Covering the Land of Lincoln

Jim Dey | Party bosses seek applications, promise questionnaires for Bennett’s seat | Columns

The two local Democratic Party leaders charged with filling the 52nd Illinois Senate District seat are accepting applications from those interested in succeeding the late Sen. Scott Bennett.

The pair — Mike Ingram of Champaign County and Sandra Lawlyes of Vermilion County — said they will hold a public meeting on the appointment “after the first of the year (pending some ongoing legal review).”

Sen. Bennett, 45, died Dec. 9 from complications of a brain tumor. His Senate district is composed of the 103rd and 104th House districts, which is made up of two counties — Champaign and Vermilion.

Ingram and Lawlyes stated that appointment candidates “can email their CVs and any other pertinent information” to them.

In response, they will email questionnaires to applicants “starting early this week, with the plan for a public meeting to be held” after Jan. 1.

They also will be accepting “recommendations and endorsements from the public.”

Bennett’s sudden death created two vacancies—one for the balance of his existing term that expires in early January and the other for the new two-year term to which he was elected unopposed on Nov. 8.

Ingram and Lawlyes last week appointed his widow, Stacy, to fill the brief remainder of his existing term. That first appointment created breathing space for Ingram and Lawlyes to consider the second.

The second term begins when the newly elected legislature convenes Jan 11. Under Illinois law, the vacancy must be filled within 30 days of office becoming vacant — Jan 9.

So far, three local poles have stepped forward — City of Champaign Township Supervisor Andy Quarnstrom, State Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, and longtime veteran Democratic House candidate Cindy Cunningham.

Ingram and Lawlyes said “any Democrat with established residency in the Senate district” can apply.

Although Ingam and Lawlyes make up the appointment committee and may cast votes, Ingram actually possesses the sole authority.

That’s because the two party leaders will cast weighted votes based on the number of votes Sen. Bennett received in each county in November. Since Bennett received far more votes in Champaign County, Ingram possesses the majority of votes.

The same procedure was in place when Sen. Bennett was appointed to his seat in January 2015 to fill the vacancy created with then state-Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, was elected state treasurer in November 2014.

Ingram’s majority authority is a double-edged sword, because he’ll inevitably anger some party members no matter his choice. That sensitive position is further complicated by his reported interest in the appointment.

Ingram is a longtime supporter of Ammons and her husband, County Clerk and Recorder Aaron Ammons.

She’s putting on a full-court press to win the appointment, most prominently assisted by Cunningham Township Supervisor Danielle Chynoweth.

An Ammons appointment would create a vacancy in the 103rd Illinois House District seat to which she was just re-elected unopposed.

There is already considerable speculation about whom Ammons would favor to fill her House seat if she is appointed to the Senate.

The political intrigue prompted interested parties to play their cards close to the vest.

Frerichs, an influential local Democrat and a close associate of both Sen. Bennett and a possible applicant, City of Champaign Township Assessor Paul Faraci, said he has no knowledge of the issue.

“I’m not following it,” he said.

It’s unclear to what extent Ingram and Lawlyes will rely on others for advice.

They could act on their own or unofficially cede authority to a committee. Spreading out influence would be one way of diffusing responsibility for making a choice that could be unpopular in some quarters.

To some extent, Ingram is already reaching out. He told precinct committeemen he is preparing the questionnaire by soliciting queries from “stakeholders within the district.” He did not identify those stakeholders.

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