The official word last weekend was that everyone was of like mind when 14 Republican county chairmen chose RODNEY DAVIS as the party’s candidate for the U.S. House in the new 13th Congressional District.

The official word last weekend was that everyone was of like mind when 14 Republican county chairmen chose RODNEY DAVIS as the party’s candidate for the U.S. House in the new 13th Congressional District.

“The committee is unanimous in their support for Davis and looks forward to working closely with him to win the 13th Congressional District and maintain the Republican majority in Washington D.C.,” said a statement from MIKE BIGGER, the Republican Stark County GOP chairman who was non-voting chairman of the selection committee.

Well, while that unanimity may have been agreed to by the time the meeting at the Crowne Plaza in Springfield ended, it wasn’t there throughout.

As might have been predicted, the chairmen were split for much of the meeting.  Davis, a Taylorville resident and a longtime aide to U.S. Rep. JOHN SHIMKUS, R-Collinsville, and ERIKA HAROLD, an Urbana native and lawyer who was the 2003 Miss America, were the two top choices.

HABEEB HABEEB, the Champaign County Republican chairman, told the News-Gazette of Champaign-Urbana that the group took three ballots to come to a conclusion, and that he and McLean County GOP Chairman JOHN PARROTT backed Harold on all three ballots.

“Sometimes you immediately recognize a wonderful opportunity,” Habeeb told the newspaper. “And the Republican Party had that wonderful opportunity” with Harold.

JOHN ZAHM, a member of the Henry County Board who was Illinois coordinator for the RICK SANTORUM presidential campaign this year, created a website, illinois13.com, where he reported on developments in the new 13th after U.S. Rep. TIM JOHNSON, R-Urbana, dropped out of the November race.

Zahm also reported that three ballots were cast last weekend. In the final one, he wrote, “the difference was just one county’s weighted vote,” which he said came from Macon County GOP Chairman BRUCE PILLSBURY, who went for Davis.

Pillsbury told me he had signed a confidentiality statement and didn’t want to talk about how the voting went.

“The whole process was open and transparent, and in the end all of the 14 chairmen were in total support of the candidate that was chosen,” Pillsbury said. “I think Rodney Davis is an excellent choice and will do a great job representing the 13th Congressional District.”

ROSEMARIE LONG, the Sangamon County Republican chair, agreed with the scenario reported by Zahm. She said Pillsbury started out supporting JERRY CLARKE, Johnson’s former chief of staff, but picked Davis on the final ballot.

Long said she voted for Davis on all three ballots. She could tell by the time the first vote was taken that Clarke “was not going to get it no matter what I did,” she said.

Clarke, a Pawnee native, had been endorsed by state Reps. RAYMOND POE, R-Springfield, and RICH BRAUER, R-Petersburg.

The four finalists also included KATHY WASSINK of Shipman, who helped found the Riverbend 9-12 group, based in Bethalto.

The finalists all appeared at a meeting May 14 of Sangamon County precinct committeemen. Long said her committeemen’s non-binding recommendations were close, with Clarke, Davis and Harold ranked in that order.

Long said she thinks Davis can “hit the ground running.”

“When he spoke before our forum here, I thought he just did an excellent job,” Long said of Davis.

She also said she hopes Harold stays involved in GOP politics. Long already has invited Harold to a local event this fall.

“I felt she was wonderful,” Long said, “being a woman, African-American. I just thought she was on top of her game. … It was very hard (to choose) because I thought she would do an excellent job also.”

It’s no surprise that it was difficult for the 14 chairmen to come to consensus. While Harold would have quickly generated a national profile because of her Miss America background, Davis has a lot of central Illinois experience. He has worked and raised money for a wide range of candidates and the state GOP. He also knows how a congressional office works and what constituent service is all about.

Habeeb, of Champaign County, didn’t discuss specifics of Saturday’s meeting with me, but did say Wednesday that Davis is “a class act” who worked “super hard” to elect Republicans at a party “victory center” in Champaign in 2010.

“He is very dedicated,” Habeeb said. “He stands for all the conservative values that we have … creating jobs, responsible spending, not over-regulation. We’re in complete agreement on everything, and he’s a friend on top of that. … I’m very optimistic about November.”

The contest between Davis and the progressive Democratic nominee in the 13th, Bloomington physician DAVID GILL, will give voters a clear policy choice.

About that candidacy law
The new law threatening the candidacy of the Sangamon County Democrats’ choice for coroner was passed to put into law what the Illinois Supreme Court had already ruled, the sponsor of the bill said.

RACHEL RALSTON of Rochester voted in the GOP primary in March, but may not be able to fill a ballot vacancy as the Democratic candidate for county coroner because of the new law.
State Rep. MIKE FORTNER, R-West Chicago, introduced House Bill 2009 in February 2011. It passed the House 75-38 last year, passed the Senate 53-3 on March 29, and was signed by the governor and became effective March 30.

It makes it clear that a person who votes in the primary of one major party can’t become a candidate for a partisan office in that cycle’s general election as a member of the other party or as an independent.

TOM CULLERTON, Villa Park village president and a distant relative of Senate President JOHN CULLERTON, D-Chicago, voted in the Republican primary in 2008, but was later that year slated as the Democratic candidate against state Sen. CAROLE PANKAU, R-Itasca. The state Supreme Court ruled that, because he voted in that GOP primary, he couldn’t be a Democratic Senate candidate that year.

In a similar case — but with critical differences — the high court ruled that when former state Sen. STEVE RAUSCHENBERGER, R-Elgin, voted in a 2009 Democratic primary so he could support his sister for a local office, it didn’t disqualify him from running for state Senate as a Republican in 2010.

Fortner said the Cullerton ruling created case law to keep a candidate from switching parties in the same election cycle. He said the Rauschenberger ruling was different because the local primary in which he participated was in a different cycle from the one in which he sought to return to the Senate.

“I was hoping to be of service to candidates,” Fortner said, so they wouldn’t have to rely on case law to understand the rules.

Sangamon County GOP Coroner CINDA EDWARDS is seeking a full term in November.
Tom Cullerton is running for state Senate again this year against Pankau. Rauschenberger lost a close race in 2010 to state Sen. MICHAEL NOLAND, D-Elgin.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or follow him via twitter.com/bschoenburg. His email address is
bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.