In their first general election following the departure of indicted ex-Speaker Michael Madigan, Illinois House and Senate Democrats sought Tuesday to hang onto their supermajorities, but Republicans entered the night looking to pick up seats.
The post-Madigan election represented a major test of the political skills of rookie House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, and Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, because they led the once-a-decade overhaul of legislative district boundaries following the federal census and worked to hold or build on their lopsided numbers in both chambers.
Early unofficial returns had yet to be tallied, and officials cautioned that mail-in ballots that have not arrived could have an impact in some of the tightest races.
Republicans recognized it would take a near-biblical turnout for them to win the majority in either legislative chamber, but GOP leaders in the House and Senate both held out hope that they could break the Democratic supermajorities that have allowed one party to dominate major votes on important issues for years.
“We’re competitive in more places than we have been in a long time,” said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs.
A handful of races — predominantly in the Chicago suburbs, where Democrats over the past decade have claimed territory in longtime GOP strongholds — remained key battlegrounds in determining the final outcome in a divided state and country.
Long the undisputed master of redistricting, Madigan left Springfield last year shortly after his own House Democrats refused to give him another term as speaker in light of a growing bribery and conspiracy scandal that eventually led to two rounds of federal indictments, one tied to ComEd in March and one tied to AT&T in October.
Madigan, who served a nationwide record 36 years as speaker, resigned within weeks of being dethroned and more than a year before his first indictment. The Chicago Democrat has pleaded not guilty.
Madigan bequeathed Welch a 73-45 Democratic majority in the House. Harmon went into Tuesday night with an extraordinary 41-18 edge over Republicans.
Like Madigan before them, the Democratic legislative leaders stuck with the political practice of tilting the political makeup of the legislative districts to keep their party in charge on both sides of the Capitol rotunda.
They passed highly partisan maps that Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker happily signed over protests from GOP critics who accused him of breaking a campaign promise to ensure more fairness in the reapportionment of voters.
Heading into Tuesday, the greatest pressure was on Welch to prove he could uphold the Madigan mystique and to ensure House Democrats held at least 71 of 118 seats, the minimum number needed to control a three-fifths, supermajority vote.
While most bills require only a simple majority for passage, the three-fifths votes come into play on major borrowing bills, overrides of a governor’s vetoes or attempts to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot for voters.
Durkin called it important for his House Republicans to win three more seats to break the Democratic supermajority they now face if, for example, Pritzker renewed his attempt to win voter approval of a constitutional amendment that would increase income taxes on Illinoisans earning the biggest paychecks — such as the proposal the governor pushed and lost in 2020.
Two years ago, the last election under a Madigan-drawn map, the House GOP picked up one seat, knocking House Democrats from a modern-era record majority of 74-44. And that was a year in which Republicans feared losses because they expected Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential run to carry his party’s legislative candidates on his coattails.
But Durkin said he detected a swing toward Republicans among independents worried about the economy and public safety. Welch declined through a spokesperson to give a preelection comment.
Voter anger fueled by crime issues and the inflationary high prices for gasoline, groceries and mortgage rates lifted Republican chances of making headway in Springfield if ballots are cast in a throw-the-bums-out rage.
But Democrats looked to pro-abortion rights voters to provide a political counterweight to help their party in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion case.
In the rare June primary, the volatility in the electorate demonstrated an “anti-establishment” attitude that culminated in some incumbents from both parties losing.
“If our voters get to the polls, we win,” said Tom Bowen, the campaign spokesperson for Senate Democrats.
Senate Republicans needed to gain six seats to deny Senate Democrats the minimum supermajority of 36 lawmakers needed for a three-fifths vote in the upper chamber.
And while that is a tall order given how Democrats have held sway in Springfield for years, Senate Republicans spotted optimistic signs in the national electorate that they also see beginning to get traction in Illinois.
“Over the course of the campaign, candidates have spoken to thousands of voters … who say Illinoisans across the political spectrum have expressed why they are ready for a change,” said Ellie Leonard, campaign spokesperson for Senate Republicans.
Even so, many candidates walked through the election without a worry. Only 78 of 118 House seats contained more than one candidate. In the Senate, only 25 of 59 seats were contested, a product of decades of legislative redistricting maneuvers that let lawmakers pick their constituents rather than the other way around.
In one race, a federal indictment did not cause one incumbent Democrat to sweat his reelection.
Nobody ran against Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, clearing the path for the son of former Senate President Emil Jones Jr. to win a new term.
Jones III was indicted in September for allegedly taking a $5,000 bribe from a red-light camera company to kill legislation requiring traffic studies of the systems and lying to federal agents about his actions. He has pleaded not guilty.
A string of negative headlines also raised the profile of another incumbent Democrat, Sen. Michael Hastings of Frankfort. Hastings faced accusations that he acted inappropriately toward women.
Hastings’ ex-wife accused him of domestic abuse while they were married, but he has not been charged with a crime.
In a separate matter, records showed the state paid nearly $150,000 to settle and cover costs of a 2019 lawsuit brought by Hastings’ former female chief of staff, who alleged retaliation as well as race and gender discrimination.
Hastings was seeking to hold off Republican challenger Patrick Sheehan of Lockport, but the Democratic incumbent also needed to overcome criticism from his own party.
Despite being a fellow Democrat, Pritzker took the unusual step of asking both Jones and Hastings to resign once their troubles became public. Neither did.
Also reelected without opposition was Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, who was approached in the spring by FBI agents investigating potential influence peddling involving a police body-camera manufacturer. Sims’ attorney has said the senator, who spearheaded the massive criminal justice reform package passed a year ago, has done nothing wrong.
Senate Democrats also played defense in a race involving incumbents with Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton of Western Springs.
She is running against former Republican Rep. Dennis Reboletti of Elmhurst, the Addison Township supervisor and former member of the House who served four terms beginning in 2007 before making a failed bid for the Senate in 2014.
In hard-fought House races, two-term Democratic Rep. Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville is facing Republican Paul Leong, a Naperville City Council member.
Freshman Democratic Rep. Janet Yang Rohr of Naperville is running against Republican challenger Rich Janor, a Naperville Park District commissioner, business owner and high school baseball coach.
In the south suburbs, Democratic Rep. Thaddeus Jones of Calumet City — whom the Tribune has reported as being under federal investigation — is up against Republican Rep. Jeffery Coleman of Dolton.
On offense, House Democrats took aim at four-term Rep. Keith Wheeler of Oswego, an assistant GOP leader with a chance of a quick political rise if he wins. He faced Democratic challenger Matt Hanson, a former Kane County Board member from Aurora.
One of several downstate battles pits two General Assembly members from Springfield against each other.
The contest pits appointed incumbent Democratic Sen. Doris Turner of Springfield, where she once served on the City Council, and her challenger, appointed Republican Rep. Sandy Hamilton, a Springfield real estate agent.
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November 8, 2022 at 07:48PM