EAST MOLINE — In the blue district of Rock Island County, Drue Mielke is a fresh face in the Republican party.
Elected central committee chairman of the Rock Island County Republican party in April, Mielke is well known to many residents as a former Coal Valley village trustee and as a current Rock Island County board member.
“What I’m trying to do is make sure we are showing our message, telling our message,” Mielke said. “The Republicans embrace all communities and can offer prosperity for everyone. We haven’t changed. Outreach is part of our key focus.”
In a meeting with editorial board members Tuesday, Mielke said part of that outreach includes marching in local LGBTQ Pride parades and spending time with members of Democrat-dominated communities. Mielke himself is a member of the NAACP, LULAC, and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
As committee chairman, part of Mielke’s responsibility is to recruit candidates for the party.
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“Where can I best serve? If you have two good parties with good leadership on both sides, it’s a win-win,” he said. “Then you’re going to have good candidates.”
A lifelong Rock Island County resident, Mielke, 54, graduated from Moline High School in 1982. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business management from Western Illinois University through Black Hawk College. He is employed as a sales representative for Davenport-based shipping company Trinity Logistics.
Mielke has no problem voting against the party line if it means voting according to his district, he said.
“I am conservative in my beliefs,” he said. “There is a difference between personal views and what’s right for a group of people. I don’t believe in restricting rights.
“I love Democrats. A lot of them can be future Republicans. I think their party is abandoning them. You’re seeing a lot of extremist views that I don’t think set well with a lot of Democrats in our community. We may be a blue county, but we’re a conservative blue county.
Rock Island County Democrats received a boost when Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker donated $1 million to the party in May.
Mielke said he tells county Republican candidates not to let that discourage them.
“I tell them, the posters don’t vote,” Mielke said. “The way to win elections is good policy — what are you running on? And knock on every door. That’s what I did. But I’m surprised in this country by how few people vote; it’s amazing.”
Mielke is supportive of most Republican candidates running in the November election, including 17th Congressional district candidate Bill Fawell, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline.
“We support Fawell,” Mielke said. “I know he’s a Constitutionalist. In talking to him, I’ve heard him focusing on the issues of our district. There are a lot of things Bill Fawell could do for our district Cheri Bustos is choosing not to.”
Under Mielke’s leadership, county Republicans withdrew their support from State rep. candidate Glenn Evans, who is running against incumbent state Rep. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island.
A public records search of Evans turned up several orders of protection against him, in addition to an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Indiana when he skipped a court date after violating an order of protection.
Evans refused to drop out after Mielke, on behalf of Rock Island County Republicans, sent a letter asking him to leave the race.
“One of the duties of a chairman for the party is to get good candidates,” Mielke said. “I believe (Evans) has changed his life. I appointed him a precinct committeeman. He’s never been asked to leave the party; we just are not supporting his campaign.”
A resident of Coal Valley, Mielke was first elected to the Coal Valley village board in 2007. He served until 2012, when he was elected to the county board, winning by a slim 13 votes.
“I decided I’d better get the courage up and do the hard work,” Mielke said about taking the leap from village to county board. “It’s better to try and not win than regret it the rest of your life. And I would regret it the rest of my life for not having the courage or fortitude to run.”
As a county board member, Mielke is dealing with such hot-button issues as the possible demolition of the historic courthouse and Hope Creek Care Center, the county-owned nursing home that is $4.1 million in debt.
Mielke said he believed the county board would vote to deed the courthouse over to the Public Building Commission for demolition.
“I don’t think anyone wants to demolish the courthouse,” he said. “We don’t want to raise taxes. I think the die was cast 30 years ago with boards prior that wanted to make (the courthouse) go away and get a new building. Never was it my intention to tear down the courthouse or replace it.”
Mielke says the same issues that make the courthouse a hazard, such as asbestos, exist in the county office building, too.
“Financial reasons will be the real reason why the courthouse will go away. We aren’t going to burden the taxpayers at this juncture, it’s too far gone. Repairs should have been done incrementally over the years.”
Mielke said if taxes were raised in the county, the amount of revenue would go down. Residents will move, fewer taxes will be collected and property values will decrease.
As a fiscally-conservative leader, Mielke says he puts the well-being of the county first. Having like-minded candidates with similar values can help increase the number of Republican county board members, he said.
“I do want to project the true image of the Republican party. The best way we can do that is to continue to run good candidates,” Mielke said.
“We are business-friendly — that means we are job-friendly. Republicans are always looking at ways to make sure taxes aren’t raised in this border county. Illinois has a spending issue; we don’t have a tax issue.”
"I love Democrats. A lot of them can be future Republicans," Drue Mielke, Rock Island County Republican committee chairman said.