On the first night of an unprecedented virtual Democratic National Convention, Illinois’ top party leaders stuck to a traditional message in their quest to help regain control of the White House: rallying organized labor to defeat Donald Trump.
“Here’s the harsh reality: among the working people in our state are Trump supporters and Trump loyalists. It’s bad,” Sen. Dick Durbin said during the Illinois delegation’s Monday night program, billed as a rundown of the state party’s efforts in “lifting up the American worker.”
“We’ve got to be able to say to these folks that we’re listening, and we have open arms to embrace their concerns, and that we view them as part of our future,” Durbin said, calling presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden “a man who brings people together, finds the roots of our nation. I think he can help when it comes to appealing to those in the labor movement, who maybe haven’t joined us for a while. We can bring them back.”
The four-term U.S. Senator, seeking a fifth in November, delivered that pitch for Biden into the camera of an iPad from the backyard of his downstate home. Fellow Democrats did likewise in the webinar that preceded the national party program, an online-only affair due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia blasted the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, saying “it took a global pandemic ravaging our country to open up our eyes to demand safer conditions protections and paid sick leave, and the right to organize without fear of retaliation.
“Let me make this clear, we cannot address labor rights, without addressing health care access and economic justice for all,” Garcia said from Chicago.
Durbin closed out his remarks by taking shots at his challengers in the Nov. 3 contest to hold onto his U.S. Senate seat, Republican former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran and independent Chicago businessman Willie Wilson, the latter of whom Durbin called “a Bruce Rauner fan. Need I say more to organized labor in Illinois?”
Illinois’ Republican former governor — who helped mount the legal challenge that led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing public-sector workers to opt out of paying labor union dues — served as a target for Democratic labor leaders, too.
“I think about what’s happened when we take our eye off the ball for one minute,” said Lonnie Stephenson, international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “We lost the governorship for one term with Rauner. … He was out to try to destroy labor.”
Stephenson noted that other states that went through similar labor strife — namely, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — ended up going to Trump in 2016. “We’ve got to turn those states back through.”
Only briefly chiming in was the embattled but still-powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
As reticent as he was a night earlier during a pre-convention welcome program for the local delegation, Madigan spoke for barely 30 seconds to introduce Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, whom he described as “one of the most effective, durable public officials in the state of Illinois.”
Madigan has faced a handful of calls from within his own caucus to step down as Illinois Democratic Party chairman after being implicated in a federal corruption case involving ComEd. The Southwest Side powerhouse hasn’t been charged, has denied any wrongdoing and has said he has no plans to step down.