October 15, 2014



Here is a multiple choice question: Republicans in the Illinois Senate are (a) Irrelevant. (b) Inconsequential. (c) Invisible. or (d) All of the above.

The answer is (d). In the Illinois House, the Democrats have a 71-47 "super majority," eaning they have more than three-fifths of votes in the chamber and can override vetoes and pass bills in overtime sessions. The Democrats have a 40-19 edge in the Senate, which is two-thirds of the chamber. Call that a "super super majority."

The Republican contingent plausibly could dwindle to 18 after the November election or, as is more likely, nudge up to 20 or 21. That would be a moral victory, but to terminate their "super minority," the Republicans need to reach 24, which could occur in 2016 and certainly will occur by 2018. A 30-seat majority is out of reach before 2022, and maybe for the decade thereafter.

The Republicans' meltdown has been astonishing. As recently as 2002 they had a 32-27 Senate majority. Since then they've lost a net of 13 seats, 14 in the Cook County suburbs and the Collar Counties, while gaining one Downstate. They've become the Chicago Cubs of Springfield, only they're just losers, not lovable losers. However, the good news is that they're in the cellar. They've hit rock bottom.

There are 49 state senates in the nation. Nebraska has a nonpartisan unicameral legislature. The Republicans control 29 of the senates and the Democrats control 20. Of the big states, Michigan (26-11), Pennsylvania (27-23), Texas (19-11), Florida (26-14) and Ohio (23-10) have Republican senates, while the Democrats dominate California (27-13) and New York (32-31). The Illinois Republicans' 32.3 percent plight could be worse. Republicans represent 26.5 percent in West Virginia (9-25), which will soon change, 25.4 percent in Maryland (12-35), 23.4 percent in Vermont (7-23), 13.6 percent in Rhode Island (5-32), 10 percent in Massachusetts (4-36) and 4 percent in Hawaii (1-24). That makes Illinois' Senate makeup the country's seventh worst for the Republicans.

A combination of changing demographics, Democratic-controlled redistricting in 2001 and 2011, Democratic wave years in 2006 and 2008, staggered Illinois Senate terms (there are only 19 of 59 senators up for election this year), and Senate President John Cullerton's fund-raising prowess make a Republican revival impossible. There are 12 Democratic seats and seven Republican seats at stake on Nov. 4.

Cullerton will raise and spend at least $5 million to protect and re-elect his five embattled incumbents, Bill Cunningham (D-18), Terry Link (D-30), Mike Jacobs (D-36), Andy Manar (D-48) and James Clayborne (D-57), and to contest the open 24th District DuPage County seat of Kirk Dillard, who lost te Republican primary for governor. That's an infusion of about $850,000 per district. "We'll be outspent two or three to one," admitted one Republican strategist.

Unique to Illinois is the concept of "coupling." Contained within each of Illinois' 59 Senate district are two House districts. No other state has that coupling. In New York, for example, the Senate was long Republican because they drew their own lines, while the House was Democratic. Cullerton and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan "bleached and packed" in the 2001 remap. That means that they conceded about 45 House and 20 Senate districts to the Republicans, "bleached" them of minority voters and Democrats, and "packed" every Republican precinct into those districts. In 2012, despite the Obama landslide, a Republican won those seats with 60 percent of the vote or better. In the rest of the districts, the Democrats engaged in "spreading," so that there were enough Democrats and minority voters to give every Democratic legislative candidate a rock solid 55 to 60 percent of the vote.

That is the Republican hurdle in November. In the 12 Democratic Senate districts, there are 23 Democratic state representatives. That means that there is no Republican base, bench or organization. In the seven Republican districts, there are 14 Republican state representatives. Nevertheless, the Republicans are targeting five senators.

18th District (Southwest Side, Oak Lawn, Orland Park): Cunningham is a product of the 19th Ward's "Hynes Machine," and he worked for sheriffs Mike Sheahan and Tom Dart. Cunningham, then a state representative, won his first term in 2012 60,325-34,338. He should be super safe. Of the district's 201 precincts, 119 are in the suburbs and just 58 are in the 19th Ward. "There's a great deal of anti-Springfield sentiment in the suburbs," the Republican operative said.

