October 14, 2020


The good news for Illinois Senate Republicans is that they have probably hit rock bottom. They are a 40-19 super-minority. Can it get any worse?

The bad news is that it can. In 2020 there are 20 senate seats up for election - 16 Democrats and four Republicans. Only five seats are competitive, and appointed Senator Rob Martwick's (D) Northwest Side Chicago/suburban 10th District is not among them. Springfield Republican strategists long ago wrote-off Martwick's opponent Anthony Beckman (R), a Norridge cop, as a waste of time.

Republicans have a sterling pick-up opportunity in 14-year incumbent David Koehler's (D) 46th District, which includes Peoria plus suburban and rural areas to the south and southwest. The parties will spend over $1 million. But Republicans are on the cusp of losing retiring Jim Oberweis's (R) West Chicago/ Sugarville/Yorkville 25th District, in Fox Valley, encompassing far western DuPage County, most of Kane County and a third of Kendall County, near Aurora. Oberweis is running for Congress.

Republicans are making long shot efforts in the 31st (Grayslake) and 40th (Flossmoor) districts. But the ultimate 2020 result will range from 39D-20R to 41D-18R, somewhere between dismal and pathetic for the Republicans.

There are 59 senators with terms staggered over a 10-year cycle, which begins the first election after the census and remap (like 1992, 2002, 2012, etc.). The term sequence, determined by an internal lottery, is 2-4-4, 4-2-4 and 4-4-2. That meant during the past decade that all 59 of the senators were on the ballot in 2012, one third in 2014, two-thirds in 2016 and 2018, and one-third in 2020. There will be a Democratic-controlled 2021 remap after the 2020 census, and every senate seat will be up in 2022.

Illinois has a unique "coupling" system, wherein each Senate district contains two House districts. Inasmuch as the Democrats have a 74-44 House super-majority (62.7 percent), it's not surprising that they have a 40-19 Senate super-majority (67.7 percent).

Activity in Madigan-funded House races spills-up into Senate races.

There has historically been an ebb-and-flow in state senate domination: It was a Republican domain from the 1940s to the 1960s, a 30-year span when lightly populated Downstate (excepting East St. Louis and the far south) and the Cook County suburbs habitually elected Republicans. There was always rough balance: Chicago had 23-26 (D) senators and far Downstate 3-5 (D). Everywhere else was a Democratic wasteland, and Republicans had a rock bottom of 29-35, enough for a constant 30-plus majority.

The year 1970 was a watershed moment. The Ogilvie income tax backlash swept out all the Chicago Republican senators elected in 1966, and swept in the likes of Tom Hynes, Tom Lyons and Phil Rock (and an obscure 28-year old Mike Madigan for the House). 1974 was another Republican debacle: They lost control of both chambers, and Democrats remained dominant through 1992, usually with 31-33 senators. When party control (governor/legislature) is divided a commission draws the lines. A tie-breaking name is drawn from a hat. Democrats won the draw in 1981 and 2001 and Republicans in 1991. (Democrats controlled the whole process in 2011.)

In 1991 the Republican map "packed" as many Democrats as possible into as few Senate districts as possible, and added suburbs to Walter Dudycz's (R) old Northwest Side 7th Illinois Senate District. The party controlled the Senate with 33-26 or 32-27 majorities for the next decade and even ousted Madigan as speaker during 1995-96. But Madigan won back his majority in 1996 and began using his money to systematically cherry-pick House seats in the demographically changing south suburbs and in Lake and Will counties. In 1998 Democrats picked up a Senate seat in Lake County and a House seat in McHenry County - historic firsts.

Republicans lost the 2001 draw. Madigan drew a map that "diluted" Republican districts by adding Chicago voters or spreading out Democratic pockets in Waukegan, Elgin, Aurora and Joliet. The 2002 Senate was 33D-26R and House 66D-52R. Madigan next attacked the northwest suburbs - Schaumburg, Streamwood, Bartlett - and the North Shore. He recruited and massively funded candidates who "fit the district," especially women in upscale districts. The Park Ridge-Des Plaines district fell in 2012.

Then ensued the "Rauner War" of 2015-18. The governor, Madigan and the (union) Heartland PAC spent heavily. It was checkmate in 2016, but a Democratic blowout in 2018, with Republicans losing seven House seats; six were in DuPage County. No Republican, especially in a looming anti-Trump year, is safe in any district north of I-80 or east of Route 47.

