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Macoupin County Board Renews Support for Clean Coal

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Board Members Sign Bi-partisan letter to Governor and state legislative leaders supporting Taylorville Energy Center.

Carlinville – At the October 11th meeting of the Macoupin County Board, the 26 members present signed a letter to Governor Pat Quinn and the four state Legislative leaders asking for support of legislation to help facilitate the building of the Taylorville Energy Center in Christian County.

This letter comes in addition to a resolution adopted by the Board in November of 2010 supporting the Taylorville Energy project which said, in part:

The County Board of Macoupin County, Illinois hereby supports the Taylorville Energy Center IGCC plant with carbon capture, which provides a new market for the Illinois coal industry; incorporates the most advanced emission control technology; and brings thousands of needed jobs through construction and hundreds more through operation of the facility to Christian County and the surrounding region.

“Supporting this project makes sense for many outside of Christian County and certainly will provide a positive impact on Macoupin County and the coal being mined here,” said Board Chairman Andy Manar.  “Following the county’s mine closures in 2008, this is the type of project we need to help re-energize our Downstate economy and put Illinois coal back on the map in a big way.”

The Taylorville Energy Center project has committed to using Illinois coal in producing its electricity supply.  With technology being used by the plan, the Center plans to reverse the trend of using out-of-state coal, a practice that has resulted in recent years due to high-sulfur content present in some Illinois coal.

Manar and board members said that the new technology that would be used at the Center would certainly shed a new and needed light on Illinois coal.

“An opportunity like this will likely lead to the increase in sale of Macoupin County coal which will undoubtedly increase productivity and the potential for additional revenue and jobs to our county,” said Manar.  “By sending this letter to Springfield, we are also demonstrating our bi-partisan support as a board for the addition of 2,500 construction jobs and hundreds more permanent jobs in Central Illinois.”

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In the letter signed by the Board, members said they hoped that the upcoming Veto Session will be an opportunity for the General Assembly to once again take up legislation concerning the energy project.

The Taylorville Energy Center plant would be among the first power plants in the world with the ability to remove fuel impurities associated with emissions from coal-fueled power plants, including sulfur, mercury, and particulate matter.

It has been previously estimated that Central and Southern Illinois possess large reserves of high-sulfur coal that would be valued as fuel for the plant at a projected rate of $75 million annually.

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School district apparently eyeing food management service

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Bill Fritcher representing Opaa! Food Management said they provide both hot and cold entrees, and schools can tailor offerings to meet their needs and budgets.

Representatives of a food management company pitched their vision for reshaping school lunch and breakfast offerings at Community Unit School District 7 schools during Monday night’s regular monthly meeting of the Board of Education. Later, however, the head cook at BenGil Elementary School expressed doubts about what the company promised to deliver. “They make it sound like it’s all a gravy train,” said Jackie McKinney. “It’s not.”

No action followed a 20-minute presentation by Bill Fritcher, Business Development Associate, and Angie Eden, a food service worker, from Opaa! Food Management, Inc., Chesterfield, Mo. There was no clear indication whether the board or district administration is leaning toward contracting with the company.

Founded in 1978, Opaa! Provides food management services to more than 800 schools in 250 school districts spread out over seven states. The company serves 21 schools in Illinois, including the nearby Staunton, Litchfield, Jersey and Nokomis school districts. The company claims a 97 percent retention rate among its client schools.

Fritcher, a former administrator in the Neoga school district, said the company emphasizes home-cooked foods made from scratch. Opaa! provides both hot and cold entrees, and schools can tailor offerings to meet their needs and budgets. Hot entrees include items such as roast turkey, meatloaf, cheeseburgers, pizzas and spaghetti. The company also serves a variety of cold sub sandwiches. Again, depending upon the details of its contract with a school district, the company can provide a salad bar, along with fresh fruit.

