Illinois Democrats look to win more suburban state legislative seats in November despite corruption probe

After winning a slew of suburban state legislative seats long held by Republicans in 2018, Illinois Democrats are looking to expand their reach even further in November as renewed controversy swirls around their powerful leader, longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan.



a man wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera: Illinois state Rep. Grant Wehrli.


© Grant Wehrli campaign/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Illinois state Rep. Grant Wehrli.

Republicans for years have built their campaign strategy around vilifying Madigan, who has been speaker for all but two years since 1983, but it hasn’t paid off in a big way at the ballot box. This year, however, the GOP hopes its anti-Madigan message will resonate in a new way after federal prosecutors in July alleged that Commonwealth Edison engaged in a “yearslong bribery scheme” designed to curry favor with the speaker.

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But Madigan, who has not been charged and has denied wrongdoing, is only on the ballot in his Southwest Side district, and Democrats are hoping to capitalize on a changing suburban electorate’s dissatisfaction with the name at the top of the Republican ticket: President Donald Trump.

All 118 Illinois House seats and 22 of 59 state Senate seats are on the ballot this fall. But because 52 House and 11 Senate races are uncontested, a handful of competitive districts — largely in the suburbs — will determine whether Democrats lose or add to their veto-proof majorities in both chambers. Democrats hold supermajorities of 74-44 in the House and 40-19 in the Senate, meaning Republicans would need a historic number of victories to take control of either chamber.



Michael Madigan et al. standing next to a man in a suit and tie: Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan walks out after a House Democratic caucus meeting on Nov. 12, 2019, at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.


© Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan walks out after a House Democratic caucus meeting on Nov. 12, 2019, at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

The Democrats not only control both chambers of the General Assembly and all statewide offices, but they also enjoy an overwhelming advantage in campaign cash.

With billionaire former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s funding out of the picture and other conservative donors focusing their spending on defeating Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed graduated-rate income tax amendment, “if it were just about money, it really would be a wipeout,” said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science with the University of Illinois system’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

On a larger scale for Republicans nationally, spending big to keep the Democrats from picking up a couple of seats in the Illinois legislature “doesn’t really seem like a good investment if you can flip a chamber” in another state, Redfield said.

“But for the Commonwealth Edison investigation, you’re really looking at a perfect storm in terms of the Democrats building their majority, with the changes in the suburbs and then the overwhelming money advantage,” Redfield said.

“If you want to ask the question, why are they making such a huge push when they already have such big majorities in both chambers, one of the answers might be that it’s an opportunity to so damage the Republican Party in the state of Illinois that it will be very difficult for them

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