Far be it for me to give advice to the Republican Party, whose candidates I’ve not voted for since my disco-dancing days back in the late 70s.
But Republicans, if you want to win an election or two in Illinois, you might want to find a new bogeyman with whom to scare voters.
‘Cause clearly this whole Michael Madigan thing isn’t working out.
I mean, over the last few years Governor Rauner spent tens of millions of dollars on commercials, ads, and mailings depicting Madigan as an evil Svengali leading Illinois to ruin. And what does he have to show for it?
Not only did the Democrats sweep every statewide race, from governor to treasurer, by landslide-like margins, they bounced Peter Roskam and Randy Hultgren, two Trump rubber-stampers, from their congressional seats. And they picked up seats in the state senate and state house—so Speaker Madigan will have even more power than he had before the election.
Even more important, grassroots Democratic activists outmaneuvered and outhustled Republicans in county and legislative districts throughout the metropolitan area.
In the end, thousands of voters switched to the Democrats, and as long as President Trump heads the Republican Party, my guess is that they’re not switching back.
So, yes, clearly, Rauner and his Republican pals overplayed the anti-Madigan card. Either voters didn’t believe the anti-Madigan message Rauner was pushing, or they despised Trump (and Rauner) so much they didn’t care.
Want some examples? Consider the case of state rep Peter Breen in the 48th district in DuPage County.
For the last few years, Breen—along with Jeanne Ives—has been a leader in the fight against reproductive rights. He introduced a bill intended to snatch away abortion rights almost as soon as Rauner signed HB 40.
Breen was also a particularly obnoxious voice in the ugly house debate last spring in which Republicans likened voting rights for pretrial detainees to coddling criminals.
On Election Day, Terra Costa Howard, a prochoice Democrat in DuPage County, defeated Breen with 25,483 votes to Breen’s 22,724. That’s 25,438 more votes than Breen’s Democratic opponent got in 2014—because Breen had no Democratic challenger in 2014.
That’s right, the Dems in DuPage were so disorganized and unfocused/alienated/apathetic (pick your word) that they couldn’t even get it together to challenge one of the most vociferously antichoice Republicans in the house.
So much for Madigan’s Svengali-like power over Illinois.
Want more proof? Consider the case of the 81st house district out in Downers Grove—once home district to state rep Ron Sandack, one of Rauner’s top floor leaders. In 2016, Sandack stepped down after he got caught in a cybersex scandal.
Last Tuesday, Sandack’s replacement, David Olsen, was defeated by Democratic challenger Anne Stava-Murray, who picked up 23,825 votes. That’s 8,000 or so more votes than Elizabeth Chaplin got in 2014 when she ran against Sandack in his glorious pre-cybersex days.
The Democratic turnout spike wasn’t limited to the burbs. J.B. Pritzker picked up more than 706,000 votes in Chicago—roughly 200,000 more than former governor Patrick Quinn got when he lost to Rauner in 2014.
I could go on and on with more examples. The point is that Democrats in Illinois have more momentum going their way than at any point in my lifetime—and that’s a long freaking time.
So, Democrats, allow me to give you some friendly advice as to what to do with it. Don’t quit! Keep up the pressure—nationally, statewide, and locally.
On the national level, use the momentum to go after Trump in 2020. I know, Illinois will probably vote blue no matter who the Democrats nominate as their candidate. But part of the reason Lauren Underwood and Sean Casten defeated the aforementioned Hultgren and Roskam in the 14th and Sixth congressional districts is that Chicago Democrats poured out to the burbs to help the cause. (Take a bow, Mike Lenehan, Marj Halperin, and all you other Chicago resisters.)
Here’s hoping that Democratic volunteers from everywhere in Illinois spill into Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana come 2020.
Statewide, don’t let Pritzker, Madigan, and senate president John Cullerton off the hook.
Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three campaign promises that progressives should convince the big three to follow up on: legalizing marijuana, bringing an elected school board to Chicago, and establishing a progressive income tax, so our schools aren’t as dependent on regressive taxes like the property tax.
Finally, as for Chicago, let’s use some of this progressive momentum to keep Mayor Rahm from exercising his inner Republican as he heads out the door.
Yes, while you were distracted by the midterms, Rahm quietly unveiled proposals to spend upward of $1.7 billion in property taxes on upscale developments in several fast-gentrifying downtown, near-north, and south-side communities.
The money comes out of the good old TIF program—in particular, the mayor’s finally gearing up to launch the Cortland/Chicago River TIF project—which is intended to eradicate blight in low-income neighborhoods.
I’ll be writing about this in greater detail in the next few weeks, but for the moment let me remind you that it’s more trickle-down Republican economics. And Chicago shouldn’t put up with that in the age of the resistance.
So, c’mon, Chicago Democrats, don’t be wimpy—make like your suburban counterparts and wake the hell up. v