Republican McConchie, Democrat Peterson exchanges jabs in League of Women Voters candidate forum for state Senate 26th District – Chicago Tribune

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In an often contentious candidate forum recently, incumbent state Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, and his Democratic challenger Maria Peterson, of Barrington, faced off as the two vie for the seat in the newly remapped state Senate District 26.

The League of Women Voters- Palatine Area chapter hosted the Oct. 26 forum that even the moderator described as “spirited” between the candidates seeking to represent the district which includes parts of Vernon Hills, Lake Zurich, Algonquin, Lake Barrington, Barrington, South Barrington, Wauconda and Hawthorn Woods.

The candidate forum was held at the Palatine Park District Falcon Recreation Center and was moderated by Ginger Wheeler of the LWV- Glen Ellyn chapter.

McConchie, a military veteran and energy consultant who has served the district for six years, said he was an unapologetic pro-life candidate, and he touted the legislation he has supported including education reform.

Peterson, a retired attorney and Barrington business owner, primarily read her positions on such issues as property taxes to gun control from prepared statements and expressed her desire to fight for women’s reproductive freedoms and abortion rights in the state legislature.

A victim of a hit and run car accident 15 years ago, McConchie apologized at the onset of the forum for not being able to stand because he doesn’t have use of his legs and is confined to a wheelchair. He referenced his injury at one point during the forum when Peterson challenged his failure to vote on important gun control legislation.

“My opponent put out a mailer stating I am wanting to tax people but I don’t pay my own real estate taxes. Let me assure you, I would not be sitting in front of all of you here if I was a bad debt person,” Peterson said, raising her property tax payment receipts from the Lake County Treasurer’s Office. “I might have been six days late on one real estate payment after 40 years of home ownership.

“My opponent has missed key votes on critical gun violence laws,” Peterson said. “Your absence has weakened these laws by letting people get killed in Highland Park, Aurora, Waukegan and Chicago. Your absence is more devastating than my being six days late on a real estate tax bill.”

McConchie offered an explanation for his voting record.

“I did miss a number of votes, but unfortunately, I was in the hospital. I have a spinal cord injury and I have health issues associated with the disability,” McConchie said. “I’m sorry, Maria, I missed a vote that day. I appreciate you not using my disability against me in that way.”

Audience members both roared and booed after their responses until asked to refrain from that behavior by the moderator.

The candidates disagreed on the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act, known as the Illinois SAFE-T Act, which addresses the criminal justice system impacting policing, pre-trial detention, bail, sentencing and corrections.

Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, is pictured in a Jan. 28, 2021 file photo. McConchie took part in a League of Women Voters- Palatine Area chapter candidate forum Oct. 26, 2022 with Democratic challenger Maria Peterson.

Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, is pictured in a Jan. 28, 2021 file photo. McConchie took part in a League of Women Voters- Palatine Area chapter candidate forum Oct. 26, 2022 with Democratic challenger Maria Peterson. (Brian OMahoney / Pioneer Press)

Democrat Maria Peterson, right, of Barrington, is pictured Sept. 14, 2022 at a candidate event in Lake Zurich. Peterson participated in a League of Women Voters- Palatine Area candidate forum Oct. 26 with Republican challenger  and incumbent state Sen. Dan McConchie as the two vie for the 26th District seat.

Democrat Maria Peterson, right, of Barrington, is pictured Sept. 14, 2022 at a candidate event in Lake Zurich. Peterson participated in a League of Women Voters- Palatine Area candidate forum Oct. 26 with Republican challenger and incumbent state Sen. Dan McConchie as the two vie for the 26th District seat. (Gavin Good (Lake County News-Sun))

“The No. 1 issue that has to be addressed [in the SAFE-T Act] is the tying of the hands of our judges,” McConchie said, adding unless judges can point out a person is a threat, they can’t keep criminals in jail.

He cited legislation that he says protects police officers and gets tough on crime.

Peterson asserted its advantages and suggested a repeal of the act would defund the police.

Peterson said she cares about gun violence and didn’t get an “A” from the NRA like her opponent.

However, both candidates agreed that taxes, the cost of living and crime needed to be addressed.

McConchie asked attendees how many family members or friends have left the state of Illinois.

“The biggest problem we have in the state of Illinois is the fact we languish behind so many other states. More people moving out of the state than into the state. Be it taxes, cost of living, crime, we need to make real changes to ensure we are a destination state that people are moving into again rather than away,” McConchie said.

Peterson recalled what she encountered as she canvassed the district.

“I’ve knocked on thousands of doors, personally, in the district. I hear over and over how frustrated people are at the unfairness of their property taxes, how frightened they are at how easy it is for dangerous people to get dangerous guns, that they have to worry about sending their kids to school … and angry that their reproductive freedoms have been rolled back,” Peterson said in her opening statements.

When challenged, McConchie said he voted against the fiscal year 2023 state budget.

“It overspends, does not take care of key problems and creates a fiscal cliff that is currently facing us,” McConchie said.

He said the federal dollars infused into the state during the COVID-19 pandemic “propped up the state’s coffers and created a sugar high” for new programs that he said don’t have a permanent funding source. He also said Illinois faces a $1.4 billion deficit and is one of the only states in the country that didn’t pay off that deficit with federal dollars – which he anticipates will translate into one of the largest tax increases on employers.

Peterson pointed out that McConchie received $2.6 million in campaign financing from ultraconservative donor Richard Uihlein of Lake Forest, the founder of the Uline office supply and packaging firm—a number confirmed by the Chicago Tribune.

“I would question where my opponent’s allegiance lies,” Peterson said.

McConchie did not respond.

In her closing statements, Peterson explained what she stands for.

“Fairness, honesty and accountability, service above politics,” Peterson said. “Further attempts to rob women of reproductive freedoms are dangerous and unfair. I will stand up and fight for them.” She said she would also fight against the “corruption, greed and waste Springfield has been famous for,” and would seek higher standards for gun control and tougher penalties.

In his closing statements, McConchie said he was never going to run for public office but family and friends repeatedly encouraged him. This, combined with his wife’s experience growing up in Bulgaria and being forced to walk in the streets just a week after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident for a government photo opportunity, is a constant reminder to him that some government officials serve themselves. He wants to represent the people, lead education reform, he said, and stand up for democracy.

The nonpartisan League of Women Voters has been hosting candidate forums across Chicagoland, leading up to the Nov. 8 midterm elections. On the ballot during this non-presidential election are statewide offices, including for governor, comptroller, secretary of state, treasurer, General Assembly seats and judicial posts.

“The purpose for holding these forums … is to encourage civic responsibility and promote active participation in our democracy,” moderator Ginger Wheeler said at the start of the 6th Senate District forum.

Elizabeth Owens-Schiele is a freelancer.

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November 1, 2022 at 07:07AM

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