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State Senate: 22nd District Sen. Mike Noland can’t quite shake challenger Elenz

Updated: February 24, 2012 11:54AM

As a two-term incumbent, state Sen. Michael Noland should have an easy time fending off his primary challenger, insurance broker Tim Elenz.

Noland (D-Elgin) has a substantial fundraising advantage over the political newcomer from Streamwood, led in the only public polling of the race by a 40-to-7 percent margin and helped change the state Constitution to allow for the recall of a governor.

Yet, Noland hasn’t run away with Democratic primary for the 22nd Senate District, which covers a rectangular swath along the Northwest Tollway between Elgin and Hoffman Estates that stretches north to West Dundee and Carpentersville.

Even by the most generous of measures, Elenz still has to be considered a longshot. But a reason he remains viable in this race is his newfound backing from the powerful Illinois Education Association, which means union volunteers, phone banking, a five-figure infusion of cash and, above all, legitimacy.

Up to this point, Elenz’ policy positions remain somewhat of a mystery to Noland.

“It’s a little like shadow boxing,” Noland said. “I’d welcome entering the crucible of debate with him and seeing where he stands on the issues.”

Elenz describes Noland as an ineffective legislator and a pariah among Democratic colleagues at the Statehouse, who say privately he can be difficult to work with.

“One thing all elected officials have in common is they all dislike Mike Noland,” Elenz told the Chicago Sun-Times. “He has absolutely no rapport with any senator or anyone in the caucus and very few friends on the Republican side. I don’t know if there’s a more contentious man than him in the Illinois Senate.”

Noland is mystified by the criticism.

“I don’t know where this is coming from,” Noland responded. “I’m all ears. If anybody is willing to step forward, even indirectly, I’m happy to try to work with those folks who feel this way.”

This represents the first senatorial primary for Noland, a two-term incumbent first elected to his seat in 2006 after losing in consecutive House races in 2002 and 2004. Noland survived one of the closest legislative races of the 2010 campaign cycle, defeating former state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger (R-Elgin) by 585 votes out of 36,789 cast.

Noland described his biggest legislative feat as the 2009 constitutional amendment passed in response to ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment that allows Illinoisans to recall a governor. Another big legislative trophy Noland passed was a 2010 bill to speed up state-aid payments to Elgin Area Unit District 46.

“I’m not sure what positions I’ve taken that haven’t been reflective of what the majority of voters here would have wanted,” Noland said.

Noland’s voting record, at times, has been a cautious one. No better example was his January 2011 vote against temporarily raising the state income tax by 67 percent.

On other issues, he voted “present” on a gambling expansion bill opposed by the casino industry, a vote Elenz criticizes. The Grand Victoria Casino is in Elgin, whose city government relies on revenues from the casino.

“Mike Noland should have voted no because he’s from Elgin,” Elenz said.

On that vote, Noland explained that his “present” vote was merely a device to open the lines of communications with the Grand Victoria: “It was a way to try to get their attention to keep in touch, to let me know how you feel about this thing.”

Last fall, Noland opposed a package to extend tax breaks to Sears Holding Corp. in a dispute driven by Carpentersville Unit District 300’s insistence that it get more in property taxes out of the deal, saying it was “the right thing to do” for the cash-strapped district.

The stance put him at loggerheads with other Democratic lawmakers in the region who didn’t want to risk losing Sears and its 6,000 employees. The two House members in Noland’s district — Rep. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates) and Rep. Keith Farnham (D-Elgin) ― voted for the measure.

“He not only voted against the deal with Sears. He threw all the other members of his party under the bus,” Elenz said.

On another big issue, Noland voted for legislation legalizing civil unions in Illinois in a debate that led to his biggest gaffe. After a floor speech, Noland was accused by Republicans of plagiarizing sections of a civil rights speech by President John F. Kennedy without attribution.

“I did apologize for it. I try to move on, and I believe the voters have done so,” Noland told the Sun-Times.

Looking forward, both Noland and Elenz favor allowing the temporary income-tax increase to expire and legalizing gay marriages. On concealed carry, Noland said he is “open” to allowing Illinoisans to carry weapons, while Elenz favors it.

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