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Chris Benson (left), a candidate seeking to represent the 38th state Senate district, talks to a Peru constituent while walking through the neighborhood. Knocking on doors is one way Benson hopes to make her name and face known throughout the wide district.
NewsTribune photo/Anthony Soufflé
Fast facts on the candidates
In Springfield Sue Rezin of Morris has served as a state Senator since December 2010. After winning a race in November 2010 for the state House seat representing the 75th district, she was appointed to complete a term vacated by Gary Dahl of Granville.
Professional Experience Chris Benson of Ottawa won a three-way primary race this spring to challenge Rezin. She has served as a school administrator for 18 years, after 17 years as a teacher. She retired as superintendent of Streator elementary schools this year after announcing her intent to seek office. She cites her involvement in organizations such as Illinois Association of School Administrators, the American Association of School Administrators, the Illinois Association of School Business Officials, Illinois Music Educators Association and Illinois Education Association as giving her experience in the legislative process and working with elected officials in Washington D.C. and in Springfield.
Hot topics: (Block) RICL Rock Island Clean Line is a company seeking to extend a high-voltage power line across northern Illinois. Area residents, particularly in the northern part of the district, are concerned the company could gain the power of eminent domain and use it to force residents to allow the power lines to cross through their fields. Benson has referred to the possibility of granting eminent domain power as a “very dangerous precedent.” Rezin has suggested a better route could be planned, perhaps along Interstate 80.
Taxes Benson said the tax increase was needed income — “I don’t know where the state would be without it” — but that it is important for the hike to expire. The tax rate is set to fall from 5.75 percent to 3.75 percent in 2015. She has spoken publicly about the opportunity to overhaul the state’s tax system, including shifting the burden of education funding to make it more equitable throughout the state. Since taking office, Rezin has opposed the tax increase. She speaks frequently about state finances and said the legislature needs to repeal the tax increase.
Public pensions Public pensions have come under scrutiny this political season. Rezin, who has been part of a pension commission in the Legislature, has said she opposes shifting the burden of paying teachers’ pensions solely to local school districts. Benson has stated she does not believe changes should be made that affect current retirees.
As she started her first political campaign, Chris Benson of Ottawa expected to feel uncomfortable knocking on doors. After 18 years as a school administrator, on top of 17 years as a teacher, she has no fear of talking to people, but nothing prepared her for showing up, uninvited, on the doorstep of potential new constituents in the 38th state Senate district. “You have to be careful about intruding on people,” she said recently, as she approached the door of a Peru resident and was greeted by a woman who wasted no time in making her opinion known. She asked Benson which party she represented, then reached to shake her hand and said, “We gotta get Obama back in there.” Across the street, a neighbor watches from her picture window. When Benson approaches her house, it’s a similar response. The woman mentions a recent debate between Obama and Romney, momentarily forgetting the Republican’s name. “I can’t stand him,” she tells Benson. The candidate takes the opportunity to praise the debate itself, and the straightforwardness of presidential candidates conducting such a discussion in the public eye — a very subtle dig at her opponent, incumbent state Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris), who has not responded to a request from Benson to schedule debates throughout the district. A day in Benson’s campaign can include a forum for voters, an appearance at a local non-political rally, and lots of phone calls to make herself known across the wide district. Since June, Benson has walked neighborhoods in Plano, Channahon, Minooka, La Salle, Ottawa, Grand Ridge, Streator, Hennepin, Magnolia and Cedar Point. Sometimes her husband, Rex, or children Nick and Stephanie go with her. Sometimes her campaign staff and candidates seeking other offices also join the walks. In that time, she has lost 10 pounds and learned that the best times to reach people seem to be 4-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday and around lunch time on Saturday. It’s a slower way to reach residents than phone calls — her campaign can reach about three times as many people by phone during a week, as they can by precinct walking — but Benson said the face-to-face connection is still worthwhile. “We find that it’s the older generation that appreciates knocking on their door,” Benson said. “In fact, they don’t think you’re doing your job unless you make that personal contact.” On this particular date, Benson has chosen to speak to voters who are “strongly” or “leaning” Democratic, to increase name recognition and, she hopes, win over independent voters who aren’t committed to voting for her. That’s an issue facing challengers in any political race: While voters already have seen the incumbent’s name and face from a previous race and political news coverage of the past two years, Benson is a stranger to many. She’s hoping to change that before election day. Sometimes she meets residents with one burning issue on their mind. Recently, she talked to a resident who was fired up about the income tax increase that took effect in January 2011. “It was just a flat-out frustration,” Benson said. After listening to the resident and telling him she understands the importance of letting that tax increase expire, she still did not expect him to vote for her. She acknowledged state taxes are a complex issue. “Sometimes, you tweak one aspect of the taxing structure, and you don’t know what ripple it will have elsewhere,” Benson said. The sun and the temperature are dropping as she returns to the support vehicle, driven by son Nick. He takes notes on how many residents were home, and which displayed “no solicitor” signs, which Benson honored by staying away. At another house, a resident with a questioning face steps outside. “How did you feel about the debate?” the woman asks, watching Benson’s face. “Oh, it was interesting,” Benson answers. “I don’t think Obama has had enough time,” the woman says, showing her colors. After a few minutes’ chat, she leaves Benson with a “God bless you!” in parting and returns to afternoon chores.
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