Breakfast offerings can include hot or cold cereal, waffles, biscuits and gravy, and breakfast burritos. Some client schools offer a “breakfast on the go” option where students can grab a breakfast item during the mid-morning hours of the school day. As part of its service, Opaa! would provide an all-day “Gulp Station” with dispensers of lemonade, iced tea and water.

“There’s a lot of local control over menu items,” Fritcher said. “If a school doesn’t want us serving coffee to students, we don’t serve coffee.”

Fritcher said the school district would continue to set pricing for school lunches and breakfasts, collect payments and control the revenue stream. The district also would continue to own food service equipment and facilities. At a minimum, Opaa! would place it’s own employee as a food service manager, but other food service workers can be either Opaa! employees or employees of the school district. In either case, the school district would have final say over who is allowed to work in the school district.

“You’d have control of who is working in the school and is around your kids,” Fritcher said.

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According to Fritcher, the company emphasizes presentation.

 “We want the food to look good so kids will eat it,” he said. “We strive to make it enjoyable for the kids.”

Client schools submit photos of daily offerings to the home office for approval, Eden said. As an example, she cited an instance when she submitted a photo from Neoga that included broccoli as a side item. The home office said the broccoli looked too brown and demanded it be replaced with fresher produce.

Fritcher said the company employees an executive chef to create recipes and standards for food served to students. The chef has created a number of streaming videos used to train on site staff.

Key to the operation is a computer program for food management. Eden said the program monitors what food the district has in the freezer and pantry, and adjust menus to best utilize resources on hand. The program also provides a portal parents and students can access to see weekly menus.

A food management contract would be subject to state bidding requirements, according to Fritcher. To start the process, the district would create a Request for Proposals to solicit bids. If Opaa! Is the successful bidder, the company would offer a five-year fixed price agreement, renewable on an annual basis. Either party would be able to end the contract upon a 90-day notice.

During a public comment period, McKinney alleged Opaa!’s promises have not matched reality in nearby school districts. The head cook at Litchfield, she pointed out, quit soon after Opaa! took over. Pizzas and some other food items, she said, do not match the company’s claims.

“We were told this is not about the money, it’s about the choices,” she said. “If you want more options, someone needs to tell us.”

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McKinney said she has been employed by the district in food services since 2002. The proposal to hire an outside food management company, she said, comes as “a slap in the face.”

McKinney predicted problems if the district contracts with Opaa!, particularly in the elementary school.

“I don’t see how our kindergarteners are going to be able to carry their own tray and serve themselves,” she said. “They’re going to drop their trays. We get our kids through the serving line in five minutes so they have time to sit down and eat. When they have to make their own tray, how long do you think that’s going to take?”

McKinney also predicted issues with food sanitation when young children with runny noses and/or dirty hands are expected to serve themselves from the food line.

During a public comment period, Jackie McKinney, head cook at BenGil Elementary, alleged Opaa!’s promises have not matched reality in nearby school districts.

McKinney said an outside company cannot be expected to know local students like local food service workers know them.

“I watch for a little boy who comes through my line every day because I know he doesn’t get food at home like he does here,” she said. “We’re here for the kids and I don’t think these people are.”

In a somewhat related matter which could facilitate transitioning to an outside food service, the board accepted with “regret” the retirements of head high school/middle school cook Penny Feeley and GHS/GMS cook Janice Hammann, both effective on June 30.

PERSONNEL

The board took action on a number of personnel issues following an executive session of about one hour.

In separate actions, the board voted unanimously to rehire the following fourth-year teachers and grant them tenure for the 2024-25 school year: Nikki Jenner, Katie Lievers, Alex Newton, Pete Visintin and Jacob West.

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The following non-tenured staff were hired for the 2024-25 school year: school nurse Rachel Bouillon, fifth grade teacher Radeana Gentzyel, speech pathologist Kaylee Collins, special education teacher Jaiden Braundmeier, kindergarten teacher Jessica Yeager, fist grade teacher Sydney Owsley, band teacher Brad Taulbee, chorus teacher Ben McCullough, Tim Biggs, special education teacher Cory Bonstead, and Dalton Barnes.

