Why should we care about what happens in contested state legislative races all over the state this year? Each really is about the battle for control between GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. You knew that, but perhaps you didn’t realize we all will lose no matter who wins.
Every election cycle, there typically are a couple dozen hotly contested state legislative races, even after one political party or the other gets done rigging maps in their favor. Each party in both chambers has seats they can swipe from the other side. It’s in those races, traditionally, where most of the money is raised and spent.
This year is no different. But where it has changed, is that Republicans now are energized because of GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner changes the political landscape in Illinois with his determination to shake up Springfield and his bottomless checking account. After years and years of failure, Republicans have their best shot in decades at winning the nuclear arms race that is funding and winning campaigns.
Scott Kennedy, the terrific analyst and former Democratic party and government operative who now works in the private sector, keeps track of reams of data on state races at his website, Illinois Election Data.
At the end of June, Kennedy estimated $128 million already had been spent or collected for on state elections. In an email, he told me he thinks it’s reasonable to expect $150 million will be spent on primary and general election state races.
Kennedy also ranked which districts are most mathematically winnable for each party in each chamber based on 2014 election results.
In several contested races, Rauner and the GOP have been hard at work running against Madigan, who is one of the most negatively viewed politicians around. Rauner is trying to tie him like a noose around the necks of Democrats and squeeze the knot. Madigan and the Democrats have been doing the same to Rauner with reporters for months. Soon, they’ll start spending gobs of money, too, aiming to make every contested Republican look as extreme, heartless and cruel as Madigan claims Rauner and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump are.
So what? Let’s not forget our physics lessons: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Rauner shook up Springfield all right. Now, instead of one dictator, we now have two.
Rauner and Madigan control how much money goes into the key races like never before.
That’s the action. The reaction? In a state that had very little bold independence, we will have far less of it.
Consider a few top races:
- The GOP is targeting state Sen. Gary Forby, a downstate Democrat, for defeat. Forby has collected more than $448,000 from the state party or leadership committees (really Madigan). That figure is 46% of his $975,000 total. His opponent, Republican Dale Fowler, has collected more than $237,000 from his party or leadership, a figure that’s almost 78 percent of his $305,000 total.
- The Democrats are after GOP state Sen. Sue Rezin, who raised nearly $586,000. Of that, $286,000, or 49 percent, came from the GOP. Her challenger, Democrat Christine Benson, has raised $171,000, with $142,000 from top Democrats. That amounts to 83 percent.
- In the House, one of the top races that looks best for Republicans is the downstate race between Democratic state Rep. John Bradley and Republican David Severin. Bradley has raised more than $986,000. Only $74,000 has come from the party so far, or 7.5 percent of the total. Severin, though, has raised $304,000 and a whopping 90 percent, or more than $274,000, has come from Rauner and the GOP.
- The top House race that looks mathematically best for Democrats to pick up is the northwest side district of Republican state Rep. Michael McAuliffe. He’s being challenged by Democrat Merry Marwig. McAuliffe has raised $1.3 million. More than $1 million came from Rauner’s party, or 84 percent. Marwig has raised nearly $157,000, with about $104,000 coming from the Democrats for nearly 67 percent.
How can we constituents fight to be heard when the politicians all owe their jobs to Madigan and Rauner?
* One more note: Political scientist/commentator extraordinaire Paul Green probably would laugh at what I just wrote and tell me, “Doubek, that’s the way party politics is supposed to work.” Green, who died suddenly Saturday, helped me and countless others learn the ropes and filled our columns with lively quotes for decades.
On the last night of the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, I was running for a bus back to the delegation hotel when I caught up with Green, who offered me a wild ride. Literally. Green’s wife, Sharon, drove a car all over San Diego trying to find shortcuts and avoid convention backups to get us to some adult beverages ASAP. The entire time, the Greens had me grinning from the back seat with their repartee as the three of us told political tales. Ever since then, every time he saw me, he’d loudly refer to our “threesome,” and say, “Doubek, remember, we’ll always have San Diego!”
I’m so grateful we did. There will never be another man as quick-witted and generous as Paul Green. I can’t believe you’re gone, Paul.
Madeleine Doubek is publisher of Reboot Illinois. Follow her @MDoubekRebootIlTweets by @MDoubekRebootIL