This past summer, incumbent State Rep Jim Meyers announced he would retire rather than run for re-election in 2008. Meyers’ announcement opened the way for a primary contest likely to rival general election importance in other counties.
Connelly, a former Lisle village trustee, says he is proud of the District 5 he was elected to represent on the DuPage County Board in 2006. District 5, reaching from Lisle westward to Naperville, is twice the size of the 48th district he would represent in the State House.
“This is a district of achievers,” Connelly said. “They are used to working hard and seeing results. That’s what they want from their legislators. They’re tired of mediocre government.”
Connelly, a 43 year old corporate litigation attorney, said while serving as a village trustee and now a county board member he learned firsthand the importance of having an effective representative in the state legislature. State laws and mandates on local jurisdictions directly impact fiscal decisions.
“As a state, we don’t live within our means,” Connelly said. “There’s no fiscal restraint.”
When asked how he as a freshman Republican lawmaker could make a significant impact on a Democrat-controlled legislature, Connelly said Republicans should be offering “a true alternative to what’s going on down there now,” by focusing on reducing government and reminding Illinoisans that we “can’t be all things to all people.”
Connelly’s entre' into local politics was when a superstore set its sites on acreage backing up to his own Lisle area Green Trails subdivision. Connelly and his neighbors fought the expected increase in traffic and noise, the irritation of all night parking lot lights and numerous other interruptions the proposed superstore would bring to their peaceful community. The dispute ended in a victory for homeowners when they filed a lawsuit and construction plans were ultimately withdrawn.
During the battle for their neighborhood, Connelly and his wife raised three children and as other parents, volunteered at school, sports and scouting activities. Those the Connellys met through those activities were the same ones who encouraged him to run and helped him win his first elected office as Lisle village trustee in 2000.
During his five years on the board, the village of Lisle and the local schools districts cooperated with Benedictine University to set up a sports complex partnership that now provides stadium access for school and park district activities that is the envy of neighboring towns.
“We’re very proud of what was accomplished with Benedictine University,” Connelly said. Lisle and Naperville high schools are able to play football under lights, avoiding problems for homeowners living around the high schools. Rather than the schools building their own resource-draining stadiums, Lisle's shared sports complex has become revenue-producing.
The Benedictine complex recently hosted a national Junior Olympics track and field event and 30,000 visitors to the Lisle area filled hotel rooms, a boon to local businesses.
Connelly was credited with spearheading the years-long sports complex project, making him a natural choice to run for an open county board seat in 2006.
A self-described fiscal conservative, Connelly said he would support DuPage County’s proposed cigarette tax hike, but firmly resists home rule. DuPage County Chairman Bob Schillerstrom continues to push hard for home rule, and some speculate that Connelly’s opposition could be a reason Schillerstrom wants someone more conducive to DuPage County home rule representing District 5 on the county board.
Connelly denies that suggestion, saying Schillerstrom has appointed him to chair two crucial county board committees, and if he was so eager for him to go to Springfield, he would have picked someone else to coordinate the oversight of Homeland Security-required 911 coordination and the board’s new emphasis on promoting businesses in DuPage County.
Local issues such as transportation and storm water drainage ultimately interested Connelly in running for state rep. Funding assistance beyond what local taxing authorities can provide for major expenses such as new roads and sewage systems is something Connelly believes is crucial for the district's needs, and successfully acquiring those resources will demand experience and determination.
Connelly supports a no-growth state budget and opposes the proposed property tax swap, saying it’s merely “smoke and mirrors.” An increase in casino gambling to pay for infrastructure is not the way to go, he said. “We’ve overdone gambling [as a source of revenue]."
On social issues, Connelly says he is prolife, promotes adult stem cell research and proposes banning human cloning. He’s for school choice, an increase in charter schools and an option for vouchers where students are in failing schools.
Connelly will face two opponents in the GOP primary – College of DuPage trustee David Carlin and Naperville City Councilman Doug Krause. In predominately Republican DuPage County, the winner of the 48th GOP primary is likely to win in the General Election.
Connelly says he continues to gather up GOP endorsements, but was surprised at how quickly his primary opponents moved to scoop up backers almost immediately after Rep. Meyer announced his retirement.
"I guess I got into this late," he joked. "If you don't have Republican township committeemen on your speed dial, you may have just missed getting their support."
When it comes down to the reason Connelly’s running for state rep, he refers back to his very first experience with politics – in the 80s, when Ronald Reagan was running for president.
“That’s the team I want to be on,” Connelly said he realized after hearing Reagan speak. “It was one that extolled the family, fiscal discipline and the greatness of America.”