On a motion by Peyton Bernot, seconded by Mark Hayes, the board rehired the following tenured teachers for 2024-25: Lorraine Strutner, Jody Dunn, Melissa Bussmann, Tracy Hostettler, Darrick Urban, Kara Saracco, Kelly Lyons, Holly Nejmanowski, Jennifer Parker, Anastasia Hobaugh, Cate Plovich, Amy Price, Nickie Barrett, Jessi Luketich, Mindy Savant, Karissa Smith, Beth Sees, Valerie Jubelt, Carrie Scott, Dana Tieman, Marcia Johns, Colleen Favre, Celia Jubelt, Jamie Schmidt, Nancy Schmidt, Lori Emmons, Vanessa Barrett, Amy Geddes, Lisa Ballinger, Amber Allan, Kim Henderson, Christina Blevins, Chase Peterson, Jessica Kelly, Tammy Garde, Nate Heinrich’s, Casey Edgerton, Kyle Lamar, Stephanie Wilson, Elizabeth Thackery, Shanna Conner, Matthew Browner, Jeremy Smith, Rachelle Prough, Jarrod Herron, Jill Stole, Korben Clark, Kayla Wills, Nikki Browner, Kevin McNichols, Katie Orange, Robert Macias, Casey Sholtis, Jennifer Brown, Jeff Nelhs, Mark Goldasich, Troy Barker, Michelle Smith, Holley McFarland, Michael Bertagnolli, Mary Schuette, Nichole Stoecker, Amy Goldasich, David Edgerton, Ashlee Gibbs, Stuart Ringer, Kelly Bully, Whitney Page and Stephanie Bray.

The board accepted “with regret” the retirement of BenGil Elementary teacher Dana Tieman, effective at the end of the 2027-28 school year. The board also accepted “with regret” the resignation for purposes of retirement of GMS paraprofessional  Ella May Roemer, effective at the end of the 2024 fiscal year, and posted the position as vacant.

Board members accepted the resignation of high school paraprofessional Darian Gill, and posted the position as vacant. The board also accepted Gill’s resignation at the GHS/GMS cheerleading coach and posted that position as vacant.

Board members unanimously agreed to post vacancies for the following summer school positions: high school math, English and drivers’ education; middle school math, English and science; and six elementary positions. Additionally, the board posted two summer school food service positions.

The board accepted “with regret” the resignation of long-time GHS head women’s basketball coach Kevin Gray, and posted the position as vacant. The board also accepted the resignation of Korbin Clark as GMS seventh-grade basketball coach and posted the position as vacant.

The board voted unanimously to appoint Elizabeth Eaker as a volunteer assistant dance coach, pending verification of certification and a background check. In separate actions, the board agreed to appoint Foley Seferi and James Bryant a volunteer assistant high school football coaches, pending verification of certification and a background check. 

By a unanimous vote, the board accepted the resignation of district custodian Owen Parker, and posted the position as vacant. The board also voted to post vacancies for two full-route bus drivers for the 2024-25 school year, and hired Billie Bowles as a substitute bus driver, pending verification of certification and a background check.

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REPAVING

The board awarded a $62,524 contract to DeLaurent Construction Co., Inc., Wilsonville, to repave five district parking lots. DeLaurent was the low bidder for the project. The contract will be paid from proceeds of a $1.6 million alternate revenue bond sale for capital projects.

Supt. Shane Owsley reported that he is starting to gather estimates for other upcoming projects to be underwritten with bond revenue, including a project to refinish the high school gym floor, a project to reline the all-weather track and a major HVAC project.

SURPLUS WEIGHT ROOM EQUIPMENT

On Owsley’s recommendation, the board accepted a list of surplus weight room equipment and agreed to offer the equipment for sale via sealed bids. The equipment, which includes stationary bikes, running machines, free weights, benches, dumbbells and racks, was replaced with new equipment as part of a recently completed project to renovate and re-equip the weight room.

