3 Republicans vie to 11th district nomination

null One of them is the 11th district. It's a sprawling, T-shaped region that encompasses southwest suburban Chicago with a section running all the way to Bloomington-Normal.

It is historically solid conservative territory. And you would think that the Republican Party could count on it. But the seat is open due to representative Jerry Weller's decision to retire.

He made that announcement after questions were raised last fall over his land holdings in Nicaragua and his signs in congressional disclosures on his wife's finances.

The Democrats are running Betty Halverson unopposed. There is a green party candidate, Jason Wallace, but three men think they can keep it for the GOP.

The economy looms large in the Illinois 11th and encapsulated in the debate over a third airport for the Peotone. Homes bought by the Illinois Department of Transportation are being demolished to save on maintenance costs. Pilot Terry Heenan of New Lenox wants to stop the project.

"What really boggles my mind is, we're talking about a state that's running in the red, pouring money into a project that's never going to get built, while stressing these people out, you know, some of these people don't sleep at night," he said.

He's battling New Lenox mayor Tim Baldermann, who doubles as police chief of Chicago Ridge. He supports a third airport with local control, has Representative Weller's endorsement and, according to some blogs, enjoys backing from the county Republican establishment.

Twenty years in law enforcement will help me deal with matters such as homeland security, illegal immigration, even second amendment issues," he said.

It is not clear if a backlash against Representative Weller is on voters' minds. The 11th has gone Republican since 1994, but by a small margin in 2006. It is 87 percent white, four percent foreign born and, according to the 2003 U.S. Census, has a medium household income right on the national average.

But its changing face can be seen in candidate Jimmy Lee. He was President Bush's director of the White House initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He wants to break open Asian markets for U.S. farm products.

Lee favors local control of that airport -- not regional, under an apparatus favored by Chicago Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. Following the resignation of Lee's boss, Karl Rove, the University of Illinois graduate moved to the 11th district and set out to return to Washington.

"What I bring to the district is experience in the White House, experience in Washington and an understanding of where you need to find this funding. Because if we are going to continue to compete, it is essential that we need someone who has gone through Washington to be able to do that," Lee said.

There are three open Republican seats in this year's slate of congressional elections in Illinois. Many political analysts are saying that the race in the 11th congressional district is going to be the race to watch. It's the most competitive.
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