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How One Tea Party Conservative Took On a Highway Department Dynasty


Andrew Gasser, photo via andrewgasser.com

When a tea party conservative defeated a 24-year officeholder in last month's Republican primary, it ended one of the longest-running political dynasties in the Chicago area, spanning three generations over about half a century.

The office at stake — the Algonquin Township Highway Department — is hardly glamorous. It maintains a patchwork of 60 miles of roads, runs a recycling center and operates a bus service for seniors. The department has been controlled by Commissioner Bob Miller's family since the 1960s — previously through his father and grandfather — and Miller himself has worked there for more than 40 years.

But this winter, the tiny agency in the southeast corner of McHenry County, Illinois, became the site of a big, bitter political fight.

Challenger Andrew Gasser ripped Miller for having three relatives on the payroll — including his wife and two sons-in-law — at a cost to taxpayers of nearly $400,000 in total annual compensation, including benefits, according to department figures.

Miller countered that Gasser, also a McHenry County Board member, was "unqualified," noting he had no experience in road building and criticizing him for living with his mother and not paying property taxes in his name.

In the end, Gasser won by just 145 votes, a margin of about two voters per precinct. His victory represents a backlash against traditional politics at the most local level, in an election cycle also marked by the victory of President Trump, an outsider at the highest level of government.

Gasser — who said he moved in with his mother in Fox River Grove to take care of her and pays property taxes for the house under her name — saw his victory as a rejection of nepotism and vindication of his support of smaller government and lower taxes.

"I won because voters said no to nepotism," Gasser said. After his victory shocked political insiders, Gasser said, "Now everybody's freaking out."

Miller, however, blamed his loss on negative campaigning and "fake news," including politically sponsored newspapers and a controversial video from years ago that resurfaced just before the Republican primary on Feb. 28.

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By Robert McCoppin
Chicago Tribune

 

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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