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GOP party leaders pick Tom Bennett to fill Barickman's Illinois Senate seat

Tom Bennett
State Rep. Tom Bennett, left, was chosen Saturday to fill the open seat in the 53rd Illinois Senate District that includes northeast Bloomington-Normal.

A state representative from Gibson City who already represents about half the 53rd Illinois Senate District will step into the Senate seat being vacated by Jason Barickman.

Tom Bennett was chosen Saturday by Republican party chairs from the 53rd District’s 14 counties. He will serve a two-year term until the next election.

Barickman, of Bloomington, recently announced he would resign rather than serve the term he won in November. He said he wanted to spend more time with family, and that his work as a practicing attorney and a partner in a real estate development and management firm has gotten busier.

Since 2015, Bennett has served the 106th House District that serves all or parts of Livingston, Iroquois, Woodford, Vermilion and Ford counties. He couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday night, but in previous comments to WGLT, he said his experience would serve his expanded constituency well.

“Working with a number of folks to develop a good relationship and trust and also my knowledge of government processes just helps me have a better background, so I am able to hit the ground running,” he said.

Jim Rule, chairman of the Tazewell County Republican Party and secretary of the committee, agreed.

“He kind of had a head start, and he was familiar with a lot of the constituents already. I think moving over to the Senate side, while it’s a huge district — it’s one of the bigger districts in the state — Mr. Bennett will do a great job.”

He added the ground-level involvement Bennett brings to the table will be integral. “It’s not so much going to Springfield and voting on the issues along party lines, but it’s the presence that he’s going to have out in the district itself and helping to build the party.”

Senate Republican Leader-Elect John Curran issued a statement Sunday morning: “Tom Bennett has a track record of being a true public servant, who always has his constituents at the forefront of his mind when making policy decisions. We look forward to welcoming him to the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus, where he will bring valuable experience and will continue to be a strong conservative voice for the people of Central and Eastern Illinois.”

Other candidates being considered

According to his website, Bennett was raised on a farm, and also worked as a high school and junior high science teacher, and in IT at State Farm. He has served as a school board member, member of the local pre-school board, and as a member of the Parkland College Board of Trustees, including three years as chairman.

Rule said Bennett was one of five who applied for the post. Others included: Mike Kirkton of Gridley; Mike Levin of Normal; Stan Nord, a Normal Town Council member; and Gary Manier, the mayor of Washington.

Applicants were interviewed in closed-door sessions throughout the day at the Elks Lodge in Pontiac. Rule said there were numerous others who expressed interest.

Rule said he was pleased with the variety and strength of candidates. “They were all very strong candidates,” he said. “There was no heir apparent to this job, but it was truly based on where we need to go as a party and as a district and as a state … It was a very difficult choice.“

He was pleased with the interest and engagement, too, saying, ”It was encouraging to see that kind of talent come out and want to help the state, and help the party.”

Rule said Bennett’s House seat will be filled in a similar fashion. Once he submits his resignation as a representative, the GOP Legislative 106th District committee will have 30 days to appoint a replacement.

The 53rd District stretches from the Peoria area to the Indiana state line. But because of the layout of the district, Livingston, Iroquois, McLean, Woodford, Grundy, and Tazewell counties have the lion's share of the weighted vote in the selection process.

A trio of replacements

Appointing replacements for legislators has kept GOP leaders busy. Along with Barickman, Rep. Keith Sommer of Morton and Rep. Tim Butler of Springfield have stepped down before their terms are up.

But the resignations were isolated events prompted by separate circumstances — not a trend.

“You gotta wonder,” Rule acknowledged.

Barickman is resigning to spend time with family, while Sommer, a Tazewell County Republican, was putting a bow on his long political career.

“Rep. Summer had spent 25 years in. It was his time, he just said he wanted to leave on a high note,” Rule said.

Butler, meanwhile, stepped down to take a job with the Illinois Railroad Association.

Jim Stahly Jr. is a correspondent with WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.