Experience vs. energy frames the only GOP primary for McLean County Board
There are plenty of new candidates who have filed to run for McLean County Board this year, but most won't have to campaign until the general election. There’s only one Republican primary race on the County Board.
District 2 covers much of southeast McLean County. This is the only contested primary in McLean County that will decide an election. Three Republican candidates have filed for two seats. No Democrats have filed in the beet red district.
Incumbents Jim Soeldner of Ellsworth and William Friedrich of rural Heyworth are running along with challenger Tyler Bahan of Saybrook.
Soeldner is retired. He has been on the County Board since 2008. He is vice chair. Friedrich is a corn and soybean farmer. He came to the board in 2019. Bahan sells farm equipment. Friedrich did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Soeldner said his 14 years on the County Board should give him the edge over any newcomer. “I just hope that the ones that are considering running for (election) are boning up on information and they seem to be, but it’s just like anything else, you’ve got to have a little experience,” Soeldner said.
All 20 seats on the board are up for election this year because of redistricting. One of the two board members in each district will get a two-year term and the other a four-year term through a lottery. That will stagger election terms in each district for a decade until the next census and remap.
Soeldner said he would consider running again only if a lottery gives him a two-year slot. “I’m getting to the point where I feel like I need to let some younger people do it, but I want to get at least one more term,” Soeldner said.
Soeldner is 66. Tyler Bahan is 31 and said he is ready to step in now. Bahan said the County Board can use young blood and fresh perspectives.
“Most of them are over the age of 50 and needing a voice of not just younger people, but younger conservatives from our area,” Bahan said.
Bahan said the board needs to better advocate for farmers and rural parts of the county. In particular, he said county roads are in awful shape. He said Bloomington Normal overshadows the county's rural areas.
“I get the same complaints, our roads aren’t good,” Bahan said. “I don’t feel like the people that are in office for this portion of the county are doing enough to try to stand up for what we need out here.”
Bahan said he is a conservative but he would put constituent service over political ideology if he wins. Soeldner describes himself as a fiscal conservative but social moderate. He brings up the McLean County Nursing Home in Normal as an example. Soeldner said he's been patient with years of efforts to reduce millions of dollars in losses at the county-run facility, though his forbearance is wearing thin.
“Honestly, I was getting to the point to start putting (on) the brakes. I think it got to the point where we need to consider doing something different, but these last couple of months it’s hopefully turned the corner for good,” Soeldner said.
Soeldner said he's willing to give the nursing home months, not years, to show it will not continue as a financial drain on the county. If the improvement turns out to be temporary, Soeldner said the county should try to sell the nursing home or find a contract manager.
Soeldner said he also supports how the county has funded its mental health initiatives. The county has collected over $23 million in sales tax revenue for mental health and jail expansion, but over half of that hasn't been spent.
Soeldner said the county has plans for most of the money, including a multi-year overhaul of the electronic justice information system which keeps track of court cases, filings, and the backgrounds of people in the system. That is used by the courts, prosecutors and defense attorneys, the sheriff's office and jail.
“I agree that there’s times when maybe you are sitting on too much money, but I think this is a case where rather than asking taxpayers for a big increase in their taxes. This gives us an opportunity to save for that,” Soeldner said.
Wind farms and solar energy installations have helped the property tax base grow in the county. Soeldner said he supports those projects but believes the county may soon be saturated.
“I think both of those, solar and wind, still have a little place in McLean County. I’m not sure how much,” Soeldner said.
Tyler Bahan admits he has a steep learning curve on the county nursing home, mental health and many pressing issues for the County Board. He said his life experience will help him catch up quickly.
“I don’t know for sure necessarily what I am stepping into, but I’m willing to learn. I’m willing to work with people and just be someone who is a normal guy. I’m not a politician. I’m not somebody who wanted to do this from the age of 18 and tried to jump right into this,” Bahan said.
Bahan and Soledner frame their race as energy versus experience. Again, Friedrich has been silent.
The primary election is June 28. Early voting is ongoing for the primary. The general election will be in November.