SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Democrats looked to both the past and the future as rallying points on their day at the Illinois State Fair Wednesday, castigating former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s one-term stewardship of the state and warning that the party’s candidate for governor in November, Darren Bailey, would be even worse.
In highly-charged, partisan language, Democratic leaders accused Republicans of sowing division by promulgating views many consider extreme.
“In America, in the face of what the Supreme Court and the radical right wing are trying to do to the fundamental rights of every American, we, the coalition of the sane, owe something better to our children and our grandchildren. We need to win and we need to keep our promises to the people who elected us,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at the annual Democratic county chair association brunch.
Pritzker defeated Rauner in 2018 and is facing a reelection challenge from Bailey, a downstate farmer and state senator endorsed by former President Donald Trump. He is now solidly in charge of a state party that is trying to move past internal divisions that were revealed in the election last month of his candidate, state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez of Cicero to be the new state party chair.
Pritzker said he believed in working with “people with different viewpoints to build a better, less rancorous political climate. We owe that to our children and our grandchildren.”
But on a day traditionally reserved for unbridled partisanship, he and other leading Democrats speaking at the brunch exuberantly assailed Republicans, who have their State Fair rally Thursday.
“The lunatic fringe has taken over their party and they’ll say anything, do anything, destroy anything to get elected,” Pritzker said. “You see, the Donald Trumps and the Darren Baileys of this world want us to feel alone in the struggles that we’re all facing together. They want to distract us into believing that marriage equality, Black history, Disney World, and library books are more of a threat to our children than AR-15s. They’re attempting to divide America with hateful words and a radical agenda.”
Targets for Democrats included Rauner’s tumultuous term as governor, marked by a historic two-year budget stalemate; Bailey’s controversial statements, including his contention that the Holocaust pales in comparison to lives lost through abortion; and Trump’s continued hold over the GOP.
Democrats head into the Nov. 8 general election holding all statewide offices, supermajorities in the legislature, both U.S. Senate seats, a majority of congressional seats and control of the Illinois Supreme Court.
Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who defeated Rauner’s appointed comptroller Leslie Munger in a 2016 special election, cast the former GOP governor as “the worst governor ever” and a “virus” worse than COVID-19 in his effect on state finances.
She said while he was in office — “metaphorically speaking” — she would “kick him in the groin with much joy and pleasure.”
Mendoza is being challenged in November by Republican Shannon Teresi, the McHenry County auditor.
Bailey’s opposition to abortion except in cases where the life of the mother is in jeopardy, and his comments that citizens should “move on” and “celebrate” while the July 4 Highland Park mass shooter was still at large, were also frequent points of attack.
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton called Bailey a “Trump-endorsed MAGA extremist” who would “do everything in his power to try to turn back the clock on our progress.”
The attacks on Republicans overshadowed lingering internal strife among Democrats over the choice of Hernandez as chair of the state party. Hernandez ousted U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of Matteson who held the post since March of last year following the resignation of scandal-plagued former House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Kelly loyalists complained that consolidating the Democratic Party organization under Pritzker’s candidate returned the party apparatus to the one-man autonomy that existed under Madigan’s lengthy tenure. Pritzker forces said the party was hindered by Kelly’s role as a federal officeholder, which sharply restricted her fundraising ability.
Hernandez on Wednesday sought to portray a message of unity and outreach.
“We Democrats must make sure that our party is truly representative of our great state and our diverse constituencies. We Democrats must connect with voters too often left out and left unspoken to,” she said. “Together, we can do this by raising the resources necessary to launch Spanish-language ads and new digital ad strategies targeting Black and brown communities.”
Pritzker, a billionaire businessman and an heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, sought to move past the party squabble. Forgoing the tradition of speeches on the director’s lawn of the state fairgrounds, the governor organized a “unity” concert featuring country artist Chris Young, who performed in a specially constructed temporary concert pavilion on the director’s lawn.
Amid all the partisan rhetoric, one constant theme was Trump’s continued influence over Republican politics in a state that he twice lost by 17 percentage points.
Former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, seeking to replace retiring Secretary of State Jesse White, called those backing Trump’s leadership and their view of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol “crazy as hell.”
“The Republican Party that Lincoln found is gone and it’s replaced by candidates up and down the ballot who want to tear this country apart and undermine everything that is fundamental to democracy that President Lincoln lived and died to defend,” Giannoulias, who is facing Republican Rep. Dan Brady in the general election, said at the morning brunch. “My fear is if these individuals get elected, we’re going to see Jan. 6 on a weekly basis.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 ranking Democrat, said Trump’s baseless claims that his 2020 reelection was stolen due to massive vote fraud must come to an end.
“It’s time to let everybody know the big lie is a lie. It’s time to let everybody know that ‘stop the steal’ needs to stop,” Durbin said at the brunch.
“It’s time for us to realize that our party has a message that is positive, looks to the future, brings hope to people. It is time for us to realize that when it comes to our future, we need to make sure we don’t have a party of anger, fear, hate and violence,” he said. “Our party is a party of hope, determination, fairness and respect for the law and constitution.”
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August 17, 2022 at 05:27PM