EARLY GRADUATION REQUESTS

During a District Focus segment, the board recognized high school women’s basketball coach Kevin Gray, who is retiring after a career of 16 seasons. Kevin is pictured with his wife, Elaine.

On a motion by Bill Carter, seconded by Weye Schmidt, the board unanimously approved early graduation requests for Maria Alger, Eliana Barrios-Madison, Owen Baugh, Gage Bonds, Abby Carter, John Q. Halterman, Eva Hidden, Felicia Lambert, Emma Luckshis, Ashley Markulakis, McKenna Montoro, Kaden Reiffer, Abigail Sharp, Jayden Stangle, Cooper Wentler, Ashton Whitlow and Avery Young. The students will be allowed to graduate at the end of their eleventh year of high school at the end of the current school year, provided all graduation requirements have been met.

DISTRICT FOCUS

During a District Focus segment, the board recognized high school women’s basketball coach Kevin Gray, who is retiring after a career of 16 seasons. High School Principal Jill Rosentreter noted that Gray led this year’s team to the Sectional Tournament in Beardstown after winning their first regional championship since 2012. The team also won its first County Tournament since 2002, and celebrated 26 wins—the most ever.

During the Carlinville Rotary’s All-Star Game, Gray was named Rotary’s Coach of the Year.

“On behalf of CUSD 7 and all you former players, we express much gratitude for your many years of service, dedication, leadership, wisdom and professional demeanor on and off the court,” Rosentreter told Gray.

Also during the District Focus, a group of fifth graders told the board about their recent field trip to Busch Stadium, where they learned about practical math applications and other subjects.

OTHER ACTION

In other action, the board:

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  • Gave final approval to the 2024-25 school calendar, calling for the first day of school attendance on Aug. 14 with the last day of school set for May 29, or earlier if no emergency days are used.
  • Approved a schedule of board meeting dates for the coming year. The board will meet in executive session at 6 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month with the open session beginning at 7 p.m. The December meeting is set one week earlier on Dec. 16 to avoid conflict with the winter break.
  • Awarded the annual bid to supply fuel to low bidder M & M Service Co., Carlinville.
  • Voted to renew the district’s annual membership in the Illinois High School Association.
  • Rescheduled the April board meeting from Monday, April 22, to Tuesday, April 23, to avoid a conflict.

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Police News

Gillespie Police Report: March 17-23, 2024

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SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2024

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of East Elm Street in reference to criminal damage to property.

An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of Biddle Street in reference to child abuse.

An officer was dispatched to the 800 block of East Walnut Street in reference to criminal trespass to property.

An officer was dispatched to Madison Street and Wilson Street in reference to suspicious activity.

An officer was dispatched to the 800 block of East Chestnut Street in Benld in reference to a well-being check.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of South Macoupin Street in reference to a civil issue.

An officer was out in the 400 block of North 7th Street in Benld in reference to a security check. 

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MONDAY, MARCH 18, 2024

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of Abba Street in reference to a domestic dispute.

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of LJ Avenue in reference to a domestic battery. Regan M. Treadway, 22, of Hillsboro was arrested for domestic battery.

Gillespie Police Department assisted the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department with a criminal investigation.

An officer was dispatched to the 900 block of South Madison Street in reference to criminal damage to property.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of East Burton Street in reference to an ordinance issue of illegal burning. Charles H. Daubman, 62, of Gillespie was issued a citation for illegal burning.

An officer was dispatched to the 800 block of Harding Avenue in East Gillespie in reference to a noise complaint.

An officer during normal patrol in the 100 block of South 7th Street in Benld noticed a trunk open on a vehicle. The officer made contact with the owners and they secured the trunk after checking it.

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An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of North 4th Street in Benld in reference to a suspicious person.

An officer was dispatched to Gillespie Police Department to speak with a male in reference to illegal dumping.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of West Hickory in reference to a civil standby.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of South 2nd Street in Benld in reference to a well-being check.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of West Easton Street in reference to a civil standby.

