It might take days to know who will control the White House, but the winners and losers in Illinois were already fairly obvious Wednesday — and it’s not just the candidates who gave their victory or concession speeches the night before on Zoom.
Some of the state’s biggest political players won some, while others lost some.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker lost big. So did state House Speaker Mike Madigan. Cook County Democratic Chair Toni Preckwinkle did a little of both.
Preckwinkle wasn’t ready to concede defeat in her effort to deny Judge Michael Toomin another term on the bench. But the Cook County Board president said she was grateful for her protégé Kim Foxx’s landslide win in the state’s attorney’s race.
“I’m grateful that that great work got affirmed by the voters,” Preckwinkle said.
One of the biggest losses was handed to Pritzker with the failure of his coveted “Fair Tax” amendment.
Republicans and others who campaigned against the proposed move to a graduated income tax delivered the Democratic governor his first major loss since he took office in 2018.
Pritzker campaigned on changing the state’s tax structure to allow different tax rates based on income levels and dropped $58 million of his own fortune into the official committee supporting the proposed amendment’s passage.
But when the dust settled Wednesday morning, unofficial results showed the proposed amendment to the state constitution garnering just under 45% of the vote — far short of the 60% needed to pass.
Pritzker and its other backers conceded defeat, although the Democratic governor wasn’t abandoning his campaign spiel.
In his first daily briefing on the coronavirus after Election Day, Pritzker took a sharp tone toward the “billionaires who lied to you about the Fair Tax.”
“There will be cuts, and they will be painful,” Pritzker said.
“Ninety-seven percent of people would have had their taxes lowered, despite the lies that the folks on the other side — the billionaires and their special interests — told people online and on TV. The fact is that I want to lower taxes on the middle class,” Pritzker said. “My entire term in office, I’ve been fighting for middle class families, for making sure that our working families have a voice in Springfield, and that they’re better off. And that’s what the ‘Fair Tax’ is about.”
But more than 55% of voters rejected it, apparently preferring the opposition’s name for the proposal.
The Coalition to Stop the Proposed Tax Hike Amendment said in a statement its message was built around “one central theme: trust.”
“And, at the end of the day the voters knew we simply could not entrust the Springfield Politicians with another blank check,” coalition spokeswoman Lissa Druss said.
Another opponent of the proposal, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, said the federal investigation hanging over Speaker Michael Madigan also helped sway people to vote no.
“It goes to trusting government,” Durkin said. “Again, do you trust those who hold the gavel? Those who have the power to make these decisions in Springfield — you want to trust them. ... It comes down to trust and that, I believe, weighed heavily against the constitutional amendment, but also in the legislative races.”
Durkin himself was a winner of sorts Tuesday night in a legislative body that has not offered Republicans a lot of victories lately.
Durkin said he was “pleased” with the results, which currently show his GOP Caucus with a net gain of two seats in the state’s lower chamber, albeit still overshadowed by Madigan’s super majority.
“Considering as of about a week ago, most political pundits wrote off the House Republicans ... we disproved all of them,” Durkin said. “I’m happy with how we came out — we beat four Democrats, we picked up two seats, we performed beyond anyone’s expectations.”
The Republican leader declined to say whether it means trouble for Madigan. But he said Madigan clearly spells trouble for his party.
“I think the vote yesterday was a referendum against Mike Madigan,” Durkin said. “I think it contributed to the loss of the constitutional amendment, but also contributed to our success. And this is really now up to his caucus to decide if they’re willing to live up to the statements they make year in and year out about bringing change to Springfield.”
The four House Democrats —Diane Pappas of Itasca, Mary Edly-Allen of Libertyville, Monica Bristow of downstate Alton and Nathan Reitz of Steeleville — all appeared to have lost their re-election bids, a blow to Madigan, who saw more losses than wins on election night.
Democrats who received funding from Madigan-backed committees were apparently able to oust two Republican representatives — Grant Wehrli of Naperville and Allen Skillicorn of East Dundee.
Wehrli was one of the Republicans serving on a special legislative committee investigating Madigan’s dealings with ComEd.
Madigan lost his effort to oust Republican state Rep. Bradley Stephens, who doubles as mayor of Rosemont. The speaker spent more than $900,000 in campaign funds on behalf of unsuccessful Democratic challenger Michelle Darbro.
But the highest profile loss for the powerful Southwest Side Democrat came in the apparently failed bid to retain state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride, a 20-year incumbent, who received $550,000 from the Madigan’s Democratic Party of Illinois political fund.
Opponents filled the TV airwaves with ads blasting him as “Madigan’s favorite judge.”
And with about 98% of precincts reporting, Kilbride was about 4 percentage points shy of the 60% needed to be retained.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown brushed off a question about whether the losses signify that his boss is politically wounded.
“It’s a story that’s been written every two years,” Brown said. “I don’t know that that’s what that means.”
Context, including a look at who’s giving money to the other side and what other agendas may be involved, is most important, Brown said.
For Preckwinkle, Foxx’s double-digit win over Republican Pat O’Brien, a former judge, was clearly the big win. The board president has been a mentor to her former chief of staff and a major campaign booster.
“I’m really grateful, she’s been, I think, a great state’s attorney and a wonderful partner in our efforts to pursue criminal justice reform in Cook County,” said Preckwinkle, reached by phone Wednesday afternoon.
Preckwinkle wasn’t yet ready to concede that Toomin may go on to another term on the bench despite the party’s campaign to get residents to vote “No” on retaining the longtime jurist.
“I understand that there are still more than 300,000 votes that haven’t been counted, but our goal as a party was to say that we’re no longer just going to give every judge a pass, we’re going to look carefully at the records of people who are up for retention.”
Preckwinkle and others opposed to Toomin’s retention cite problems with his performance as presiding judge of Juvenile Court.
But others, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, have argued that the campaign against Toomin was retaliation for him appointing a special prosecutor to look into how Foxx’s office handled the Jussie Smollett case.
Toomin agreed, in September calling it a “blatant rejection of judicial independence.”
And as of Wednesday, voters were giving the win to Toomin, not Preckwinkle.