Senator declines another term

By Nick Escobar

State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-52nd, announced Thursday morning that he would not seek re-election.

Winkel said he decided not to run again for personal reasons. In an interview with the News Gazette Thursday, Winkel stated that he never intended to have a permanent career in the state legislature.

Winkel won his seat in 2002 after defeating former state Sen. Judy Myers of Danville in the Republican primary. He then went on to defeat former Champaign Mayor Dan McCollum in the general election.

Winkel previously held a seat in the State House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 and served on the Champaign county board from 1992 to 1994.

Responsible for getting funding for alternative schools, Winkel said his proudest accomplishment was helping to push through the Regional Safe Schools Project that gave about 5,000 students who had been suspended or expelled the resources to continue their education. He also contributed to legislation that would reform campaign finance.

Winkel also was part of the campaign to get student trustees representation on the University Board of Trustees.

Gregory Meves, president of the College Republicans and senior in LAS, said he was surprised to hear that Winkel would not be seeking re-election.

“He kept education in the forefront when dealing with the University,” said Meves. “Hopefully his replacement will fight for the same issues.”

Champaign County Young Republicans Chairman Jason Barickman said he respected Winkel’s decision and was grateful for the years of service Winkel provided to the community.

Barickman said that he understands how Winkel would have to sacrifice his own personal time to work for his constitutes.

“His support for the University and participation and leadership in education reform showed his willingness to break GOP ranks,” Barickman said. “It showed he wasn’t tied to party specifics and really cared for his constitutes.”

Steven Hartman, Champaign County GOP chairman, said he was disappointed to hear about Winkel’s decision to not seek re-election but understands how it would be hard for him to have to return to his district after his legislation proposals were denied. He added that Winkel had large shoes to fill when he took the position of state senator.

“He thinks he can better help people by trying another field,” Hartman said. “We’re all interested to see what he will do.”

Since the announcement, both parties have been discussing possible candidates for the open seat. The News Gazette reported that Winkel named Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden, state Rep. Bill Black, R-105th district, former state Rep. Tom Berns and Myers as possible successors.

“I’m disappointed that he will not be re-running,” Shelden said. “He did a great job. He was an innovative senator that will be missed.”

When asked about being named as a possible replacement, Shelden said that he believes that Black would be the best candidate. Shelden added that he would be interested in the position if Black decided not to run.

“I’ve talked to a lot of the county’s top republicans, and those (named by Winkel) are on the top of people’s minds,” Barickman said.

He said that the list for possible candidates is long but that it would be in the best interest of the local republicans to wait and see who will come foreword to express an interest in running. Hartman said that each of the people mentioned by Winkel would be qualified to run for his position.

Democrats also are debating who will run. Tony Fabri, chairman of the Champaign County Democrats, said that Democratic County Auditor Michael Frerichs expressed an interest in running for the seat.

“Four years ago, it was the closest election in the state,” said Fabri. “The district is very competitive.”