Ann Maher Dec. 11, 2015, 12:55pm


"Define objectives and organize for victory" is a strategy that retired Army intelligence officer Doug Jameson is applying in his new role as chairman of the St. Clair County Republican Party.

And rebuilding the party's foundation by filling vacant precinct committee positions has been a top priority.

Jameson said that since assuming chairmanship in mid August, the occupancy rate of precinct committeemen seats has increased from around 40 to 55 percent, which is to a point on par with the number of positions the dominant Democratic Party has filled.

"There is a myth that this is a Democratic county," he said. "It's not."

He said the stereotype has perpetuated because a lot of the base has not come out to vote due to a lack of Republican candidates on the ballot.

That, however, is changing. In next year's general election, Republicans are fielding candidates in six of seven county-wide races.

The office of State's Attorney, occupied by Democrat Brendan Kelly, is the only seat in which Republicans are not challenging the incumbent.

And, of the 20 county board seats up for election, Republican candidates are running in 17 of them,

Signs that the county is trending toward a more conservative base can also be observed in results of last year's governor's race. Republican candidate Bruce Rauner beat Democrat incumbent Pat Quinn by roughly 6,000 votes, or an eight percent margin in a county that has for decades strongly favored Democrats.

Of the county's 226 precincts, 135 of them voted in favor of Rauner, or 60 percent of the total including East St. Louis.

While Republican Mike Bost of Carbondale lost to incumbent Democrat Bill Enyart of Belleville for the 12th Congressional seat by 4,000 votes in St. Clair County, he handily won the southern Illinois district.

The significance of winning the congressional seat that widely popular Democrat Jerry Costello occupied for 25 years until 2013, was huge, according to Jameson.

He compared the win to the Normandy beachhead established by U.S. led Allied forces on D-Day.

Jameson also called last year's election the beginning of a "political sea change," that will only continue. Along the way, he said, county governance will be transformed.

One of the reasons the Republican party is strengthening, is due to what Jameson calls an influx of "political refugees from the local despotic government."

In other words, he says that long-time Democrats, including current and former elected officials who have been adversely affected by their party, as well as Independents, are coming into a welcoming Republican party.

A lot of them feel "they have been taken advantage of by their party," Jameson said. As these "refugees" assimilate, he said the St. Clair County Republican Party is becoming "much more diverse."

Two long-time Democrats who have switched party affiliation are Cahokia residents Jerry Nichols, a village trustee, and former mayor Gary Cornwell.

The village is one of the most staunchly Democrat, both men say. Described as part of the "below the hill" voting block, Cahokia lies within Centreville Township. Only one precinct out of 27 in Centreville Township favored Rauner over Quinn last year.

Centreville Township is just one of three remaining Democratic strongholds in the county - the other two being East St. Louis, in which all 25 of its precincts favored Quinn, and Canteen Township, which includes Washington Park, where all 14 of its precincts favored Quinn.

Nichols, who has served as a village trustee for six years, will be seeking a county board seat in District 25 against Democrat James Haywood in next year's general election.

His reason for running? "In order to have honest government," he said. "It's been really bad here."

Nichols said he is "done with the Democratic party," even though "there are still a lot of good Democrats."

He described instances of "crooked" elections, misuse of taxpayer funds, as well as politically motivated mistreatment from county leadership.

He has been outspoken in his criticism of a recent plan adopted by the village board - in which he was the only no vote - to annex a blighted unincorporated area into the village. Nichols said the primary target of the annexation proposal was to gain presumably Democratic votes from the Parkfield Terrace neighborhood, to counteract the loss of Democrat votes that he and Cornwell are taking to the Republican party.

Nichols said Parkfield Terrace is among the most crime-ridden in the county, a neighborhood which he says even the Sheriff's Department is reluctant to patrol. He also said that annexing the neighborhood would be a burden to existing village taxpayers.

Calls to Mayor Curtis McCall, Jr. and other village trustees who voted for the ordinance, have not been returned.

Cornwell, who lost election as mayor in April to McCall by 411 votes, said he had been aligned with the Democrat party all his life, and even before he was old enough to vote.

His father, Fred Cornwell, is thought to have been the longest-serving Democratic precinct committeeman in the county. But, he too, has switched affiliation and seeks election as Republican precinct committeeman.

Gary Cornwell said he will be running as a Republican in a challenge to incumbent Democrat Patty Sprague for St. Clair County Auditor. Patty Sprague is wife of St. Clair County Democrat Chairman Bob Sprague, a Belleville attorney, who also represents the village of Cahokia.

Cornwell said his interest in running for Auditor is to provide citizens with honest and transparent government.

He discussed in detail instances of alleged voter fraud in Cahokia involving the use of absentee ballots, which he said has ballooned in Cahokia since certain restrictions over casting those ballots were lifted several years ago.

In the April election, he claims that an unusually high number of absentee ballots - approximately 2,500 - were requested, but that several hundred of those were never returned to be counted at the County Clerk's office. He said the number of absentee ballots requested in April was more than double than in any other election.

"It was out of whack," he said. "Much higher than normal."

According to official election results produced by the county, 3,919 votes were cast in Cahokia's April election that involved mayoral, trustee and village clerk races. There are 9,538 registered voters in Cahokia. That puts turnout at 41 percent.

Cornwell alleges that fraud has come into play when people are offered drugs or money for votes. He said that some citizens are not aware they are requesting absentee ballots that political operatives put before them. He also said that some operatives "bum rush" people to get them to request absentee ballots or otherwise threaten and intimidate.

When asked why this type of alleged practice would take place, Cornwell said, "The powers that be in Belleville, they want to control things here to benefit themselves.

"They have a monopoly and that is not healthy."

Another front

Republicans are also battling on another front through challenges to the nominations of Circuit Judges John Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien, who are running for election on the Democratic ticket next year.

Dallas Cook, Belleville city clerk and a Republican candidate for St. Clair County circuit clerk, filed objections with the State Board of Elections on Dec. 7 seeking to have the judges' names stricken from the March 15 primary ballot.

Cook's main objection raises a question on the constitutionality of their candidacies. By tradition and law, judges seeking successive terms in Illinois are subject to running for retention in which the threshold for winning is higher - two-thirds voter approval - versus running for election in which only a simple majority is needed.

Baricevic has defended the strategy as legitimate. He has said that judges are bound by the Code of Judicial Ethics in speaking out on certain topics, and because of those restrictions the judges would not be able to appropriately defend themselves against potential criticism. 

The election over retention strategy was tried one other time in state history, in St. Clair County in 2006. Then, former circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto vacated his seat and ran for it, defeating O'Fallon attorney Paul Evans. 

A Board of Elections panel will convene on Cook's objections at 10:30 a.m. on Dec. 14.

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