After nine years leading the Lake County Board, Chairwoman Suzi Schmidt on Wednesday said she will run for the state Senate next year.
Schmidt, a Lake Villa Republican who's served on the board since 1988, has her eye on the 31st District post now held by Michael Bond, a Grayslake Democrat.
Bond is running for Congress in 2010, which means he can't simultaneously run for re-election in the state legislature. That will leave his seat in Springfield open - and highly desired.
"This is a crucial seat for us," said Dan Venturi, leader of the Lake County Republican organization.
Bond declined to comment on Schmidt's candidacy.
Schmidt is the latest domino set up in a game reliant on U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk's much-anticipated decision to run for either the governor's office or the U.S. Senate.
Kirk, a five-term Republican from Highland Park. represents the 10th District, which covers the North Shore and some of the Northwest suburbs in Cook and Lake counties. Last week, Bond announced his candidacy for the 10th District seat.
Democratic state Sen. Susan Garrett of Lake Forest also is considered a potential contender for Kirk's House seat but hasn't announced a bid.
Schmidt would not have to surrender her county board post to run for the state Senate. She was re-elected in November 2008 to a four-year term and would remain in office if she loses a Senate race.
If she wins, however, she'd have to quit the board, which then would appoint a new representative for the 3rd District.
It also would choose a new chairman or chairwoman. Unlike neighboring Cook County, where the president is selected by voters, the Lake County Board appoints its top leader from within its members.
Bond won the 31st Senate post in 2006 by defeating Republican Suzanne Simpson in a hotly contested battle. Support from veteran state Sen. Adeline Geo-Karis, who was the incumbent at the time but lost the GOP primary to Simpson, helped put Bond on top, Venturi said.
"Michael Bond would've never won without the switch over from Adeline Geo-Karis supporters," said Venturi, who considered campaigning for the 31st Senate seat but won't run. "It is a Republican-leaning district and it is one we should win."
Venturi doubts Schmidt will have any serious opposition in the 2010 GOP primary. The Republicans he's spoken to support Schmidt, he said.
Venturi's Democratic counterpart, state Sen. Terry Link, could not be reached for comment.
Schmidt, who said she'd been mulling a run for the Senate for about four months, said she initially wanted to run against Bond due to concerns about his representation.
Schmidt said she's proud of the work the county board has accomplished during her tenure, particularly its financial stability, and hopes to bring some good governing skills to the Senate.
Education and transportation are key issues for Schmidt, a former teacher, but the state's troubled financial picture tops her list.
"Without financial stability, you can't have the rest of it," Schmidt said.
Schmidt has developed a reputation as a consensus builder willing to work with Democrats to accomplish the people's business both on the county board and the Lake County Forest Preserve Board, which consists of the same 23 members.
She's been troubled by a recent rise in partisan political gamesmanship at the county level.
"I think you must cross the aisle if you're going to work for the (common) good," she said.