After nearly four years of being vilified by the governor from one end of the state to the other, Mike Madigan appears to have gotten more powerful.
With some votes still being tallied, the Illinois House speaker is poised to reclaim his supermajority, looking to a potential gain of nine seats. And the Illinois Senate picked up a Democratic seat as Democrats throughout Illinois came out in full force on election night.
It was a bad, bad night for Republicans in the Legislature, a stark contrast to the surge of money and force shown two years ago when Republicans picked up four House seats, robbing Madigan of the veto-proof majority he then held and appeared to regain on Tuesday.
The momentum pushed by a strong Democratic statewide ticket certainly didn’t help the GOP this time around.
Riding an anti-President Donald Trump sentiment in the suburbs, Democrats won big.
And the Madigan-led Democratic Party of Illinois on Wednesday said the results “proved that the Rauner Republican playbook of attempting to make the entire 2018 election a referendum on Speaker Madigan, to distract from Republicans’ record, is a failure.” The party, too, released examples of negative Madigan mailers. In one, the speaker is a puppet master. Another ad insinuates that Madigan will “take it [your home] from you.”
Prior to Tuesday, Democrats had 67 seats and Republicans had 51 seats in the Illinois House. With votes still being tallied in some races, it appeared the Illinois House Republicans are poised to number just 42 members, with Democrats at 76. It could take a week, however, to finalize counts in close races.
House Republicans had hoped Gov. Bruce Rauner would help fund an early voting program, including mail ballots, but he never came through. In 2016, Rauner helped to fund a comprehensive early voting effort. Rauner’s campaign in 2016 gave the Illinois Republican Party about $21 million, with the GOP spending more than $14 million to help fund House Republicans. Rauner also gave Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin $9 million. This year, Rauner transferred about $15 million towards candidates and campaign funds with $6 million going to the House Republican Organization.
But the governor never let up on his war of words against Madigan, describing the Southwest Side Democrat as everything that was wrong with Illinois politics. Rauner ran a series of TV ads blasting his nemesis, some hitting the airwaves long before the traditional campaign season. The onslaught culminated in a controversial ad lampooning the relationship between the speaker and Democrat J.B. Pritzker as a same-sex marriage, or “unholy union” as the spot dubbed it.
If the attacks weakened Madigan, it wasn’t apparent on Tuesday. Madigan’s Democrats, in turn, tried to use anti-Trump sentiments to their favor, tying issues such as healthcare, gun rights and a denying a woman’s right to choose to Republican candidates.
Numbers are still too close to call for Helene-Miller Walsh, the wife of former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, who faced Democrat Mary Edly-Allen in Lake County; state Rep. David Olsen, who faced Democrat Anne M. Stava-Murray in the western suburbs; state Rep. Christine Winger, who faced Democrat Diane Pappas in DuPage County; and state Rep. Tom Morrison who faced Democrat Maggie Trevor in the northwest suburbs.
Some of the more notable losses include the unseating of state Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, who was the Illinois House Republican floor leader. Breen was among the most-conservative of state representatives and had led a charge to try to overturn HB40, a measure Rauner signed that expanded taxpayer funding of abortion.
Breen’s more conservative counterparts, with campaigns backed by right wing radio host Dan Proft, also saw losses, including DuPage County Board member Tonia Khouri who was vying for the seat left by retiring state Rep. Mike Fortner; and state Rep. Jerry Long, who was defeated by Democrat Lance Yednock. House Republicans in September pulled support from Long, citing harassment allegations. But Long never withdrew from the race.
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House Republicans picked up one seat in the 118th District in southern Illinois, where appointed incumbent Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie lost to Republican Massac County State’s Attorney Patrick Windhorst.
A supermajority is most beneficial when the Legislature is at odds with the governor — a three-fifths vote is required from both chambers to override a governor’s veto. That’s 71 votes, and Madigan could wind up with five more than that.
In a lengthy statement issued on Tuesday night, Madigan said Democrats’ successes were achieved by “looking to what unites us.” He said voters throughout Illinois “rejected the politics of negativity, personal destruction and blame that has permeated the Republican Party.”
Democrats in the Illinois Senate thus far have picked up one seat in the 27th District, bringing the number of Democratic seats to 38. Two suburban races are still close to call, in the 21st District, where state Sen. Michael Connelly, R-Lisle, faces Democratic challenger Laura Ellman and in the 24th District, where Sen. Chris Nybo, R-Elmhurst, faced Democratic challenger Suzanne Glowiak.