Four-Way Fight For The 50th House District

Mar 12, 2014

Republican State Representative Kay Hatcher announced last fall she wouldn’t run for the 50th district seat she has held since 2009. It didn’t take long for four Republicans and a Democrat to come forward and announce their intentions to replace her. We continue our primary election previews with a look at the candidates in the district that covers portions of southern Kane and northern Kendall counties. 

Republican primary candidates in the 50th Illinois House District, clock-wise, from upper left: Julie Cosimo, Beth Goncher, Bill Keck, and Keith Wheeler.
Credit Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

  The 50th district is considered to be a Republican bastion, and includes portions of towns and cities such as St. Charles, Geneva, Yorkville, Aurora, Batavia, and Elburn. Republicans would like to hold onto the Illinois House seat. And that could be what’s behind a last-minute influx of campaign contributions from some very conservative donors.

William Keck is NOT the recipient of that election-time largesse: the retired Kane County auditor and Sugar Grove resident is running in the Republican primary, but hasn’t filed campaign disclosure documents for this race. Chris Mooney heads the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs. He says that says something about the candidate:

“So, maybe as a retired auditor, he has a lot of popular support. But he’s not spending any money. And you know, campaigns, looking at where the money is coming from and how much there is, it’s not everything, but it’s not  bad indicator of what’s going on.”

Keck was not available for an interview in time for this story. However, he has said he’s in the race to represent the 50th district in Springfield because he wants a balanced budget for Illinois. Keck says his 20 years serving as Kane County’s auditor proves he has the background for that. He has also served his community as former chair of his county’s Republican Party, past president of the Illinois Association of County Auditors, and through involvement in a number of civic organizations. Keck opposes reinstating the state’s expiring income tax hike, but supports further pension reforms and turning redistricting over to a non-partisan panel. He is also a supporter of the state’s new concealed carry law, but wants limits on magazine size and assault weapons.

If the candidate with the most money in the race is the one who wins, then Keith Wheeler is moving on to the next round. The Oswego Republican has about 40-thousand in his coffers, thanks to some big contributors. Chris Mooney says Wheeler’s biggest supporters are some well-known conservatives: candidate for governor Bruce Rauner and his wife, U-S Senate candidate Jim Oberweis, and the state’s #1 contributor to Republican campaigns, Richard Uihlein.

Wheeler owns a small business I.T. service provider.  He chairs three boards that fairly represent his goals in Springfield: the Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Leadership Council for the National Federation of Independent Business. He did not return requests for an interview, but laid out his priorities on his campaign website.

“We simply need to create more jobs. To do that, we have to make Ilinois more attractive to companies that would invest substantial sums and create hiring opportunities. Have to make Illinois a more affordable place to do business.”

Wheeler adds that his work chairing the Kendall County Food Bank motivated his run for office: he says he’s in it to help struggling families.

The candidate who’s giving Keith Wheeler a run for his money is Julie Cosimo. It’s her first foray into politics. She’s the director of Career Development at Benedictine University in Lisle and lives in Oswego. She went from zero to 20-thousand dollars in February. Chris Mooney says she also appealed to the conservative establishment:

“She’s also getting a good chunk of that money from a couple of major conservative donors: Jack Roeser and Richard Uihlein, who also, interestingly, gave as much money to Wheeler, maxed out on Wheeler and maxed out on Cosimo.”

Cosimo could not be reached before this story aired: she has laid out her agenda through her campaign site and says job creation is key to the state’s recover. She says it’s her experience that often, the jobs are there: the problem is getting people trained properly for those jobs. In Springfield, she plans to form a small coalition of lawmakers who will speak out against wasteful spending when they see it. Cosimo opposes a graduated income tax, and says she will work to make sure the state’s expiring income tax hike stays expired.

The fourth candidate in the race for the Republican nomination in the 50th district is someone who sees her strength more in her experience, not her bank account. Beth Goncher of Aurora spent nearly 14 years as legislative and constituent services director for State Representative Tim Schmitz. She says that means she can “hit the ground running” instead of spending time training for the life of a state lawmaker.

“I know what’s worked and what hasn’t work. It’s that understanding, along with talking with constituents and understanding how they feel about the issues and what they want out of their representative that has given me that better understanding then perhaps my opponents.”

Goncher says she’s frustrated and angry about the way things work in Springfield: she’s taken on the motto “nothing changes if nothing changes.” That means she plans to push for term limits and redistricting reform.

The winner in the 50th district Republican primary goes on to face a former Republican this fall.  Former Yorkville mayor Valerie Burd is running as a Democrat, and faces no opposition in the primary.