Familiar faces win county GOP primary races

By Holly Eitenmiller For Chronicle Media

Chief Deputy Jeffrey Lower

It’s been a while since there’s been a new sheriff in Tazewell County, but when Robert Huston steps down Nov. 30 after 20 years, the change at the top likely will come from within.

In the Illinois March 20 Republican primary, voters chose Tazewell County Chief Deputy Jeffrey Lower over Pekin Police Department patrolman Michael Eeten by a 53-48 percent margin. Eeten, previously served as the department’s public information officer before vying for sheriff.

There were no Democrats on the ballot.  Lower may be unopposed in the November general election.

Lower, who began working for the sheriff’s department in 1991, launched his campaign with Huston’s endorsement and campaigned mainly on the opioid epidemic, department budget issues and training and recruitment.

In the meantime, Huston began acclimating Lower to the bureaucratic aspects of the job.

“He’s been giving me more and more responsibility as time goes by,” Lower explained. “The most difficult job is budget. Budgets keep getting squeezed and we keep having to reduce. It’s difficult to maneuver, but we’ll do it.”

Methamphetamine, he said, is making a comeback in Tazewell County, though not as it was a decade ago when meth labs were abundant. Pre-manufactured meth is being trucked in by dealers, and Lower said, and that, coupled with the opioid epidemic, is causing the sheriff’s department to ramp up operations.

“Our number of (Peoria Multicounty Narcotics Enforcement Group) agents has dwindled, and we had to make a decision as to whether or not it was going to continue,” Lower said of the county’s involvement with the multi-county drug enforcement agency. “We’re in the process of rebuilding it.”

Another office which also has not witnessed a vacancy in many years is that of Tazewell County Clerk. In 1994, Christie Webb was elected to that office and has served in six consecutive terms since that time, but, at 63, Webb decided it was time to retire.

John Ackerman

John Ackerman is the Republican nominee for county clerk, after a narrow victory over Brett Grimm. Ackerman, a former Tazewell County Board and Washington City Council member, will face Washington resident Brittany Miller, the unopposed Democratic candidate, in the November election.

Ackerman defeated Grimm, also a County Board veteran, by 343 votes. Grimm pulled in 35 percent, and Ackerman finished with 37 percent.

Tazewell County Auditor Shelly Hranka also jockeyed for county clerk, garnering 28 percent of the vote.

“The difference between us, is that I’m the only candidate bringing forward a plan … the only one to give you, in writing, something to hold onto, to hold me accountable,” Ackerman said during a February public forum.

All candidates agreed, however, that the county clerk’s office was well-managed under Webb’s tenure, and that the primary, ongoing issue, as with all county offices, is the budget crisis.

Charles Hanley

A familiar face will likely take over the coroner’s office in November; that of Charles “Charlie” Hanley, who handily won the Republican primary with 6,931 votes, 1,565 votes more than challenger Scott Price. The other candidate Steve Bresnahan gleaned 2,825 votes.

Hanley is a well-known licensed funeral home director and embalmer, and owns Preston Hanley Funeral Home. He completed the Saint Louis University School of Medicine Medicolegal Death Investigator Training Course to prepare becoming coroner.

No Democrats were on the March 20 ballot.

Tazewell County Coroner Dr. James Baldi resigned in August 2017 and will leave March 30, to be succeeded by Brian Foley until the winner of the November general election takes over to serve the remaining two years of Baldi’s term.

In Washington, a large majority of voters opted for non-partisan elections starting in 2019. The referendum changes a century-old election process passed 2,534 to 94.

“This was definitely a team effort,” said Lilija Stevens, the Washington resident who initiated the change. “I appreciate each and every person that was part of helping pass this referendum. I especially love how many people voted.”


–Familiar faces win county GOP primary races–