Voters in McLean County Board District 10 do not have an easy task telling the candidates apart.
Incumbent Republican Chuck Erickson is a lawyer. Libertarian challenger Kevin Woodard is Bloomington’s former traffic engineer. But that’s one of the few detectable differences between the candidates vying to represent Bloomington's far east side on the County Board.
Erickson called himself a voice for economic growth in the county, saying he never voted for a tax increase, and is an advocate for bringing in jobs.
He said he is the better choice because he has a proven past of listening to his constituents.
“I’ve had individuals come up to me and say, ‘Listen, I have this issue with county government, can you help me with it?’ Sometimes they’re not even in my district,” Erickson said. “And I’ve always done my level best to help anybody who came to me whether it be in my district or out of my district get the help they need from county government.”
Erickson said that’s a tradition he is proud of, and one he wants to continue.
Woodard said the first issue he wants to tackle if elected Nov. 6 is the state of the county nursing home.
“We've got a nursing home that's losing about a million dollars a year, and many of us would like to keep it going, but we've got to figure out how to do that,” Woodard said.
He says he’d like to see a 25-year master plan in place for the facility—one that looks into the cost to rebuild, as well as the need for specialized facilities like an Alzheimer’s wing.
Before joining the Libertarian party, Woodard said he was a fiscally conservative Republican for years.
So where do they clash on county issues? It turns out they don’t differ on much at all.
County Government Accessibility
Erickson has served on the board since 2011. He said county government operations are similar to the state legislature, but the board is closer to the people of McLean County.
“People can easily get in touch with their County Board members and issues that come before the county,” Erickson said. “They can feel like they're being represented and that their voices are being heard.”
He said an issue comes to the board through committees.
A common concern raised this election cycle is whether the monthly County Board meeting time should change from mornings to evenings.
Woodard and Erickson both support the time change, saying it would let residents attend meetings without missing work.
Erickson said, though, residents presenting concerns to the full board should be a last resort.
“It bothers me that people would think, OK, well I want to get my idea heard, I've got this issue that's burning in my mind, it's important to me, I'm going to go to the county board meeting at 7 p.m. and address it. No. I would encourage anybody who has an issue that's before the county board to find the committee where it is first being addressed at,” Erickson said.
Woodard pointed out committee meetings happen during the day. He said there should also be a conversation about moving committee meeting times to evening hours, in addition to the full board gatherings.
County Road Maintenance
Both candidates also agree maintaining and repairing county roads and bridges should happen with current revenue.
“I'm not looking to raise taxes,” Woodard said. “That's not something we're looking to do as Libertarians. We want to look at making government more efficient.”
Woodard said the county needs need to utilize a 25-year transportation plan, working closely with the McLean County Regional Planning Commission.
“We need to look to them to be leaders in the area and work with them on that,” Woodard said. “Then we can come up with cost-constrained transportation plans and we'll know where we're going and which roads are our priorities, and quite frankly, which ones we might have to look at doing something else with."
Erickson said he has never voted for a tax increase during seven years in office. He said he doesn’t agree with fellow board members who say county roads are in “horrible condition.”
Dissolving The BEC
Both candidates said they will vote to dissolve the Bloomington Election Commission. Woodard and Erickson both favor giving election duties to the elected county clerk instead of a countywide election commission.
Woodard said he doesn’t think a countywide election commission would work. He said a partisan judge will still appoint commissioners.
“We talk about people that will be nonpartisan. I think that's a nice thought, but I don't think we will really ever have anybody that's nonpartisan,” Woodard said. “All you've gotta look at is our petition to get the ballot measure on the ballot and you see a chair of the Bloomington Election Commission being the Democrat that opposes the proposal being put forth largely by Libertarians and Republicans. So, I think that right there shows how nonpartisan the Bloomington Election Commission is.”
Woodard said Bloomington voters will have final say Nov. 6 whether they like the current handling of elections.
Supporters of the election commission argue having a bipartisan commission oversee a nonpartisan administrator does reduce the potential for partisan malfeasance.
Erickson reiterated the stance that folding Bloomington elections into the clerk’s office creates fiscal efficiency.
“No one disputes it saves money. It would save some taxpayer dollars,” Erickson said.
The candidates also find similar stances on the use of tax incentives to lure new businesses into the county.
“On the simple level, it's pretty easy to say, let's stop corporate welfare and stop giving major corporations all of this money,” Woodard said. “Now on the more complex side of it, you start looking at it, I'm not totally opposed to it. If it's for the right reasons.”
Woodard said there have to be certain guidelines met: Will the new business bring a significant number of jobs and residents into the area?
Even though the County Board had nothing to do with approving Portillo’s restaurant incentives, Woodard used the hot dog joint as an example.
He said he loves Portillo’s, but the restaurant didn’t bring new residents to the area and it likely took sales from existing restaurants.
Woodard said an employer like Mitsubishi or Rivian, on the other hand, will.
Erickson voted in favor of Rivian incentives and said he’s optimistic it will pay off in the long run.
“If I had my preference, in the perfect world we wouldn't have to give these incentives. I mean, I don't like the incentives myself,” Erickson said. “I have a fundamental problem giving tax breaks to corporations and wealthy investors to come in here to put businesses in McLean County. I don't like it. But Illinois is not the most business-friendly state in the world.”
Erickson said the County Board should set a threshold for who would receive breaks and who would not. He said that’s why he supports strict benchmarking, or checking in with businesses to make sure they remain in need of the break.
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