Tom Kacich | In Springfield, the new Sen. Bennett reflects | Columns | news-gazette.com

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SPRINGFIELD — Newly appointed state Sen. Stacy Bennett had a typical first day as a state legislator: lots of meetings, mostly behind closed doors, and little legislative action.

The new Sen. Bennett, appointed to complete the current term of her late husband, Scott, who died unexpectedly last month, spent much of her day in the Capitol meeting his Senate colleagues and accepting personal condolences.

But earlier Wednesday, the Champaign Democrat released a statement showing support for three of the contenders for the full two-year term to which Scott Bennett was elected in November.

Those three are Champaign school board member Gianina Baker, City of Champaign Township Assessor Paul Faraci and City of Champaign Township Supervisor Andy Quarnstrom.

Stacy Bennett’s statement also included praise for Mary Catherine Roberson, a Danville resident who works for the city of Champaign. Roberson, however, did not apply to fill Scott Bennett’s two-year term.

“I had planned to do this from the beginning since we had had these discussions. I wanted to at least get that viewpoint out,” Stacy Bennett said in an interview in her late husband’s Senate office on the first floor of the Capitol.

“I just waited until now because I was trying to just focus on my (two children). We went down south for a week and we just got back on Monday and I thought, ‘OK, I’ve got to start addressing these things.’ This has always been in the plan,” she said.

Stacy Bennett disclosed in her statement that the term her husband was elected to in November likely was going to be his last “because he wanted to be home more as our children got older.”

“At times when he was thinking — especially about the kids getting older, and they were starting to notice how much he was gone, and it was upsetting to them at times, and that was upsetting to him — he was starting to think that maybe it was time. That maybe it would be time soon,” she said.

“I don’t think he thought it was time policy-wise. He still loved the job and was ready to keep going, but with the kids he was thinking that.

“We had several conversations about if this was the last session, he was very concerned that there would be somebody who could continue the work he was doing, and especially pay attention to Vermilion County as well, even though that’s not where the votes were necessarily.

“Scott loved Vermilion County. He really tried — even though he thought a lot of them probably weren’t going to vote for him, he really felt a responsibility to them.”

More than 70 percent of the 52nd District voters live in Champaign-Urbana and parts of northern and eastern Champaign County.

Noticeable by her absence on the list of Bennett-backed successors is state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana. Ammons’ House district includes half of Bennett’s Senate district and she has insisted that she is his logical successor.

“Those are the four he mentioned. It’s just that those are the four he talked about,” Stacy Bennett said. “And that’s all I feel comfortable saying. Those are the four who repeatedly came up when we talked.”

She said she had not heard from Ammons since releasing the statement.

“I’m not really in contact with her in general,” Stacy Bennett said.

Gianina Baker was a classmate of Stacy Bennett’s when they were going through their doctoral programs in higher education policy at the University of Illinois.

Stacy Bennett said she would not endorse a personal favorite from among Baker, Faraci or Quarnstrom.

“Nope. It’s tough because I know them all. They’re all friends and that makes it very tough for me. But they’ve all been respectful of the process and they’re all quite touched that Scott had thought of them. And they’ve all said that they will not hold a grudge if one of the others is appointed.”

A decision on who will take up the two-year Senate term is expected by the end of this week. The new legislative session begins next week.

Stacy Bennett said she would have no role in choosing her late husband’s replacement.

“I only wanted to make the statement about our discussions,” she said. “That’s it.”

One major issue that Stacy Bennett could vote on in her brief one-week legislative session in Springfield is a proposal to ban a variety of guns and high-capacity magazines. She said she hasn’t taken a position.

“It’s still in the process. … I have not seen the final bill, so I’m holding off until I see the final bills,” she said.

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January 5, 2023 at 07:02AM

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