The next showdown: vote on Democratic party chair; Pritzker donated to Kelly potential rivals
Rep. Robin Kelly, the Democratic Party of Illinois chair, is up for reelection as party chief this summer.
Perhaps the most obscure races on Tuesday’s Democratic primary ballot were the contests to be a member of the Democratic Party of Illinois state central committee. This year, some of these elections were a proxy battle between Gov. J.B. Pritzker, at odds with Sen. Dick Durbin and the DPI chair, Rep. Robin Kelly, over the leadership of the party — that is, keeping Kelly as chair when she faces reelection later this summer.
In my analysis, this is a spat the Democratic family in Illinois does not need.
On March 2, 2021, after the scandalized and now-indicted former state House Speaker Michael Madigan was forced to step down, Kelly was elected the new chair to fill the remainder of his term, which expires this summer.
Kelly, backed by Durbin, beat Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), supported by Pritzker and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., 51.7% to 48.3%.
Pritzker’s push to replace Kelly — it’s hard to see his moves as anything but that — is coming as Illinois Democrats are pitching the Democratic National Committee on two fronts: to let the city host the 2024 presidential convention and to allow Illinois to become a presidential primary player by becoming one of the first four or five states to hold a 2024 primary vote.
Here’s how this works: Under Democratic party rules, on Tuesday each of the 17 congressional districts in Illinois elected one committeewoman and one committeeman to the state central committee.
That pool of 34 people will elect the next party chair from their ranks sometime this summer. Kelly ran unopposed in her 2nd Congressional District committeewoman race.
The rules state that the party chair — that is, Kelly — must call an election within 41 days of the primary. Kelly can’t set the election right away. That’s because party rules require what is called a “weighted” vote. The clout of each member of the state central committee is based on how many voters pulled a Democratic ballot on Tuesday in each district. That will take time to calculate.
Pritzker’s campaign fund donated a total of $350,000 to seven people running for the committee posts, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records — with six of them getting $55,000 contributed to their political committees.
Durbin’s Prairie Political Action Committee and Kelly’s congressional campaign committee contributed a combined total of $63,500 to 13 people running for the party positions. Donations ranged from $2,500 to $7,000.
As I’m writing this, I don’t know the outcomes of these contests, so it’s hard to handicap what will happen.
In the 10th Congressional District, Lauren Beth Gash was running spots on cable television for her state central committee bid. Voters in this north suburban district also got direct mail from Gash and her main rival, Melinda Bush.
Here’s a simple way to explain what’s going on here: Bush got $55,000 from Pritzker’s political fund. Gash, a Kelly backer, got $5,000 from Durbin.
Despite the situation, Pritkzer, Durbin and Kelly are working together. Pritzker in the past weeks gave $1.5 million to the DPI.
There is a lot at stake here. This is not the time for DNC decision-makers to be dealing with the potential ouster of a DPI chair — especially one well known and liked in Washington.