MURPHYSBORO — Nearly a dozen candidates are vying for seats on the Jackson County Board in four contested races. The Southern reached out to the candidates and provided a brief written questionnaire looking at their backgrounds and their reasons for running.
The Jackson County Board, like other county boards, is both the legislative and executive branch of county government, according to a fact sheet by the Illinois Association of County Board Members and Commissioners.
As a legislative body, the board decides on ordinances and resolutions that can apply either to the county as a region, including the cities within it, or specifically to the unincorporated area of the county. As an executive body, it manages the activities of county departments and offices — except those headed by the other elected county officials.
In addition, the board adopts annual budgets for the county, establishes tax rates, and authorizes bond issues, subject to voter approval. They also review zoning, planning and land-use matters and consider appeals in granting or denying certain permits or licenses.
R means the candidate is a member of the Republican party, D means the candidate is a member of the Democratic party and G means the candidate is a member of the Green party.
Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Gene Basden II (R)
Political experience: Basden was appointed to the District 3 seat in September 2019 after Steven Bost stepped down. He has also served as a precinct committeeman from 2012-2014 and has volunteered for multiple political campaigns.
Professional background: He holds a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from University of Illinois and an Associate in Applied Science in Heating & Air Conditioning from John A. Logan College. While in college, Basden said he worked in retail and the food industry helping develop interpersonal skills, and developed planning and organizational skills while serving as an intern for Illinois’ State 4-H Office. In addition, he was vice president of the University of Illinois student chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects in his senior year of college.
Why should voters elect you?: If elected, Basden said he will “hold the line” on taxes while finding ways to reduce “out-of-control spending” in the county. He pledged to attend every county committee meeting — whether or not he is appointed on the committee — to better understand what is occurring at the county level. In addition, he said he hopes to find ways to bring businesses and residents to Jackson County, expanding the tax base that “ would hopefully lead to an overall reduction of the current tax burden. Basden said his experience demonstrates he is “dependable” and has a “strong focus” on the best interests of the community as a whole. “I want to see Jackson County thrive and I believe I can assist in this,” he said.
Are you involved in any civic groups?: He is currently serving as president of the Murphysboro Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and has been a member of the organization since 2012, previously serving as vice president and secretary. Additionally, he is the vice president of the Historic Liberty Theater Board of Directors, a position he has held since 2016, a member of “Revitalize 62966” — a coalition looking to improve living and entertainment in Murphysboro, where he also served as a co-lead of the “Downtown Revitalization” and “Move it to Murphysboro” committees, and is a member of the Elks Lodge No. 572.
Joshua Hellmann (G)
Political experience: Hellemann was the local party officer of the Shawnee Green Party and was Green Party Precinct Committeeman from 2016-2018.
Professional background: He holds an Associate in Arts from John A. Logan College (2012) where he graduated with honors as a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He was a courtesy clerk at Murphysboro Kroger from 2015-2017.
Why should voters elect you?: Hellman said his goals would be preserving and improving county services while avoiding tax increases, if possible, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic ramifications of it. He said he would also push county support for the “Solidarity Economy Movement” and other governments in implementing electoral reform, such as ranked choice voting. Looking to the future, he said he wants to ensure Jackson County “makes the most” of the 2024 eclipse and wants to fight for making sure “our country’s air, water and soil are as clean as possible.”
Are you involved in any civic groups?: He is a member of the Southern Illinois Peace Coalition, an organization of activists for peace and social justice that holds vigils once a month among other events. He is also a Skywarn Storm Spotter for the National Weather Service.
Political experience: Harris-Johnson previously served a term on the Jackson County Board before being elected Jackson County treasurer. She retired as treasurer in 2019.
Professional background: Harris-Johnson’s career has been in public education as a teacher, principal and superintendent. After retiring as Litchfield CUSD 12 superintendent, she taught at Southern Illinois University and worked as a coordinator of online learning at John A. Logan College.
Why should voters elect you?: Harris-Johnson said voters should elect her to office so she can execute her goals of “finding solutions to the fiscal problems facing Jackson County, increasing public safety in such matters as health, clean waterways, and reduction of criminal activity and striving to find ways to reduce taxes.”
Are you involved in any civic groups?: Harris-Johnson is a member of the Rotary, where she previously served as club president. In addition, she has been on the Murphysboro Apple Festival Committee for several years and was the first Hometown Christmas Director in the town. She also sits on her church’s council and has been a Sunday School teacher, children’s director and served on various church committees through the years.
*Harris-Johnson has been running an expansive write-in campaign in the region and thus was offered the opportunity to participate in the questionnaire. She is running after the Democratic candidate in the race dropped out.
Tamiko “T.C” Mueller (D)
Political experience: Mueller holds a political science degree and currently serves on the Jackson County Board.
Professional Experience: She currently works as a real estate brokerage company owner and as formerly a military officer.
Why should voters elect you?: If re-elected to the board, Mueller said she would work to create more jobs in Jackson County, increase economic growth and development, lower taxes, help small businesses, and increase home ownership.
Are you involved in any civic groups?: Mueller is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Jackson Growth Alliance, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Herrin Women's Club and the Jackson County League of Women Voters. She also serves as a chief local elected official on the Southern Illinois Workforce Development Board.
Rich Whitney (G)
Political experience: Whitney currently is the vice-chair of the Jackson County Mass Transit District and has served on the organization’s district board for about three years. While he has not previously held an elected office, he has run for similar positions several times before, and was the Green Party candidate in the 2006 Illinois gubernatorial race.
