October 5, 2011


Derisively known as "Springpatch," Illinois' capital is reflective of the baser aspects of politics: secretive, dictatorial, frustrating, irrelevant.

The Illinois House, in particular, stands as a paradigm of the "class warfare" which national Republicans claim President Obama has unleashed on America with his taxing and spending policies. The "have nots" vastly outnumber the "haves," which won't change any time soon, and the "have nots" have abjectly surrendered.

In the Democratic-controlled 118-member House, the "have nots" number 117 and the "haves" consist of just one -- Democratic Speaker Mike Madigan. The Democrats' majority is 64-54, and Madigan's assiduous fund-raising and candidate recruitment means that every Democratic state representative is firmly under his thumb and votes as he or she is told. Occasionally a member is given special dispensation to vote in a manner not contrary to their constituency -- but only if their vote is not needed to pass a bill.

As shown in the adjoining vote chart, Democrats John D'Amico and Deb Mell were accorded Madigan's beneficence on the income tax hike vote, which passed 60-57; they, along with Democrats Fred Crespo, Jack Franks and Emily McAsey, were allowed to oppose it, as did every Republican. Had Madigan needed their vote, they would have capitulated, as did Joe Lyons.

Because Lyons is in the leadership as a deputy majority leader, he backed the tax, and he is retiring -- largely because that vote and another to abolish the death penalty won't sell in his conservative Northwest Side district. Lyons did, however, oppose same-sex civil unions.

D'Amico voted for the bill to abolish the death penalty (which passed 60-54) and against civil unions (which passed 61-52).

Other area Democrats, including Toni Berrios, Camille Lilly, Lou Lang, Sara Feigenholtz, Dan Biss, Robyn Gabel and Elaine Nekritz, backed the speaker on every key vote. All have "safe" -- meaning overwhelmingly Democratic -- districts, and they will suffer no blowback.

The House Republicans are irrelevant, and they will continue to be for the next decade. Area Republicans Mike McAuliffe, Skip Saviano and Rosemary Mulligan opposed the tax hike, and that vote will insulate them in 2012. Surprisingly Saviano backed civil unions and abolition of the death penalty, and Mulligan backed the former. However, McAuliffe gets the Rush Limbaugh Award for consistent conservatism: anti-tax hike, pro-death penalty and anti-civil unions.

Nevertheless, the Democrats' remap of House district boundaries for 2012 has put 22 of 54 Republican incumbents at risk, either merged into other Republicans' districts or mapped into a Democratic-friendly district. The Republicans "will be lucky to retain 54 seats," and Madigan "will be in control for another decade," McAuliffe said.

Of the House's current districts, 28 are in Chicago, 49 are in the Cook County suburbs and the Collar Counties, and are 41 are Downstate. The Republicans hold one seat (McAuliffe's) in Chicago, 23 in the suburbs and the Collar Counties (of which just six are from Cook County's suburbs), and 30 Downstate.

Under the remap, the nine Republicans in once-solid DuPage County are crunched into five seats, with five incumbents in two districts, and Saviano is in a northeastern DuPage district (taking in Bensenville, Wood Dale and Addison) which was designed to elect a Hispanic representative. Two representatives are running for state senator, and one is quitting. In Kane County, incumbents from Batavia and West Chicago were lumped together.

In the Buffalo Grove area, longtime Republican Sid Mathias (a former mayor) was put into Democrat Carol Sente's district, which is heavily Jewish and which she won in 2008 with 53 percent of the vote.

The two Peoria-area Republicans found their districts combined, with all the minority areas in a new Democratic district.

The two Springfield-area Republicans found their districts stretched to Decatur, adding thousands of Democratic voters, with one district sure to elect a black representative.

The Arlington Heights/Mount Prospect district of Republican David Harris was made even more Republican, absorbing areas from the Schaumburg/Streamwood/Roselle district of Democrat Michelle Mussman, who won by 658 votes in 2010. Mussman will face Republican John Wassman, the Schaumburg Township assessor and a Roselle firefighter, in 2012, and she is slightly favored. Harris may run for Congress; if he retires, the Democrats have a chance at that seat.

The retirements of Democrats Lisa Dugan of Kankakee and Dan Reitz of the East Saint Louis suburbs, both of whom backed the tax hike, give the Republicans a clear shot at both seats.

The bottom line: As long as Madigan controls 27 of the 28 Chicago-based seats (with most extending further into the suburbs), plus more than half of the 49 suburban/Collar County districts (including all the Will County districts, most of those in eastern Lake County, and all the south Cook County suburbs), Downstate attrition doesn't matter. Unless the Republicans hold 38 of 41 Downstate seats, they won't have a majority, and they won't oust Madigan.

Here's a look at some contests:

20th District: McAuliffe's longtime ally, former alderman Brian Doherty, lost a 2010 state Senate race and retired. McAuliffe is now on his own. His district loses Chicago territory (the 36th Ward and Norwood Park Township) and moves westward into Park Ridge and Rosemont. Alderman Mary O'Connor, the 41st Ward Democratic committeeman, has not yet recruited a candidate. Bruce Randazzo, who lost a race for 36th Ward alderman, is running. McAuliffe's social conservatism cuts both ways: It makes him popular in the 41st Ward, but not necessarily among more upscale suburbanites. Outlook: Edge to McAuliffe.

78th District: The old district was 39 percent black, and the liberal white vote in Oak Park ensured Democrat Deborah Graham's election, but now Graham is the 29th Ward alderman, the black population is under 25 percent, Elmwood Park and a string of white suburbs from Saviano's old district are added, and Camille Lilly, Graham's replacement, is totally unknown, and she voted for the tax hike. Mike Nardello, an ally of new 36th Ward Alderman Nick Sposato, will give Lilly a tough primary battle.

 55th District: Mulligan, long renowned as a liberal on social issues, was ill during the early part of 2011, and she missed the tax and death penalty votes but supported civil unions and opposed the gambling bill. In 2008 Mulligan was targeted by Madigan, and she won by 3,594 votes. After an easy reelection in 2010, Mulligan is again in the cross hairs: Madigan put a bunch of her Park Ridge precincts into McAuliffe's district and recruited Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan to run against her. Mulligan's anti-casino vote will be bashed by Moylan, a booster of the new Rivers Casino. Moylan's Local 134 electrician's union membership means the unions will flood the district with workers and money, and Madigan will spend $500,000 to win the seat. Outlook: Moylan should win, but he could trip himself up by insisting that he will keep the mayor's job while serving in Springfield.

17th District: Republican Beth Coulson held this upscale North Shore district (Glenview, north and east Skokie, Wilmette, parts of Evanston and Winnetka) for 14 years. She lost a 2010 congressional primary, and Dan Biss, a liberal Democrat, raised almost $700,000 and won the seat by 4,038 votes, getting 54.7 percent of the total cast. The Republicans are conceding this district in 2012.

16th District: Democrat Lou Lang, Springfield's gambling cheerleader, has more than $600,000 in his campaign account, is impregnable in his Skokie/Lincolnwood/50th Ward district, and is looking to run statewide in 2014, probably for attorney general if Lisa Madigan runs for governor. Lang votes for tax hikes. So what? The voters don't seem to care.

More about the 19th District race to succeed Lyons in a later column.