August 12, 2009


The Illinois Senate's Republican minority, numbering just 22 of 59, gets no respect.

After the 2000 election the Republicans had a 37-22 majority. However, the Democrats controlled the 2001 remap, and in the four subsequent elections, in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008, the Democrats won 11 Republican-held seats and lost just one.

With the Democrats' current super majority, the Republicans are wholly irrelevant. Even in overtime sessions, when a three-fifths majority of 36 votes is necessary to pass bills or override a gubernatorial veto, the Democrats have the votes.

Among big states, Republicans hold state senate majorities in Florida, Texas, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- but only because they drew the redistricting maps in 2001. Illinois' Republican plight is mirrored in New York, where the 36-25 Senate majority in 2001 dwindled to a 30-31 minority in 2009.

The reason for the Illinois collapse is simple: Location, location, location. The Republicans have no Chicago senators, and they are losing suburban and Collar County districts and are not compensating with Downstate pickups.

Because of the remap, the Democrats gained six Senate seats in 2002; because of demographic and political changes, they lost one Downstate senator in 2004, but they won five Republican seats in 2006, of which four were in the suburbs and one was Downstate. Is 37 as high as they can go?

In 2010, because of staggered terms, 14 Democratic seats and seven Republican seats are up for election. Of the Republicans, incumbents Chris Lauzen, John Millner, Dale Righter and Dale Risinger are safe, Dave Syverson and David Luechtefeld are at some risk, and appointed Senator Kyle McCarter is at great risk.

Of the Democrats, the four Chicagoans are secure, as are two Cook County suburbanites and two senators from the Joliet and Peoria areas. But five others -- one suburbanite (Mike Noland), two from the Collar Counties (Mike Bond and Toi Hutchinson) and two from Downstate (Mike Frerichs and Deanna Demuzio) -- are vulnerable.

For the Republicans in Illinois, the 2010 election is a battle for relevance. They must win the governorship, gain a net of two Senate seats so the Democrats cannot override a Republican governor's veto and checkmate the 2011 redistricting. If the Democrats draw the map, the Republicans could dwindle to fewer than 20 Senate seats.

Here's an early look at developing contests:

31st District (Northern Lake County: Zion, Antioch, Grayslake, Libertyville, Gurnee, Lindenhurst): Democrat Mike Bond scored a huge upset in 2006, capitalizing on a bitter Republican primary in which 28-year incumbent Adeline Geo-Karis was defeated. In a fit of pique, Geo-Karis then endorsed Bond, who won by 1,112 votes, with just 50.9 percent of the vote. For 2010 the Republicans recruited Suzi Schmidt of Lake Villa, a 22-year Lake County Board member and the current board chairwoman. Bond announced his candidacy for 10th District congressman in April, but he withdrew in late July after Democrat Julie Hamos entered the race. He is now seeking reelection. "He's a profile in cowardice," said one Republican legislative operative. "He backed off from one strong woman, and now he's going to be beaten by another."

Bond voted against a sales and income tax hike, but he did vote to raise state officials' pay.

The outlook: Bond is a relentless and energetic campaigner, and he caught every possible break in 2006. He won't in 2010. Schmidt is favored.

22nd District (Schaumburg, Streamwood and Hoffman Estates in far western Cook County, Elgin, West Dundee and Carpentersville in Kane County): Democrat Mike Noland rode the 2006 Democratic wave, fueled by demographic change, to a 2,778-vote victory, getting 53.9 percent of the vote. Republican squabbling in Schaumburg and Hanover townships, coupled with rapid Hispanic growth around Elgin, has turned this once solidly Republican bastion toward the Democrats. The Republicans lost one area House seat in 2006 and another in 2008.

But Noland's irascibility, which critics deem to be pomposity and self-righteousness, coupled with his unabashed support for a state income tax hike, has given the Republicans hope. They initially tried to recruit a Hispanic candidate, focusing on Juan Figueroa and Emmy Morales, who in 2009 were candidates for the Elgin City Council. Both lost, as Hispanic turnout was anemic. Two of the winners were white men who ran on get-tough-on-immigration platforms.

So the Republicans have done an about-face. They've apparently succeeded in recruiting former state senator Steve Rauschenberger to run for his old seat, which he held from 1992 to 2006, when he ran for lieutenant governor. Known and respected as a policy wonk and budget hawk, the Rauschenberger name is still golden in the area. His sister, Cindy Rauschenberger, won an Elgin City Council seat in 2009.