Of the 28 Senate districts in Cook, Lake and Will counties, one is held by a Republican. Of the seven in DuPage, McHenry, Kane and Kendall counties, three are held by a Republican, but probably not for much longer. Democrats will control the 2021 map line drawing. There will be a lot of "packed" Republicans in the latter counties.

There has been a pro-Trump counter-trend Downstate south of Sangamon (Springfield) County and west along the Mississippi River. Of those 12 districts, 11 are Republican.

46TH DISTRICT: Illinois' version of the Green New Deal is the proposed Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), of which Koehler is a chief sponsor. It has not been passed. Its intent is to phase-out fossil fuels and coal as energy sources in Illinois by 2040, and offer subsidies and tax incentives to create or shift jobs to clean energy such as solar and wind.

Peoria (pop. 115,007) is a blue-collar town that once had a manufacturing base. In the past year two Fulton County coal-fired electricity plants closed. It is argued that for every two solar-panel installing jobs created, 100 are lost in the coal-mining/delivering/operating chain. Republicans are spending over $500,000 to pound Koehler as a "job-killing environmentalist," and his union support is cracking. Koehler also voted to raise his pay. The Republican is Mary Burris, the Tazewell County treasurer. Outlook: Koehler loses.

25TH DISTRICT: This should be the Republican heartland. Even the acerbic Oberweis, who lost six times for other offices, won here. Republicans could blow this seat.

The Republican candidate is Jeanette Ward, an environmental scientist and school board member who is a staunch pro-life conservative. The Democrat is Karina Villa, a state representative who in 2018 won the east half of the district, which has a small but growing Hispanic votes. Outlook: What should be an easy Republican win is a toss up.

10TH DISTRICT: Martwick is a very adept and astute politician. Some might call him slick. That doesn't necessarily make him a popular politician, as was amply demonstrated in the March 17 Democratic primary when he beat under-funded Chicago police sergeant Danny O'Toole 17,407-14,568, getting 52.7 percent. As the 7-year state representative from the 19th House district, the 10th's east half (45th and 38th wards), as 38th Ward Democratic committeeperson, and with over $500,000 on-hand going into the campaign, Martwick's win was not impressive. Martwick's friends, like John Arena, and the source of his money (unions and tax appeal lawyers), constituted serious baggage, as did his advocacy of a graduated state income tax. Martwick backs Pritzker's "Fair Tax" amendment.

But the win, nevertheless, and his $356,356 on-hand as of June 30, seems to have severely dampened Springfield Republican interest. The 10th District has 171 precincts, 120 in Chicago and 51 in the suburbs, including all of Norridge, Harwood Heights, Rosemont and parts of Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Niles and Schiller Park - those towns being in the 20th House district, along with 34 precincts in the 41st Ward and seven in the 38th Ward. In the primary O'Toole won the 41st Ward 5,312-3,783 but lost the suburbs 4,328-2,943. Clearly, Martwick has a base west of Nagle.

But Martwick's liberal base east of Nagle, with 37 precincts in the 45th Ward and 28 in the east 38th Ward, will suffice. Martwick beat Rauner-funded cop Ammie Kessem (R) 21,385-13,852 in 2018 (60.6 percent), winning the 45th by 3,911 votes and the 38th by 2,898 votes. Those ward margins will be much larger on Nov. 3, and more than offset any West End deficit. In fact, Martwick is relying on the Madigan-funded (about $2 million) campaign of firefighter Michelle Darbro (D) in the 20th District to "spill-up" into his race. One can presume that a Darbro vote is also a Biden/Foxx/ Martwick vote.

Not so with Beckman.

Appointed 20th Illinois House District incumbent Brad Stephens (R), Rosemont's mayor, will raise and spend $1 million, but is ignoring Beckman. There is no campaign co-ordination. Stephens must break even in the 41st Ward's 34 precincts, and is relying on the residue of predecessor Mike McAuliffe's (R) organization. State's Attorney candidate Pat O'Brien (R) will win the 41st Ward with 63-65 percent, and President Trump will get near 50 percent, creating "spill-ups" for Stephens and Beckman.

Beckman is an 18-year Norridge cop who resides in Harwood Heights. He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019, but has been cured. He expects to raise $20,000, have no mailings and rely solely on precinct coverage. He supports term limits, opposes the "Fair Tax," and was endorsed by the Chicago Tribune as a "good fit." Martwick was endorsed by the Sun-Times as "smart, capable," and by numerous unions. Outlook: Martwick wins 55-45. Not too good. But a win is a win.