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State Senate: Rep, incumbent differ on pension reforms

Carol Pankau has served Illinois' Legislature for 19 years first House as state senator since 2005.

Carol Pankau has served in Illinois' Legislature for 19 years, first in the House and as a state senator since 2005.

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Updated: February 20, 2012 1:47PM

During her 19-year Springfield career, state Sen. Carol Pankau has been a reliable Republican vote against raising taxes and advancing a pro-business agenda even if it’s hard to identify her with many signature pieces of legislation.

State Rep. Randy Ramey, the stepson of former Senate President James “Pate” Philip, has angered immigration advocates, allied himself with teachers unions seeking to block pension reform and run afoul of the law in DuPage County with a drunken-driving arrest captured on video.

These are the choices for Republican voters in northern DuPage County in the newly drawn 23rd Senate district in a race that already has become one of the hottest legislative campaigns leading up to the March 20 primary.

Pankau, a state senator since 2005 and a state representative before that, ran unsuccessfully for state comptroller in 2006 and for the DuPage County board chairmanship in 2010.

She has voted against raising the state income tax and abolishing the death penalty. She backed casino expansion, utility rate-increase legislation and pension reforms that raised retirement ages and curtailed other retirement benefits for new government workers.

Asked to point to her most noteworthy legislation, Pankau described a bill that requires assessors to use foreclosures and short sales in establishing a property’s assessed value.

“I’ve always approached legislation with the mind-set you can accomplish anything if you don’t care who gets the credit,” she said.

But Ramey said that’s part of Pankau’s problem: She hasn’t left a visible imprint at the Capitol on issues that matter to constituents.

“I don’t know what you’d consider her trophy legislation. She’s done bills on squawking birds and nail salons,” said Ramey, who also faulted her for missing a key December vote in the Senate to award tax breaks to CME Group Inc., the Chicago Board Options Exchange and Sears Holdings Corp.

“She was on a two-week cruise,” he said.

Pankau, who opposed the tax-break package, said the trip had been planned for a year to celebrate her wedding anniversary.

“I’m proud of the fact I’ve been married to the same handsome and charming man for 45 years,” she said.

On the issues, Ramey, a House member since 2005, voted against the income-tax increase, casino expansion, abolishing the death penalty and legalizing civil unions. He favored utility rate-increase legislation and sponsored legislation patterned after an Arizona law that allows police to determine the immigration status of anyone they believe to be here illegally. That bill stalled amid opposition from immigration advocacy groups that labeled Ramey an “extremist” on the issue.

But Ramey’s 2010 “present” vote on the pension reform package that Pankau supported may be the biggest distinction between the two. That package reduced pension benefits for workers hired after Jan. 1, 2011. Regarding a proposal to reduce pension benefits for current workers, Pankau said she is “leaning toward supporting” the bill. Ramey said he is not in favor of it, saying the measure “would cost us more money, and it’s unconstitutional.”

Ramey has taken $31,500 from the political action committee of the Illinois Education Association, which has fought pension givebacks that he calls “unconstitutional.”

“All I can say is they’re not giving that to the Democrats,” Ramey said, when asked about the union money he has accepted.

Pankau criticizes those contributions and describes pension reforms as “the biggest division between Randy and I.”

Pankau also has been critical of Ramey’s conduct during an August drunken-driving arrest that resurfaced in a January Fox Chicago News report. A police video shows him telling his arresting officer, “Do you know who I am?”

“He attempted to abuse his power,” Pankau said.

Ramey, chairman of the DuPage County Republican Party, apologized for his conduct, saying, “It was stupid on my part.”

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