Politicians hold secret meetings to select replacements for state legislators who leave office. No outsiders supervise the proceedings. It is not open to the public. That’s the law in Illinois.
I’ve known about that process for years, but the lack of oversight really hit home after state Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, recently resigned.
On Jan. 5, a meeting of Democratic committeemen from her legislative district, the 27th, was allegedly held to name a replacement. That would include committeemen from the 9th, 19th, 21st and 34th wards in Chicago and Calumet, Orland, Bremen and Worth townships in the suburbs, as far as I can tell.
But election law attorney Burton Odelson told me he was contacted by 9th Ward Ald. Anthony Beale, who is also the ward’s Democratic committeeman, who was angry because he didn’t receive an invite to the meeting at which Davis’ replacement was selected.
State Rep. Robert Rita, D-Blue Island, who serves as Calumet Township committeeman, told me he doesn’t recall receiving an invitation.
Orland Township Democratic committeeman Mike Carroll said he received an invitation via fax from 21st Ward Ald. Howard Brookins, who is also the ward’s Democratic committeeman, a day before the meeting asking for his proxy to select a replacement for state representative.
Carroll noted that Orland Township represents only a small portion of the 27th state House district so he didn’t see any need to attend the meeting, especially given the short notice, and gave Brookins his proxy.
Matt O’Shea, alderman and committeeman for the 19th Ward, said he also gave Brookins his proxy and noted that his vote would only have represented about 5 percent of the total weighted vote cast for Davis’ replacement.
Not all committeemen’s votes are equal. Their votes are weighted (calculated by the Illinois Board of Elections) based on the number of voters who cast ballots in their ward or township during the party’s primary election.
In the 27th House District, that meant Brookins and 34th Ward Ald. Carrie Austin, who is also a Democratic committeeman, could pretty much determine who the new state representative was going to be.
There is no public election on the replacement for Davis, who was just elected to a two-year term in November. She ran unopposed.
According to several reports, her replacement by weighted vote of the committeemen is Justin Slaughter, 36, who has held a number of political jobs in Cook County government.
Democratic Party election attorney Michael Kasper said all of the committeemen in the 27th District were notified of the meeting to select Davis’ replacement via fax, using fax numbers on the Democratic Party’s public website. Whether those fax numbers are current and operating, Kasper pointed out, he couldn’t say.
I asked Kasper who oversees the process, explaining that my concern was how the public would know that the meeting was held, that the voting process was done correctly and that the final result was a true reflection of the weighted votes cast.
Kasper said he oversaw the process as the Democrat Party’s attorney and that the results are filed with the Illinois Board of Elections, Illinois Secretary of State, and clerk of the House or Senate secretary.
He admitted he didn’t know if that paperwork actually included the final weighted vote tally.
A spokesman for the state election board said his organization has no oversight authority over the election process. They do not monitor the meetings of Democratic or Republican committeemen.
Kasper noted that the meetings are like those of “a private club,” not open to the public or subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The political parties are private organizations, like the Elks, even though in this case committeemen are picking our state legislators.
Kasper noted that anyone can challenge the result by filing a lawsuit.
There ought to be a public process for picking replacements in cases like this one. In Illinois, however, it seems almost silly to have such lofty expectations.
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