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Paul Schimpf and Sharee Langenstein

Paul Schimpf (left) and Sharee Langenstein (right) are running for the Republican nomination for the state senator for the 58th district.

Dave Luechtefeld’s decision not to seek re-election to the Illinois Senate this year after 20 years in office threw an open seat into play.

Two people — Sharee Langenstein and Paul Schimpf — are squaring off in the March 15 Republican primary. The winner will face former Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, of Carbondale, a Democrat, in November for his seat.

The candidates, both graduates of the SIU School of Law, share similar views. In what's been a relatively quiet primary campaign season, Schimpf has trumpeted his endorsement from Luechtefeld and his military service, while Langenstein said she’s proud to run as an outsider candidate not beholden to party leaders.

Early in the race, Luechtefeld endorsed Schimpf, a retired Marine from Waterloo, who in 2014 ran a failed bid for attorney general. Luechtefeld said that several people expressed an interest in running on the Republican ticket, and sought his endorsement.

“I just told them I’d support the person I thought had the best shot at winning,” Luechtefeld said. “I finally came to the conclusion that Paul was that guy.”

Luechtefeld said he personally likes both candidates, but noted Schimpf gained critical name recognition when he ran against Democrat Lisa Madigan. Luechtefeld said his main hope is a Republican holds onto the seat.

Both Langenstein and Schimpf said they would work to support the interests of their district, including if that means breaking from Gov. Bruce Rauner on issues. Schimpf said he felt the primary blame for the budget stalemate rested on the shoulders of Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan. But, he said he doesn’t support Rauner’s proposals to weaken labor unions.

Langenstein said she also believes in the right for employees to form unions and engage in collective bargaining. But, she opposes “fair share,” under which an employee who wishes not to join the union must still make payments to the union, intended only to cover the cost of bargaining. 

Both candidates, who spoke to the newspaper this week, said they support ensuring that SIU remains strong. Asked specifically about higher education funding, Schimpf said it's his understating Rauner is pushing for more education funding, "and that’s something Republicans and Democrats could agree on.” But with regard to university funding, Rauner has called for steep cuts.

Langenstein said her budget philosophy is it must be looked at holistically. For instance, she said, if cuts lead to closure of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, the end result would lead to increased incarceration costs. 

Langenstein works as a private practice lawyer. She has previously worked as an appellate prosecutor in Mount Vernon, a private lawyer on contract as a felony public defender in Alexander County, and an assistant state’s attorney in Franklin County. She also has worked as a contract lawyer and lobbyist for the Illinois State Rifle Association, and lobbied in Springfield on behalf of two anti-abortion groups.

"It's important to live those principles and not just go around talking about those things," she said. She is married and has six children, two of them adopted. 

On the issue of abortion, Langenstein said she believes she is the only “100 percent pro-life candidate” in the race, and has attempted to distinguish herself from Schimpf on this issue even though both state oppose abortion.

Langenstein points to a stronger pro-life score from the advocacy group Illinois Citizens for Life, which gave her a “fully pro-life” rating and gave Schimpf a rating of “not in full support of all pro-life issues.” The listing doesn’t break down its reasons for the respective ratings, but the group notes it surveyed candidates as to their positions on abortion, and also euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and “related issues.”

On his campaign website, Schimpf states he is pro-life and will support “common sense measures” to “increase our state’s respect for life from fetal viability to natural death.”

Schimpf, asked why he felt he was the better candidate in the primary, said, “I’m not going to talk about Sharee because I’m focused on getting my message out.”

But he said it’s his intention to run a polite campaign.

“I’ve met Sheila and (husband) Perry on multiple occasions,” Schimpf said. “I think they’re good people, but Sheila and I fall on very different places on the ideological spectrum. I look forward to that race. It will be about the issues.”

Schimpf stated he doesn’t agree with some of the materials that have gone out in the district by the independent Liberty Principles PAC. One such publication, which appears like a newspaper, criticizes benefits of public employees, and also includes a piece on Schimpf opening a campaign office. Schimpf said that although he is a friend of Dan Proft, a Republican activist and Chicago radio talk show host, the material has done more harm than good for him. 

Schimpf is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He retired from the Marine Corps in 2013, and returned to his hometown of Waterloo, accepting a position at a private law firm. He’s also an interesting footnote in a widely publicized moment in history: the Iraqi trial of Saddam Hussein that served as the exclamation point in President George W. Bush’s controverisal justification of sending troops to Iraq after 9/11.

During Schimpf’s military service, Schimpf said he was, for a five-month period, the lead U.S. attorney adviser to Iraqi prosecutors whose job it was to prove that Hussein ordered the deaths of 150 people in the village of Dujail after an assassination attempt of Hussein there in 1982.

Schimpf is married, and has two children. 

The 58th Senate district includes all of Jefferson, Monroe, Perry and Randolph counties, most of Jackson and Union counties, the southern portion of St. Clair county, and a sliver of Washington County. 

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molly.parker@theouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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