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La Salle County Board’s District 7 race almost never happened.
Independent candidate Tom McMurtry voted in the March 20 primary as a Republican, which technically should have barred him from filing as an independent candidate for District 7 under a new law passed after that election.
His opponent, county board incumbent Gary Small (R-Utica) filed an objection, but later withdrew it after McMurtry explained he did not realize the new law applied to the current election cycle.
So now the two square off in the county board seat that includes all of Dimmick, Troy Grove and Ophir townships. The majority of the district’s physical geography is farmland. However, the northern portion of Peru’s business and industrial sections (the area north of May Road including Wal-Mart) is expanding northward into this district, making it a significant location for future economic growth.
But taking more immediate attention of voters in this district is the Rock Island Clean Line — a proposed project from a Houston-based energy company that is trying to gain public utility status in Illinois so that it can construct a high-voltage power line through La Salle County.
Its proposed route along U.S. 52 carries it through the district and, literally, Small’s backyard.
“I’m opposed to it,” Small said. “It provides no service to local residents. But there isn’t anything we can really do about it at the county level.”
The board has done about all it can recently when it passed a resolution asking Illinois Commerce Commission to investigate the local impact the power line will have on county residents.
Small has served on the board for 16 years. He’s currently the chairman of the nursing home committee, and said he would like another term to make sure the nursing home is run properly and efficiently.
“I’d like to lower taxes as much as possible and maintain the current level of services the county provides,” he said.
The big issue in the county is frac sand mining. Small voted in favor of the Mississippi Sand mine because it brought in jobs, did not ruin quality farmland and did not have a negative impact on the environment.
“In the future it will depend on where a mine is at and how much prime farm ground is affected,” he said. “Mining does create jobs and this area needs some decent paying jobs.”
McMurtry has been the pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church in Dimmick Township since it was founded in 1988. He said countywide zoning has been an issue for him because of the way it was passed almost four years ago.
“I was told by a board member that they went against the voters because the voters were misinformed,” he said. “So they did what they thought best instead of listening to the people. I am against countywide zoning and I believe they should not have passed it. If we as voters were misinformed, they should have worked to inform us and not go against us.”
As a result, McMurty said he is running “to be a voice for the people in my area.” McMurtry places a theme on his candidacy called “Faith, Family and Freedom.” He has earned a bachelor of theology degree and two honorary doctorate degrees. He has worked as an adjunct professor at Providence Baptist College in Elgin for eight years.
“I believe in God and I believe that morals are very important,” he said. “I believe that family is a very important institution and that laws should not be made that hurt the family. I also believe in our freedom and I am against the government trying to control every aspect of our lives.”
McMurtry said he stands with the majority of landowners in District 7 who are against the proposed Rock Island Clean Line project and said he would do his best to stand up for voters against the project.
“I would do my best to stand for them and not the power company that is focused mainly on making a profit for them and not what is best for the people,” he said. As for other developments, the most controversial being the Mississippi Sand mine, he said he is not against mining but would prefer to have more public input on future mine issues.
“I am not against mining but I do feel that something that is going to have this great of an effect on the area should be brought before the people and their voice should be heard. Both sides should present their case to the people and the people should vote.
“The board is there to represent the people not to rule the people,” he said.