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State House: What Republican brand goes best in the 58th District?

Mark G. Neerhof

Mark G. Neerhof

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Updated: February 27, 2012 10:15AM

Illinois’ 58th House District encompasses some of Chicago’s most affluent northern suburbs, including Deerfield, Lake Forest, Highland Park and Glencoe. Redistricting here was minimal, stretching the district’s boundaries a bit further north to include the Naval base. The demographics remain largely unchanged.

Despite pockets of conservative voters, the district tends to elect moderate Democrats; Karen May has held the House seat since 2001. She is leaving office this year, and two Republicans have stepped up to take on Democrat Scott Drury in the general election. Drury, a federal prosecutor has been been endorsed by May, has remained quiet throughout the lead-in to the March 20 primary. In the fall, Drury will face either Lauren Turelli or Mark Neerhof.

Lauren Turelli, a 40-year-old real estate broker from Lake Forest, is no stranger to the political landscape, despite having never won an election. She is known for her negative campaigning style, which tends to be particularly evident in her mailers. She was the 2010 Republican nominee for state representative for the 58th District. She lost to incumbent May. In 2008, Turelli launched an unsuccessful bid to become West Deerfield Township supervisor. She suffered some embarrassment after a widely distributed mailing claimed that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White had endorsed her, and the endorsement was revealed to be a fabrication.

Turelli’s opponent, Dr. Mark Neerhof, is a 53-year-old osteopath, obstetrician/gynecologist and associate professor at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. Also from Lake Forest, Neerhof is a newcomer to local politics, and he has staked out more conservative ground than his adversary.

Neerhof’s staunchly conservative views — he wants to repeal tax increases and cut existing taxes, and he supports school choice and vouchers — could make his candidacy a tough sell in the moderate 58th.

Both candidates put financial reform at the top of their priority lists, emphasizing Medicaid and pensions as particularly emergent issues. They both support at least some tenets of Senate Bill 512, which would enforce widespread pension reform, and they advocate for more “business-friendly” tax codes in Illinois, reversing taxes on businesses and restructuring workers compensation guidelines.

In January, when Gov. Pat Quinn announced his plans to cut $2 billion from Medicaid, Turelli issued a press release supporting the move as a “good first step” towards getting the debt-ridden program under control. Neerhof issued the following rejoinder in a press release: “Dr. Neerhof agrees that Medicaid reform is desperately needed, but we need bold reform, not the type of tinkering around the edges of the status quo that Ms. Turelli and Governor Quinn are proposing.” The release continues, touting Neerhof’s background as a physician and his unique understanding of the problems facing Medicaid, its recipients and the physicians who provide services.

He fails, however, to provide specifics. This is typical of Neerhof’s responses to the candidate questionnaire: He expresses unequivocal support for dramatic reform in government, schools and pensions, and for cutting taxes and immediately repealing the Democrats’ tax increases — but he never offers a plan to accomplish any of these things. He opposes gay marriage, any expansion of gambling and limits on campaign contributions, citing First Amendment concerns.

Turelli’s campaign clearly spent more time filling out the questionnaire, and as a result her responses are more nuanced, if somewhat repetitive. She repeatedly cites her experience as a businesswoman and a former teacher with a background in union negotiations and pension consulting. She advocates stronger environmental protection for the Lake Michigan shoreline, local control over public schools and a libertarian (hands-off) approach to gay marriage.

It remains to be seen whether a Republican — even one espousing moderate views — can take this historically Democratic district. Clearly both Lauren Turelli and Mark Neerhof think they’re up for the challenge.

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