The School Resource Officer called in requesting assistance in reference to a female student that had left the school.

TUESDAY, MARCH 19, 2024

An officer was dispatched to the 800 block of Madison Street in reference to criminal damage to property.

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An officer was dispatched to Route 4 by the nursing home to check on a person on a bike with no lights.

An officer was dispatched to Maple Street and Route 138 in Benld in reference to a suspicious vehicle.

An officer was dispatched to the 400 block of East Spruce Street in reference to a suspicious vehicle.

An officer was dispatched to the 600 block of Gillespie Street in reference to juvenile issues.

An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of East Walnut Street in reference to a dog at large.

An officer was dispatched to a business in the 300 block of North Macoupin Street in reference to an animal complaint.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20, 2024

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Central Avenue and 2nd Street in Benld. Logan G. Lawson, 22, of Roodhouse was issued a citation for speeding.

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An officer initiated a traffic stop in the 200 block of North Hard Road in Mt. Clare. David E. Schmidt, 46, of Staunton was issued citations for speeding, expired registration, and operating an uninsured motor vehicle.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of East Spruce Street in reference to illegal parking.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of South Jersey Street in reference to an open line 911 call.

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Broadway Street and LJ Avenue. Candace N. Carlen, 36, of New Douglas was issued a citation for speeding.

An officer spoke with a male at Gillespie Police Department in reference to a theft in the 200 block of West Oak Street.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of North 7th Street in Benld in reference to a suspicious noise.

An officer was dispatched to West Dorsey Street and South Kentucky Street in Benld in reference to a suspicious person.

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of East Walnut Street in reference to suspicious activity.

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An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of East Elm Street in reference to reckless driving.

An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of Biddle Street in reference to a medical assist.

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Central Avenue and Main Street in Benld. Esha V. Bhatt, 30, of Edwardsville was issued a citation for speeding.

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Central Avenue and Main Street in Benld. Nicole L Richey, 34, of Wilsonville was issued a citation for speeding and expired registration.

THURSDAY, MARCH 21, 2024

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of South 4th Street in Benld in reference to a suspicious person.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of 9th Street in Benld in reference to a suicidal subject

An officer was out with a suspicious person at Main Street and Spruce Street in Benld.

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An officer initiated a traffic stop at Macoupin Street and Elm Street. Walter L. Vester, 29, of Gillespie was arrested on a Glenn Carbon warrant for larceny.

An officer initiated a traffic stop at Broadway Street and LJ Avenue. Jordan L. Jett, 23, of Hillsboro was issued a citation for speeding.

An officer was dispatched to the 600 block of Litchfield Road in East Gillespie in reference to aggravated assault. Levi T. Kroll, 34, of Carlinville was arrested for aggravated assault, criminal damage to property, and operation of a vehicle with suspended registration.

An officer was dispatched to the 600 block of North 5th Street in Benld in reference to a theft.

An officer was dispatched to LJ Avenue where multiple vehicles were parked in a no-parking zone. After multiple announcements asking them to move, two vehicles remained and received citations. Jeromy J Moore, 47, of Greenfield and Matthew E. Raffety, 52, of Bunker Hill were issued citations for parking in a no-parking zone.

An officer was dispatched to the 700 block of East Walnut Street in reference to a domestic battery. Mitchela P. Zbornak, 34, of Gillespie was arrested for domestic battery.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of West Wilson Street in reference to a suspicious vehicle.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of South Macoupin Street in reference to a juvenile issue.

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An officer was dispatched to the 800 block of Madison Street in reference to an animal complaint.

An officer was dispatched to the 100 block of West Oak Street in reference to an ordinance issue for illegal burning.

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of West Oak Street in reference to a possible burglary.

The School Resource Officer called in reckless driving in the high school parking lot.

FRIDAY, MARCH 22, 2024

An officer was dispatched to a business in the 900 block of Springfield Road in East Gillespie in reference to retail theft and criminal trespass.