The outlook: The Republican base is strong in Kane County, so the key is Cook County. Noland can be tarnished as a tax hiker. Against anybody except Rauschenberger, Noland would win. Toss-up.

52nd District (Downstate: Champaign, Urbana, Danville, Rantoul): By combining a liberal college town with rural Republican territory, the Democrats made the Senate district competitive. When incumbent Rick Winkel retired in 2006, the Republicans nominated Judy Myers, a former state senator from Danville. She faced former Champaign County auditor Mike Frerichs and independent liberal Joe Parnarauskis. The result was exceedingly close: 27,149-26,607-1,894, with Frerichs squeezing out a 542-vote triumph.

Frerichs voted for the income tax hike, arguing that it gave 8 percent property tax relief, even while raising the income tax by a third. A pro-tax posture, however, won't hurt him in Champaign-Urbana. Republicans have yet to unearth a credible opponent. Frerichs is favored.

40th District (Southeast suburban Cook County: Chicago Heights, Steger and Lynwood; east Will County: Crete, Monee, Peotone and University Park; east Kankakee County: Kankakee and Bradley; and east Iroquois County): The Democratic incumbent is Toi Hutchinson, a black woman appointed to replace Debbie Halvorson, who was elected to Congress in 2008. Halvorson had been a senator since 1996.

The district has evolved from solidly Democratic to hopelessly Democratic. It is about 25 percent black, with most of that vote concentrated in Cook County and around Kankakee. Hutchinson is a former Olympia Fields village clerk and Halvorson's congressional chief of staff; her base is Cook County. She is against a third airport in Peotone. Her fund-raising, less than $10,000, is unimpressive. Will County, where Halvorson lives, wanted the seat, but Kankakee and Cook County Democratic officials backed Hutchinson. Will County Board member John Anderson may oppose her in the 2010 primary.

The Republicans tried to recruit the sheriffs of Kankakee and Iroquois counties to run for senator, but both declined. There are serious racial and geographic divisions here. The outlook: Hutchinson may not survive the primary, but a Democrat will hold the seat.

49th District (Downstate: Carlinville, Jacksonville and Taylorville in the rural area just north of East Saint Louis): The Democrats have held this seat since 1974, when Vince Demuzio beat longtime Republican Junie Bartulis. Demuzio won every election thereafter, and he died in 2004. His replacement was his widow, Deanna Demuzio, who got 59.7 percent of the vote in 2008, and her replacement in waiting is her son, Vince Demuzio, the director of the Illinois Secretary of State police. Macoupin County is the Demuzios' -- and the Democrats' -- base. If Deanna Demuzio retires in 2010, the Republicans have a shot.

51st District (East and north of East Saint Louis, including Vandalia and Decatur): Frank Watson, the district's 26-year senator and the Republican minority leader, resigned in 2009 after a stroke. His replacement, businessman and anti-tax activist Kyle McCarter, hails from Madison County in the East Saint Louis suburbs. The Democratic candidate is Macon County board member Tim Dudley of Decatur, where unions are strong. McCarter's company outsources a lot of manufacturing to China. The outlook: Democrats will demonize McCarter as anti-union, and Dudley will get a huge Macon County vote. A sure Republican seat is now a toss-up.

34th District (Winnebago County: Rockford, Loves Park, rural areas): Incumbent Republican Dave Syverson, who has served since 1993, won by 6,011 votes in 2006 (with 55.8 percent of the vote), beating county Democratic chairman Dan Lewandowski, who is running again in 2010. The outlook: The well liked Syverson is a solid favorite.

10th District (Northwest Side, Harwood Heights, Norridge): Rumors are swirling that incumbent Democrat Jim DeLeo, age 58, may retire. With 26 years of legislative service, the last 18 as he senator, DeLeo would get a full pension and make mega-bucks as a restaurant-industry lobbyist. If DeLeo quits, expect a Democratic primary between former Harwood Heights mayor Peggy Fuller and 36th Ward sanitation superintendent John Donovan Jr., who would be backed by the Banks-DeLeo 36th Ward machine. Donovan would win.

The top Republican recruit for an open seat would be Alderman Brian Doherty (41st). There is a precedent: In 1972 Republican 41st Ward Alderman Ed Scholl beat Democratic Senator Bob Egan, but he lost to Egan in a 1974 rematch. Why would Doherty give up a secure aldermanic seat for a job that pays less, with a 2-year term? The only active Republican candidate is retired Chicago police officer Chester Hornowski.

My prediction: The Republicans will gain two Senate seats.