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Endorsement: McHenry County State's Attorney
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 1/25/2008 12:17 AM

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The bitterly contested race for the Republican nomination for McHenry County state's attorney pits a first-term incumbent against a man he showed the door.

It's no surprise these men do not like each other, but what's surprising is the amount of vitriol coming from both camps.

State's Attorney Lou Bianchi, who had no previous political experience before running for office in 2004, stepped in when longtime chief prosecutor Gary Pack chose not to run for re-election.

Dan Regna, who worked for Pack as a prosecutor for nine years and then campaigned against Bianchi, was given his walking papers when Bianchi took office.

In criticizing the incumbent, Regna points to a substantial turnover of assistant state's attorneys in the office, what he calls failures in the prosecution of several high-profile cases, a failure to adequately advise the county board regarding a lawsuit the county faced, and a breakdown in vital relationships with law enforcement as well as victims.

In answering the criticisms during a meeting between the Daily Herald editorial board and the candidates, Bianchi often appeared lost -- confusing high-profile cases and even the names of key attorneys in his employ, and having little or no documentation or knowledge to back up his claims that he's spending less on outside attorneys than his predecessor.

He's either depending too much on other people or he doesn't possess that knowledge himself. Neither is good.

Bianchi lays a lot of what he says is the success of his office at the feet of his criminal division chief, Nichole Owens, but seems somewhat ignorant of how she gets it done.

It's important for a state's attorney to have a pit bull for a lead prosecutor in criminal cases, but it's also important for him to keep hold of the leash.

In our view, Bianchi's biggest problem is judgment. Poor judgment used in the initial pursuit of charges against Allen Lee, the Cary-Grove High School student who wrote in a stream-of-consciousness essay about shooting up a school. It seemed more a nod to public pressure than a sound legal decision. And judgment discarded entirely in the treating of his staff and others to $17,000 in lunches, doughnuts, candy and other goodies during his term.

Bianchi, responding to a September investigation by the Daily Herald that spotlighted his excessive reimbursement requests for meals and treats for himself and staff, said he'd done nothing wrong and it was all just part of doing business. It may be a vanishing part of doing business in the private sector, but it has no place in county government.

We applaud Bianchi for since halting the practice of asking taxpayers to foot the bill, but given his justification for it he likely only did so due to the resulting public outcry and threat of legal investigation.

For all of Bianchi's faults, Regna is not a perfect alternative. During our editorial board meeting he accused Bianchi of failing to adequately brief the county board on a potentially costly legal matter. When called on it, he backed off, saying his information was incorrect.

We appreciate his quick acknowledgment of an error but feel it crucial to rein in such reckless rhetoric.

Regna has the backing of the preponderance of the law enforcement community, including one-time Bianchi backer Sheriff Keith Nygren. They view him as a straight shooter.

Four years ago, we endorsed Bianchi as a breath of fresh air. We feel he's had his shot, and we've been disappointed.

If Regna can stay above the politics that has dominated this race for the past few months and keep his eye on prosecuting cases and running the office efficiently, he should do well.

Regna is endorsed. There is no Democrat yet to face the winning Republican in November.