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Brown: Dem voters tell Rauner to butt out

State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D, IL-5) greets potential voters on Election Day at Ms. Biscuit on the South Side, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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Election workers in yellow T-shirts swarmed polling places Tuesday in Illinois’ 5th House District, each shirt carrying the message: “Vote against sellout Ken Dunkin.”

A few miles to the west in the 22nd District, a sea of yard signs near Midway Airport carried a similarly brutal directive: “Vote NO on convicted felon Jason Gonzalez.”

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, the 22nd District incumbent and the ultimate architect of both Democratic campaigns, took nothing for granted Tuesday in protecting himself against efforts by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and his monied friends to either displace or weaken him.

Backed by a huge outpouring of union support, the scorched-earth tactics produced the desired message-sending results.

With 98 percent of precincts counted, Madigan was crushing Gonzales 65 to 27 percent, while Madigan-backed Juliana Stratton piled up a similar 68 to 32 percent margin over Dunkin.

In a potentially bigger setback for Rauner, the governor was losing in his effort to oust Sen. Sam McCann, a Macoupin County Republican who defied him by voting with Democrats on a key bill limiting the governor’s power in bargaining with state workers.

Now that the heavyweights have had their fun and the voters have had their say, maybe we could get back to the business of making Illinois functional again.

OPINION

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I’m not even asking for somebody to make Illinois great again. That would be asking too much.

Just functional — with a government that pays its bills, provides important services, makes the tough decisions about how to provide sufficient revenue and where to cut spending.

We might start by enacting a state budget that would keep our public universities from going belly up. Keeping the doors open at Chicago Public Schools would be nice, too.

For months now, state government has essentially been put on hold while waiting for the outcome of Tuesday’s voting.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why.

Did Rauner and his pals really think they could oust Madigan from his state representative seat, or could they just not resist the temptation of playing in the Democrats’ sandbox?

Did Madigan really need to prove he could swat down Dunkin for playing footsie with Rauner before working out his own deal with the Republican governor?

Tuesday’s results won’t cause either man to see any reason to capitulate, yet they must find a way to get past their differences.

This fight can’t continue through November for the next round of voting. Too many people are getting hurt, most of them vulnerable people who rely on the state services that are collapsing.

“We’re fighting for our lives against Gov. Rauner,” said Ebonee Stevenson, 34, one of the yellow shirts working against Dunkin on behalf of Juliana Stratton.

Stevenson, a home care worker and a member of the Service Employees Internation Union, said she and her mother worked for Dunkin in his first campaign. But she said they abandoned him over his alliance with Rauner.

“Rauner is cutting everything. Seniors are losing their home care services every day,” she said outside the Paul G. Stewart Center at 41st and King Drive.

I’ve backed Madigan’s play to this point in his showdown with Rauner, because he’s on the right side of the issues that are important to me. But I don’t see much evidence either man is particularly concerned about the damage left in his wake.

When the smoke clears in November, Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton are still expected to control majorities in their chambers, maybe not the supermajorities they have now but enough to maintain their positions.

Democrats aren’t conceding anything.

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