforcement. His studied approach is real plus in an age of extremes.
Laesch, a veteran of Navy intelligence in the Middle East, understands the nation's military role, a real rarity in Congress. But his attitude on trade is too aggressive and unrealistic given foreign nations hold much of this country's debt. He has a good feel for the worries of the average guy, but his domestic policy solutions all envision more government and are too liberal and expensive for our taste.
Also running are Jotham Stein of St. Charles and Joe Serra of Geneva.
Looking at the campaign ads of dairy magnate Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove and state Sen. Chris Lauzen of Aurora, one would think the two are worlds apart politically. But the differences are few. Both are fiscal and social conservatives, and always have been. Both say what they think and stand behind it even under criticism, and both desperately want their party's nod. Taken together, that backbone and desire explain the heat in this race.
Oberweis gets the nod largely because we think he has a clearer picture of global trade and monetary policy, and because he would bring the costs-vs.-benefits attitude of a businessman to a body that needs it. Despite three previous failed campaigns, he persists in wanting to serve the public when he could be basking in the glow of his business success. But his inexperience still shows. He can be aloof and has a macro view that keeps him from engaging on a personal level, a problem not helped by an outsider running his campaign.
Lauzen, who has served for 15 years as state senator, has a very good record for responsiveness to constituents. But he has a far spottier record in terms of relationships with colleagues and an ability to bring others to his point of view. Even his Republican colleagues shy from him, and he is viewed more as a voice in the wilderness than a guy who can deliver legislation. He frequently points to moments when he stood alone or nearly alone to prove he means what he says. That's fair enough, but it is not the same as solving problems.
Candidate Michael Dilger has been non-participatory.
Whoever wins these races, the special primary and general primary, it is important to note the winner will not be the Speaker of the House, as Hastert was. He will be a rookie who must win the heart of his home district even as he develops the expertise and relationships needed to deliver even a fraction of the promises he's now making.
That will require work, not rhetoric.