- Bobby Sims
As we prepare for Thanksgiving, I’d like to suggest something to spice up your feast: the Illinois Racing Form.
OK, you’re not actually going to baste your turkeys with an online publication dedicated to Illinois politics.
But it could add a little oomph to your dinner-time conversation and teach you a thing or two about politics in our increasing schizophrenic state.
The folks at the online political news service Aldertrack have come up with an exhaustive guide to the upcoming state legislative races just as filing begins this week for the March 15 primaries. I got a sneak peek courtesy of Aldertrack publishers Mike Fourcher and Jimm Dispensa. Thanks, fellers.
The Racing Form has maps of the state’s 59 senate and 118 house districts. It breaks the populations of those districts down by race, ethnicity, income, and age, and by how the districts voted in the 2014 gubernatorial and state’s attorney general races.
But before I dive in, let me remind you what’s at stake for our state in this upcoming election.
If you recall—even though I know you’d probably rather not—Governor Bruce Rauner was elected in 2014, vowing to liberate our economy by obliterating unions’ collective bargaining rights.
Apparently, the best way to free people is to impoverish them. Feel free to use that line with your grumpy old Republican Uncle Harry during Thanksgiving.
For the most part, Rauner’s been deterred by two Chicago Democrats: house speaker Michael Madigan and senate president John Cullerton.
Rauner doesn’t have enough votes to pass a budget, so hasn’t really tried.
Meanwhile, the Democrats don’t have enough votes to override a Rauner veto—at least, not without leaving members from swing districts vulnerable to Rauner-financed political challengers.
So we’ve gone almost a year without passing a budget, as the state slowly runs out of money to pay its bills and social service programs get slashed.
Next year’s elections could tip the balance in the statehouse one way or the other.
At the moment, it’s unclear how this mess is playing in Peoria, so to speak. A recent poll by Americans for Prosperity of Illinois reports that 35 percent of Illinois voters blame state legislators for the impasse and 25 percent blame Rauner.
However, the Illinois AFP “is a subset of the larger group founded by the conservative and incredibly wealthy Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity,” as Politico’s Natasha Korecki recently put it.
In short, the group’s poll may be as unbiased as the one I took that shows that 100 percent of the guys on my bowling team think Rauner’s “a plutocrat with nine homes and a heart the size of a gumball.”
Actually, that’s a great line from a recent Neil Steinberg column in the Sun-Times. Feel free to try it on Uncle Harry, as well.
But back to the Racing Form. As far as I know, this is only place to find district-by-district gubernatorial results—you can be sure that operatives for Madigan, Cullerton, and Rauner have been studying these for months.
This is valuable information for pols and political junkies alike because it helps us to see which incumbents are most vulnerable in next November’s general election.
For instance, a house Democrat named Martin Moylan represents the 55th District in Des Plaines. And Democrat Lisa Madigan—the speaker’s daughter—won 61 percent of the vote in her 2014 race out in that district.
But Rauner won roughly 57 percent of the vote in that district over former governor Patrick Quinn.
So that means 55th house voters are either open-minded or schizophrenic. One way or the other, you can be damn sure Rauner will finance a campaign against Moylan that tries to turn this middle-of-the-road Democrat into the second coming of Che Guevara.
It’s hard to find districts where Republicans are particularly vulnerable, largely because the legislative maps were drawn by Democrats. Like every good group of gerrymandering lawmakers, they tried to maximize their strength by squeezing as many Republicans into as few districts as possible.
However, I did note that Lisa Madigan also won nearly 50 percent of the vote in the southwest 82nd District, which runs through Cook, DuPage, and Will Counties.
The 82nd is represented by Republican Jim Durkin, Rauner’s house floor leader. Maybe Speaker Madigan should talk Lisa into moving to Willow Springs to give Durkin a run for his money.
At the moment only one legislator has broken ranks from either party. That’s Chicago’s very own Ken Dunkin, of the Fifth District. Dunkin told Madigan to take a hike on a couple of recent bills, including one that would have fully restored Rauner’s cuts in child care funding while preventing the governor from making future cuts.
I’m pretty sure old Uncle Harry would have a nice word or two to say about Representative Dunkin.
Dunkin’s machinations set off a rip-roaring debate between myself and Kobe, an old friend who’s a political consultant and big fan of Dunkin.
I suggested that Dunkin go full monty and join the Republican Party.
There’s precedence. For instance, many southern Republicans bolted from the Democratic Party after President Johnson’s civil rights legislation.
If he switches parties, Dunkin could be a GOP superstar, showered with money by the likes of the Koch brothers and maybe even featured at this summer’s Republican convention.
Are you out of your mind? Kobe responded. There’s no way Dunkin would never get elected in the Fifth District as a Republican.
Well, let’s at look at the numbers, courtesy of Aldertrack. The Fifth District, which runs like a hockey stick from the Gold Coast to South Shore, is about 56 percent black, 30 percent white, 7.5 Asian-American, and 4 percent Hispanic. The median income is $48,000.
So if Dunkin gets the white vote, the Hispanic vote, and the Asian vote, and if many of the black voters stay home, he could elected as a Republican.
On the other hand, Quinn, as unpopular as he was, won 80 percent of the vote in the Fifth. So that’s asking for quite a few voters to stay at home. Guess Kobe’s right—at least this time.
Anyway, you can order the Racing Form on Aldertrack’s website.
Enjoy your turkeys, everybody. v