Lake County Republicans eye gains in November
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent June 18, 2014 10:14PM
Humberto Prado, new Hammond Republican Party chairman, talks to candidates and recruits Wednesday at the Republican Party recruiting session. | Carrie Napoleon/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 21, 2014 3:16PM
HIGHLAND — Republicans say their party is building momentum in Lake County thanks to Democrats’ bungling and corruption, and all they need are some more good candidates to keep the ball rolling.
Toward that end, the county Republican Central Committee hosted a candidate information session Wednesday night at Langel’s Pizza in Highland to test the waters for potential candidates.
Peter Karagan, Munster precinct committeeman, said the pizza party was a way for the GOP’s new leadership, headed by county chairman Dan Dernulc, to show that county Republicans want to be inclusive.
“We have deep problems in Lake County, and we need to solve them,” Karagan said.
Party members are banking on a voter backlash against the county’s new 1.5 percent income tax to propel Republican candidates in November.
“This election, every candidate running who voted for the county income tax has a big millstone around their neck,” said Joe Hero, a Republican activist and former St. John GOP chairman. “When you have a controversy like that, that’s what you need (to provoke change).”
The steady stream of elected Democratic officials winding up afoul of the law does not hurt the GOP’s chances either.
“There is a changing tide here in the country and the county,” Andy Qunell, treasurer of the county party, said. “People are fed up with corruption.”
Republicans have been gaining seats in the heavily Democratic county at each election cycle, and the party’s leaders want to build a strong Republican ticket for the Nov. 4 election, Qunell said.
Kelechukwu Brnfre and Markael Watkins, both of Gary, came out Wednesday to hear what party leaders had to say. They agreed that it’s time for county voters to stop routinely electing Democrats, some of whom have been in office for many years, and expect different results.
Both men have not been politically active in the Republican Party previously but were interested in hearing more about what the GOP has to offer locally.
Watkins said he has lived in Gary all his life and has supported Democrats, but he’s displeased with the way things in the city and county are going. Too many people vote for someone because they know the name or just vote the party ticket without taking time to learn about what the candidates stand for, he said.
“Why not look at different avenues?” Watkins asked.
Brnfre said it’s too easy for people to step into the voting booth and push the straight party ticket. He would like to see change, he said, and the Republican Party may be the way to make that happen.
Brnfre, a political scientist, said black voters started out as Republicans because of President Abraham Lincoln but widely changed their affiliation to the Democratic Party after President Theodore Roosevelt. He said it’s time for blacks to return to their political roots with the GOP.
The deadline to place candidates on the ballot to fill the empty Republican slots is June 30. A candidacy must be filed at least 72 hours prior to the deadline, said Patrick Gabrione, deputy director of the Lake County Board of Elections.