Illinois Democrats maintain control of all levers of state government
Gov. JB Pritzker takes questions Wednesday for the first time after having been elected to a second term. In the photo, he is brushing off a question about 2024 presidential aspirations. (Credit: Blueroomstream.com)
Achieve double-digit victories for statewide offices, strengthen Supreme Court majority
By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – As votes continued to be tallied Wednesday, returns showed Illinois Democrats would hold every statewide elected office and maintain supermajorities in the General Assembly while extending their majority on the Illinois Supreme Court.
After a fiery election night speech in which Gov. JB Pritzker excoriated the Republican Party as “unwilling to expel the extremists in their midst,” he gave an upbeat news conference about his plans for a second term Wednesday at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Chicago that was the site of his election night party the day prior.
“The election yesterday was a chance for Illinoisans to decide who we want to be,” Pritzker said, citing his administration’s acceptance of asylum seekers, support for mental health and substance use treatment, protection of women's rights, civil rights and voting rights, and renewable energy policies.
“Well, Illinoisans made their decision – a decision that we should be a beacon of hope and opportunity and caring,” he added.
Pritzker’s second-term task will be made easier by the success of Democrats in the General Assembly.
In the Senate, it appeared Republicans would gain at least two seats, decreasing the Democratic supermajority from 41 members to 38-20, with at least one race too close to call.
Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, celebrated the wins but lamented that they were gained through a “rigged system,” a reference to Democrats’ recent redrawing of district lines to maximize their chances of maintaining their majorities.
“Thousands of voters across the state have said ‘enough’ to the Democrats’ call for more power. Thanks to their resiliency, the Illinois Senate will be adding to the strength of the caucus and will continue to serve as strong voices for the people of Illinois, who are dissatisfied with the failed policies that have come out of Springfield and want to see change,” he said.
Republicans had viewed taking the state Supreme Court as their best bet at enacting redistricting reform for future elections, but the two seats that were up for vote Tuesday both went to Democrats.
Judge Elizabeth Rochford defeated former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran in the 2nd District by nearly nine percentage points. Mary Kay O’Brien, in the 3rd District, led by about 8,000 votes over Republican incumbent Michael Burke. Her campaign said on Twitter that Burke had conceded, although an email to Burke’s campaign to confirm was not returned Wednesday afternoon.
That would put the court majority at 5-2 in favor of Democrats and would create the first majority-woman court, also by 5-2 margins.
As of Wednesday, Democrats appeared poised to extend their supermajority from 73 of the 118 members of the House of Representatives to 77, with a few races too close to call.
The lack of success in that chamber prompted a Wednesday morning announcement from Rep. Jim Durkin, the Western Springs Republican who has served as House minority leader since 2013, that he would not seek another term leading the House Republicans.
“I am proud of the work the House Republican caucus has accomplished under my tenure, and thank everyone who played a part along the way,” Durkin said in a news release. “I began this journey as a voice of moderation and conclude this journey the same way I started, a voice of moderation.”
Moderation is a trait of the Republican Party which Pritzker, in his election night speech, contended no longer exists.
He took square aim at former President Donald Trump and those who sought and accepted his endorsement. But he didn’t mention his vanquished opponent Darren Baily in his election night address.
“And don't claim that the Republican Party is being labeled unfairly. Because here we are, two years into cleaning up the wreckage of Donald Trump's presidency, poised to watch this man announce his return to national politics within days,” Pritzker said of Trump on election night. “You know why? Because GOP politicians, with the exception of only a few souls, are too cowardly, too simpering, to support the best interests of the nation because they're afraid of being called insulting nicknames by a whiny bully.”
Asked about the speech Wednesday, he again denied any interest in a 2024 presidential run and said he planned to serve his four-year term as governor.
Aside from the national lens, the speech centered on some of Pritzker’s major first-term accomplishments, like legalizing recreational marijuana, raising the minimum wage, balancing the budget and presiding over six credit upgrades between the three major ratings agencies.
“We've got to stop being irresponsible about our fiscal situation in the state – like my predecessor was, and like was proposed by my opponent during this latest campaign – and actually focus on solving the real fiscal challenges of Illinois,” Pritzker said Wednesday. “I know that sometimes sounds boring to people when you talk about budgets, paying debt. …But I think it's vitally important that all of us focus on that in both parties.”
Pritzker said many of his first-term accomplishments, including passing a capital infrastructure plan and approving the budget, received bipartisan support after negotiations with Durkin and others. While the relationship was rockier after one year, Pritzker said he was open to working with Republicans in his second term.
Two of Durkin’s top lieutenants – Reps. Dan Brady, of Normal, and Tom Demmer, of Dixon – will also be leaving the General Assembly after unsuccessful bids at statewide office. At least four others from his leadership team had either chosen not to seek another term or lost primary or general elections.
When the governor was asked about Durkin and whether he worried a more conservative replacement would rise in the ranks, he said Durkin was “probably a loss for the Republicans.”
“I'm only concerned if someone takes the job who's unwilling to sit down and actually talk about, you know, what we might do together?” he said. “If they're unwilling to talk, if they reject the idea of bipartisanship, that would not be good for the state of Illinois.”
As for other races, the Democrats maintained the offices of comptroller, treasurer, attorney general and secretary of state. Each of the Democrats – incumbents Susana Mendoza, Michael Frerichs and Kwame Raoul and newcomer Alexi Giannoulias – were leading by double digits as of Wednesday.
Union groups were also claiming victory on a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to collectively bargain in Illinois. That race was too early to call, however, due to the complex nature of passing an amendment.
It had about 59 percent of the vote with 90 percent of precincts reporting, which is short of the three-fifths needed for passage. But an amendment can also pass if supported by more than half of those voting in the election, so the threshold needed is likely to be lower than 60 percent.
As of Wednesday afternoon, however, it was unclear what the final threshold and vote tallies would be, as the Illinois State Board of Elections is set to certify results on Dec. 5.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.