Twelve women were on the ballot in McLean County outside of statewide seats. Three Republicans and four Democrats were elected, including incumbents.
“It’s very exciting obviously right now to be a woman running for office, and especially to be a part of this group in McLean County,” said newly elected McLean County Board District 8 member Shayna Watchinski.
Elizabeth Johnston ran as a Democrat in McLean County Board District 5.
Her race threw the county Democratic Party onto an emotional rollercoaster early Tuesday night after Republican David Selzer was ahead with seemingly all polling places reported. But as the hours went on, numbers in McLean County continued to update on the clerk’s website, and Johnston soon caught up.
By the end of the night, Johnston came out on top with 53 percent of the vote.
She said the women running in McLean County were quality candidates, but that’s not all it takes to win.
“It wasn’t just that we were women, but what I saw in the women candidates and all the candidates was we put in the work,” Johnston said. “We put in the effort, and we connected with voters. That is something that women do well, and we did that with our races.”
Johnston said she hopes that tradition continues as her fellow newly elected members join the McLean County Board, “and we continue to push hard, we continue to work together to make sure that we can find those achievable gains that we want for the county, things we want to see happening and the growth that we want.”
Watchinski pointed to the 2016 election as a major spark that inspired women to run for office.
“Women just saw that we needed to get in there after the election of Trump, and were really frightened about what was going to happen to our country, what was going to happen to our rights, and that motivated a lot of us to look around at local races and see maybe where we didn’t know things were sliding under the radar, being lost in the counties and the cities,” Watchinski said. “So it kind of opened our eyes.”
She said President Donald Trump “lit the match for some of us to run, but he didn’t sustain us.”
“Looking around and seeing how we can contribute to our communities that we care so deeply about, that sustained us and brought us to where we are now.”
As of 11:40 a.m. Wednesday, NPR reported at least 118 women will serve in Congress in the upcoming session. That brings up the total percentage of women from 20 percent to 22 percent. This number may change as election results are finalized.
Minority Women Candidates
Sharon Chung is the newest board member for McLean County District 7. She is also thought to be the first Asian-American elected to office in McLean County.
“It’s really exciting, but I did not really run this race on any part of my identity,” Chung said. “I was just coming in as a candidate with ideas and really excited, with a lot of energy and really willing to work and ready to serve.”
Nikita Richards was another woman of color on the ballot. She ran against incumbent Kathy Michael for McLean County Clerk but lost in what Democrats saw as a major upset with only 43 percent of votes.
Michael is in the middle of an ethics investigation for alleged misuse of county property. Richards was also accused of an ethics violation during the campaign but was cleared of her charges.
Democratic Party Chair Erik Rankin said Michael’s win shows the county “still has some issues with people of color.” But Richards said her campaign spoke volumes to the county’s black community.
“I think that there are people who are now seeing themselves in those seats and considering running just because of me taking that big, bold step to do so myself,” she said. “I think there are people, African-American women and girls, who are inspired and I tell you, that’s more than enough reason for me to have run.”
Barriers of the Woman Candidate
Chung said women candidates are always juggling. Running for public office, children, family, and work all have to find a balance during campaign season, and Chung said the women running in McLean County became master multitaskers.
“We’re juggling getting kids to ballet lessons and teaching all of my personal students and somewhat making sure that we have dinner on the table every night,” Chung laughed. “And at the same time going out and talking to people and getting them excited about the campaign and the race.”
In her election night speech, Richards mentioned those struggles as a mother running for public office. She talked about how a family close to her took some of the pressure off by watching Richards’ daughter. She also noted the sacrifice children of campaigners make by missing good morning and goodnight hugs and kisses from their parents.
The Women Who Lost
Despite losing her race for county clerk, Richards said she is excited to see what changes her fellow Democratic women elected to County Board will bring.
She said the future of the female candidate is bold, fierce, and capable.
"No offense to the men on the board, but I think we've got it," Richards said with a wink.
Other female Democratic candidates were Jill Blair for Illinois House District 88, Jen McMillin for Illinois House District 101, and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan for Illinois 13th Congressional District. They all lost.
Elected Republican women were Kathy Michael for McLean County clerk, Rebecca McNeil for county treasurer, and Lyndsay Bloomfield for County Board District 9.
Cheryl Froelich was the Republican candidate in McLean County District 8. She lost to Watchinski.
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