An officer was dispatched to Illinois Street and Kentucky Street in Benld in reference to a loud vehicle.

An officer was dispatched to a business in the 500 block of East Elm Street in reference to a suspicious person. 

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SATURDAY, MARCH 23, 2024

An officer was dispatched to the 300 block of East Oak Street in reference to a well-being check.

An officer was dispatched to the 500 block of East Chestnut Street in reference to a 911 hang-up call.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of East Oak for a 911 untraceable call the officers checked the area and were unable to find an emergency.

An officer was dispatched to the 200 block of South Illinois Street in Benld in reference to a medical assist.

An officer was dispatched to down wires at Dorsey Road and 1st Street in Mt. Clare. Ameren was contacted to remove the wiring.

All subjects are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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Community News

Denby wins judicial nomination in three-way race; Trump, Biden top choices for Macoupin voters

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Carlinville attorney Thomas Denby easily sailed to victory in a three-way race to be nominated as the Republican candidate for Resident Seventh Judicial Circuit Court Judge in Macoupin County in Tuesday’s Primary Election balloting.

Denby captured 63.26 percent of the Republican vote, easily besting Jonathan Verticchio’s 23.46 percent and Aaron Bellm’s 13.28 percent. In terms of raw vote numbers, Denby landed 2,534 votes to Verticchio’s 940 votes and Bellm’s 532 votes.

There were no judicial candidates for the race on the Democrat side of the ballot.

As a result of Tuesday’s election, Denby is likely to step into the office being vacated Resident Circuit Judge Kenneth Deihl, who was first elected as a Democrat in 2006, when he narrowly defeated Republican nominee Kevin Polo. It’s unclear whether or not the Democrat Central Committee can legally name a candidate to run against Denby in the General Election this fall, meaning Denby is the likely successor to Deihl.

There were no surprises locally in the Presidential races. Macoupin Democrats favored incumbent Joe Biden with 89.62 percent of the vote, while Republicans cast 83.39 percent of their votes for former President Donald Trump.

Although no longer a candidate, Nikki Haley gained 12.18 percent of the Republican vote. Ron DeSantis, Chris Christie and Ryan Brinkley each took less than three percent of the Republican vote. On the Democrat side, Biden’s support was eroded by 10.28 percent of the vote shared by Dean Phillips, Marianne Williamson and Frank Lozada.

A total of 5,741 voters cast votes in the Macoupin Primary, representing 18.67 percent of the county’s 30,757 registered voters. That could indicate a softening of interest in the Biden/Trump rematch. In 2016, when Trump and Hilary Clinton were nominated, a stunning 45.82 percent of Macoupin’s voters cast ballots in the primary election. Four years later, 23.54 percent of the county’s voters participated in the primary, despite restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the Republican nomination for U.S. Congressional Representative for the 13th District, Joshua Loyd took 57.28 percent of the Macoupin vote, compared with 42.72 percent for Thomas Clatterback. The Congressional vote mirrored voting district-wide in which Loyd took the nomination with 55.9 percent of the total vote. Loyd will take on freshman Representative Nikki Budzinski on the Democrat side, who ran unopposed for the nomination.

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A number of county races were unopposed. On the Democrat side, incumbent Jordan Garrison took 1,387 votes for State’s Attorney, while incumbent Coroner Anthony Kravanya took 1,471 Democrat votes. On the Republican side Amy J. Ashby took 3,448 votes to be nominated for Circuit Clerk. Ashby becomes the likely successor to Democrat Lee Ross who is stepping down.

Though not likely, both parties could name candidates to run for county offices in November. Otherwise Garrison, Kravanya and Ashby will run unopposed for the General Election. A win by Ashby would make her the second Republican constitutional officer in the Courthouse. Two years ago, County Treasurer Amber McGartland became the first Republican elected to a Courthouse office since A.C. “Julie” Bartulis served as Treasurer in the 1960s.

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