State Senate: Personal missteps mark GOP race in 31st District
BY THE SUN-TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD February 20, 2012 10:32PM
Updated: February 21, 2012 4:10PM
Having a home in foreclosure and being unable to hold down successive jobs typically would doom most candidacies — unless the person running is in the Republican 31st Senate District primary.
In the four-way campaign for this Lake County seat, such tales of personal financial ruin have filtered into a campaign where the weightiest issue, as in most of the other legislative primaries, is how to clean up the state’s massive budgetary mess.
Sense an irony here?
The wide-open race involves a Tea Party leader — he’s the one with the immediate financial woes; a former longtime Lake County Board member; the son of a one-time head of the Lake County GOP, and a political neophyte who flirted with running for governor in 2010.
The winner in the fall will face Melinda Willen Bush, a Democrat from Grayslake who defeated Leafblad in 2008 for a seat on the Lake County Board.
The district the four Republicans are vying to represent hugs the Wisconsin border between Winthrop Harbor and Antioch, takes in Zion and Grayslake and stretches as far south as Wauconda.
Four months ago, this primary would have had much different dimensions had it even happened at all because the incumbent, state Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Village), was regarded as a shoo-in to defend her seat in the general election.
But Schmidt couldn’t overcome a string of embarrassing 911 calls arising from fights with her husband. That torpedoed her re-election plans and cut short a promising statehouse career.
Schmidt’s premature retirement left an opening for Linwood “Lennie” Jarratt, of Round Lake Beach, who has made his financial struggles a cornerstone of his campaign, touting his plight on his political website.
He stands to lose his three-bedroom home to Bank of America, which initiated foreclosure proceedings against him when he fell behind on his mortgage payments after losing two successive jobs and being unemployed for 11 months.
“Everybody here knows somebody who is going through foreclosure, and they know it’s because of the economy and the jobs leaving Illinois,” said Jarratt, head of the Lake County Tea Party, which he said is about 300 strong.
Jarratt’s candidacy has the backing of conservative activist Jack Roeser, who has contributed $5,000, state records show.
A January poll by the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association had Jarratt in second place, trailing Lawrence “Larry” Leafblad, of Grayslake, who enjoys name recognition from a 16-year stint on the Lake County Board that began in 1990; he regards that experience as a major plus.
“None of my three opponents has any governing experience at all. None have held as much as a mosquito-control position. Never been on a park district, a school district, a county board or anything. They’re completely green,” Leafblad said.
Leafblad, who got 19 percent in the IMA poll, compared with 6 percent for Jarratt, said he has had success running businesses, though he too has experienced financial struggles nearly as serious as Jarratt’s.
Leafblad filed for bankruptcy in 1997 after a Tennessee recording studio in which he invested went belly up.
“People say, ‘That’s a badge of courage. We went under, too,” Leafblad said.
Rounding out the field are U.S. Navy reservist Joe Neal, who is the son of former Lake County GOP chairman Bob Neal, and Air Force veteran Michael White.
Of all the candidates, Neal, of Wadsworth, enjoys the most organizational support, picking up backing from Schmidt, state Rep. Jo Ann Osmond (R-Antioch) and former state Rep. Robert Churchill (R-Lake Villa).
Neal, an engineer who returned last June from a tour of duty in Iraq, makes clear that unlike his opponents, he hasn’t endured the same financial hardships and has “kept my head above water.” Indeed, his message is a more conventional one, though he sits in third place in the IMA poll with 5 percent of the vote.
“My focus here is on jobs and on the budget crisis in Illinois. I think that’s the winning message going into the general election,” Neal told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Some of these other candidates are going off on some tangents.”
White, of Lindenhurst, is little known despite trying to mount a 2010 gubernatorial candidacy that never took off under the banner of the Constitution Party.
White also is cash poor, making it difficult to see how he can mount a credible campaign. At the end of last year, he reported having only $131.75 in campaign funds, state records showed.
On the issues, all support letting the 67 percent income tax expire in 2014 and oppose legislation legalizing gay marriages. Only Leafblad is open to gambling expansion.