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Son of former senator angling to challenge GOP incumbent in new Peoria area House district

93rd house district race
T. Weaver / M. Luft
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Businessman Travis Weaver, left, is set to face state Rep. Mark Luft, R-Pekin, in the June primary.

Republican voters in parts of Greater Peoria will likely choose in June between an incumbent state representative and a challenger from a political legacy family with a familiar name.

The newly redrawn 93rd House District includes Pekin and western parts of Greater Peoria, stretching north to include Brimfield, Toulon, and Kewanee. State Rep. Mark Luft, who is also the mayor of Pekin, is running for re-election in the district; his current district is the 91st.

Luft became mayor in 2019 after serving on the Pekin City Council for several years, and was elected to the House in the 2020 general election. His challenger will be Travis Weaver, the son of former Republican state Sen. Chuck Weaver. Chuck Weaver represented the 37th District, including Peoria, from 2015 until his retirement at the end of the 2020 session.

Travis Weaver described himself as a “true conservative” who would act in the interests of his conservative district if he were elected. No Democrats have filed to run in the 93rd District.

“This is a really strong conservative district. I'm a proud lifelong conservative. My opponent can't say the same. This district is two-thirds Republican, and I really think it's important to have a representative in the district that aligns closely with those issues,” said Weaver, who currently lives in Edwards.

Luft pointed to his voting record and his legislative priorities in response, which he says shows his ideology.

“I am a conservative. Things that we've achieved on the council and as mayor show that; creating businesses, avoiding taxes, we have managed to cut fees, cut license fees, cut certain taxes. Going back to my record in Springfield, I've worked a lot with public safety, law enforcement, parental rights, ethics reform. The Second Amendment is also a top priority,” said Luft of his legislative history.

While this is his first run for office, Weaver said he feels confident that his experience working at Caterpillar Inc. in Chicago would translate directly to helping to balance Illinois’ budget.

Weaver said the largest fiscal issue in Illinois is unpaid pension debt, and he said he has the skills to remedy that. In his seven years working at Caterpillar, Weaver worked on projects to increase funding for the company’s pensions and to raise the company’s credit rating.

Under his leadership, Weaver said, Caterpillar’s pensions increased from 72% funded up to 92% funded. He said he hopes to do the same to the state’s pension if elected.

“We have to get our arms around that so that we're funding pensions appropriately, and not taking the problem, not kicking the can to our kids,” Weaver said.

This could be one thing that Weaver and Luft agree on. Luft did not vote to approve the Democratic supermajority’s budget last year, and he says he plans to vote no again this year.

“It is not a balanced budget. The monies are not appropriated to the right places, and we have millions and millions of dollars going to places where it serves no purpose,” Luft said.

Luft recently voted against a bill to pay down part of the state’s unemployment insurance debt and allocate some money to pensions, the College Illinois program, and health insurance bills. Republicans say they believe that the bill does not do enough to pay back Illinois’ debts.

Their supporters

The two largest donors to Weaver’s campaign thus far have been his father, Sen. Chuck Weaver, and current Peoria senator Win Stoller. Stoller was elected to take over Sen. Weaver’s seat in 2020.

“I'm proud to have their support behind me, but I just think it's important to note that it's not like I just have these two people that support me. There's a really broad interest across Central Illinois,” said Weaver.

Luft’s campaign has faced scrutiny in recent weeks related to a close political and business ally, Aaron Rossi, who runs Pekin-based Reditus Labs. Luft’s campaign received a $12,000 donation from Reditus the day after Rossi was indicted for alleged tax fraud. Rossi has previously donated to Luft, and Luft’s wife works for another of Rossi’s businesses.

“Our treasurers and our campaign team take those donations. When I was made aware of it, we instantly decided that donation is not going to be accepted under the terms that have come out,” said Luft of Rossi’s contribution.

The Reditus contribution to Luft's campaign was reported as received March 16, records show. State election officials say confirmation that the contribution was returned will be available in Luft’s quarterly campaign report, which is expected within the next week.

Weaver’s campaign has also faced scrutiny. A complaint was filed with the State Board of Elections, alleging that the address on Weaver’s campaign filing, which Weaver states he began renting in January, belongs to a wedding venue and therefore it is not Weaver’s home. The complaint also alleges that Weaver lived in Chicago for the past several years.

Weaver denied this claim and said it is a ploy by Luft’s campaign.

“I think it's part of my opponent's strategy to distract from the facts, which I get. Because the more we talk about the facts, the more the race tends towards my favor,” said Weaver.

The complaint was submitted by a citizen of Pekin who has seemingly no connection to Luft or his campaign.

These complaints, if found to have standing by the Board of Elections, would render Weaver ineligible to run for the General Assembly and remove his name from the ballot.

If he remains on the ballot, Weaver would face Luft in the GOP primary on June 28.

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Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.