Recent polling showed Republican Shaun Murphy, a forensic accountant and the son of a former state legislator whose base is in Oak Lawn, running close to Cunningham. Unlike other south Cook County suburbs, where the black population has exploded, this district is still overwhelmingly white. Cunningham has voted as Cullerton instructs. The Republicans will spend upwards of $200,000, and their mailers rip Cunningham for voting for pay raises and for working on his second pension. Outlook: Cunningham is favored, but an upset is possible.

30th District (Waukegan, Gurnee, Libertyville, Vernon Hills): Link is the Lake County Democratic Party chairman, and he is much reviled by the Republicans and not much liked by the Democrats. The 2011 remap gave him a district anchored in Waukegan, with its large minority vote, but also taking in the area southwest through Gurnee and North Chicago to Libertyville, Mundelein and Vernon Hills. That was solid Republican territory in the 1990s. Link has been a senator since 1996, so there is a fatigue factor.

Link beat an underfunded Republican 44,274-22,173 in 2012, while Obama carried the district easily. The Republican candidate is Don Wilson, a Gurnee businessman and village board member. Link is an assistant majority leader and part of the Cullerton team. Wilson is attempting to piggyback on Bruce Rauner's "shake up Springfield" campaign. Outlook: Link is favored, primarily because Cullerton will dump $700,000 into the race.

26th District (Moline, Rock Island): Jacobs is the most endangered, simply because he has grown complacent and arrogant. His father and grandfather were state legislators, and he thinks he's royalty. For example, he got free membership in a country club and then voted to give private country clubs a property tax break as "open land." He also voted in 2011 for the income tax hike and to increase his pay three times. "He (epitomizes everything that is wrong in Springfield," the Republican operative said.

Cullerton squeezed every Republican possible out of Jacobs' district, and he won in 2008 and 2012 because of the Obama landslides. He won 51,086-42,102 in 2012. The Republican candidate is Neil Anderson, a Moline firefighter and a former walk-on University of Nebraska football player. Anderson lost for state representative in 2012, so he began the race well known. He is working hard and will spend $300,000-plus. Outlook: Jacobs finally loses.

48th District (Decatur and suburbs): Manar was Cullerton's chief of staff, and he was gifted the redrawn seat in 2012. Although the district is not overwhelmingly Democratic, Manar beat the Republican mayor of Decatur 47,334-38,256. Manar never deviates from Cullerton's dictates, and the Republicans have fielded a "military mom," Linda Little, a member of the Macon County Board. She has pledged not to accept any state pension or health benefits, and she favors term limits. Manar is a member of the Workforce Investment Board, but he has missed every meeting since 2013. Outlook: Manar favored.

57th District (East Saint Louis and suburbs): Clayborne, who is black, is the Democratic majority leader. He's enmeshed in a controversy about whether a woman recently appointed to an $86,000-a-year job on the Prisoner Review Board is his "girlfriend." Clayborne, who won 54,596-36,343 in 2012, denies it. Even though the city is heavily black, the district has a white majority. The Republican candidate is Katherine Ruocco, another "military mom," who is an accountant and an attorney. Outlook: Clayborne wins narrowly.

All 59 senators stand for election in the year following the decennial census (2012). They are then divided into three classes, with 2-4-4, 4-2-4, and 4-4-2 terms. A total of 19 seats are up this year, 40 in 2016, 39 in 2018 and 20 in 2020. The Republicans will gain one seat in 2014 and will break out of their super minority by 2018.

The adjoining vote chart lists the votes of Northwest Side and suburban senators, all Democrats. Note that they vote almost identically, which means just like Cullerton, who is in the chart. On only a few bills, such as bonding authority (Biss and Steans) and the Rosemont smoking ban elimination (Kotowski and Silverstein), was their any dissent.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.