Professional background: Whitney worked as a journalist and political activist before attending law school at SIU. From 1997 to 2013, he was in private practice as an attorney — mainly in the areas of civil rights, employment law and criminal defense. Since 2013, Whitney has worked as an appellate defender for the Office of State Appellate Defender, representing disadvantaged clients in their criminal appeals.
Why should voters elect you?: If elected, Whitney said his goals are to help ensure Jackson County continues to provide “vital services” needed by its residents while doing whatever is possible to ”hold the line” on property tax rates. He characterized the goal as “a tough balancing act” because “our dysfunctional state government has local governments between a rock and a hard place.”
He said he wants the county government to look into public banking, participatory budgeting, public-cooperative partnerships and other policies promoted by the solidarity economy movement. In addition, Whitney said county government “needs to be doing more” for environmental protections and improving its recycling services.
Are you involved in any civic groups?: Whitney is a member of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE), the Peace Coalition of Southern Illinois, WDBX community radio (as a volunteer commentator, DJ and donor), the Stage Company Theater Group, and several national peace organizations, including the United National Antiwar Coalition.
Darrell Dunham (R)
Political experience: Dunham has previously run twice for the District 5 seat on the Jackson County Board as a Republican candidate.
Professional background: Dunham is currently an attorney based in Carbondale, primarily working in civil litigation. He is also a professor emeritus at the Southern Illinois University School of Law, where he said he previously taught local government law.
Why should voters elect you?: If elected, Dunham said he would advocate for openness, accountability, and transparency within the county board. “I think the citizens of Jackson County have a right to know what’s going on in local government and I think the local government officials should encourage that,” he said, noting that citizens should know what issues the county has to take on.
Additionally, he said Democrats have ruled on the board for roughly 30 years and they “just don’t think the property taxes are a problem.” He claimed if his opponent is re-elected “the people should know that their taxes will go up,” adding the population and property values in Jackson County have gone down.
“If people are satisfied with the status quo in terms of local government then they should vote for my opponent because she really is part of the establishment,” he said. “If they are really looking for a change, they need to vote for me.”
Are you involved in any civic groups?: Dunham serves on the Trinity Christian School board and teaches a class there on a voluntary basis.
Julie Peterson (D)
Political experience: Peterson has served on the Jackson County Board, representing District 5, since 2010. In her time on the board, she has served on most standing committees and currently serves as the chair of the Real Property Committee. She also represents Jackson County on the Greater Egypt Regional Planning and Development Commission, the Southern Illinois Metropolitan Planning Organization, and the Shawnee Resource, Conservation, and Development Area.
Professional background: Peterson recently joined the teacher education program at SIU Carbondale as an instructor after serving in the education field for multiple years. She previously was a Social Studies teacher at Carbondale Community High School, where she was chairperson of the department and served as a representative for Region 6 of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Council for the Social Studies.
Why should voters elect you?: If re-elected, Peterson said she would like to continue in regional economic development as well as supporting multimodal infrastructure planning. In addition, she said she wants to contribute to the spirit of cooperation between the board and the department heads, which has allowed them to “hold the line on spending while maintaining our essential services.”
Are you involved in any civic groups?: She is a member of the Jackson County League of Women Voters board.
Navreet S. Kang (R)
Political experience: Kang has previously served as the Carbondale Park District Commissioner and on the Carbodale City Council.
Professional background: Kang said he has been a successful business owner for over 32 years, including serving as a district manager for six and a half years in the St. Louis region. He is currently a State Farm Insurance agent in Carbondale.
Why should voters elect you?: He said voters should elect him to the board for “no more taxes,” including reducing property taxes and spending while bringing “more transparency and integrity” to the seat.
Are you involved in any civic groups?: Kang is a Master Mason and member of the Elks Lodge No. 1243 and a member of the Mount Ava Radio Association.
Jessica Edmond (D)
Political experience: Edmond currently serves as the District 6 representative on the Jackson County Board.
Professional background: She holds a Bachelor of Science in Health Administration from SIU Carbondale. “My background is actually in early childhood,” she said. “I have worked most recently as a social service director at a skilled nursing facility and a children's advocate.”
Why should voters elect you?: Edmond said voters should re-elect her to the board to continue “participating in decisions that serve the residents of Jackson County” through local government. If re-elected, she said she would look for ways the county can provide quality services in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
Are you involved in any civic groups?: She is a member of Illinois Democratic Women, Southern Illinois Democratic Women, Rotary, Women United Network, Carbondale Branch NAACP, Jackson County Medical Reserve Corps, and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
Charles Howe (G)
Political experience: While Howe has not been elected to a political office, he said he has petitioned and canvassed for the Green Party since 1999.
Professional background: Howe holds degrees in sociology and international business. He said he has been a blue-collar worker throughout his career, working in everything from repair work with the Illinois Central Railroad to 747 Boeing aircraft inspections.
Why should voters elect you?: Howe said he should be elected to the board so he can work within the county’s budget while trying to maintain the services it provides. In addition, he hopes to maintain property taxes at current levels while finding additional sources of revenue and improving sustainability in Jackson County.
Are you involved in any civic groups?: Howe is currently a member of Carbondale's Sustainability Commission and The Sparrow Coalition, a group working to address issues of homelessness and poverty in Southern Illinois. Previously, he served on the Green Earth board and Neighborhood Co-Op board.
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