Dems’ Illinois Senate super majority at risk
by RUSS STEWART
Back in the days of the Persian Empire, eunuchs were an important presence in the emperors’ lair. Now there are 19 eunuchs in the Illinois Senate. However, these eunuchs are inconsequential, ignored and politically impotent. They’re Republicans.
The Democrats, captained by Senate President John Cullerton, have a 40-19 super majority, with more than 60 percent of the chamber’s members. That means that Cullerton’s crew can override the governor’s veto and have enough votes to pass any bill in an overtime session. No Republican vote is needed.
The Democrats’ 2011 remap, which was designed by Cullerton and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, consigned the Republicans to a legislative minority until at least 2022, so the Republicans’ goal for the fall election is limited to trying to break out of their super minority.
It could happen. Three Democratic senators are at risk — Terry Link (D-30) of Waukegan, Mike Jacobs (D-36) of Rock Island and Andy Manar (D-48) of Decatur, Cullerton’s former top aide.
Legislative districts are redrawn every decade, and senators are elected to two 4-year terms and one 2-year term. Their sequences are 4-4-2, 4-2-4, or 2-4-4. State representatives are elected to 2-year terms.
Nineteen senators face re-election this year, those in the 2-4-4 sequence; 12 are Democrats and seven are Republicans. There is one open Republican seat, that of Kirk Dillard of Elmhurst, who is running for governor, and 14 incumbents, eight Democrats and six Republicans, are running unopposed. Don Harmon (D-39) of Oak Park and Mattie Hunter (D-3) have primary opposition. Only four seats are in play:
36th District (Rock Island, Moline): Jacobs, who was appointed in 2005 and re-elected in 2006, 2008 and 2012, is not deemed one of the body’s savviest senators. He has won in Democratic years. He backed gay marriage and the concealed carry law, but he is dependent on Cullerton’s campaign stockpile. His Republican opponent is Neil Anderson, a Moline firefighter. Outlook: Toss-up.
48th District (Decatur and surrounding rural areas): The district was created in 2011 by Cullerton to elect Manar. He won a tough race Decatur’s mayor in 2012. However, his support of gay marriage and the Democrats’ legislative agenda puts him in jeopardy. His Republican opponent is Linda Little, who is not particularly credible. Neither Barack Obama nor Pat Quinn is popular in the district. Leans Democratic.
30th District (Waukegan, Lincolnshire, North Chicago, Genesee): Link is the Lake County Democratic Party chairman, and he has been a senator since 1996, but his shelf life is nearing expiration. The district’s black and Hispanic voters in the north should make it secure, but Link’s liberal record makes him a target. His Republican opponent is Don Wilson. Leans Democratic.
24th District (Elmhurst, Westmont, Western Springs): Dillard ran for governor in 2010, losing the primary by 193 votes. Because he was in a 2-4-4 sequence, he did not relinquish his Senate seat, but this year he does. It’s a Tea Party-versus-establishment fight, with former state representative Chris Nybo, who lost to Dillard in a 2012 primary, facing state Representative Dennis Reboletti. Nybo is more conservative and a better campaigner. The Democrats, behind Suzanne Glowiak, will make an effort. Leans Republican.
To regain relevance, the Republicans must elect a governor in the fall and cut the Democratic numbers to 38 in the Senate and to 58 in the House. Otherwise, the Republican governor will be a eunuch.
There are 23 senators with districts within or part of Cook County — roughly 40 percent the chamber. Just three are Republicans. As recently as 2002, seven were Republicans. Every one of Chicago’s 14 districts has a Democratic senator.
The 2013 session had some notable achievements, but not necessarily accomplishments. As detailed in the adjoining vote chart, the legislature legalized same-sex marriage, allowed concealed carry of firearms, granted undocumented immigrants the right to a state driver’s license, ensured that the homeless have certain rights, funded the Peotone land acquisition and the new DePaul University stadium at McCormick Place, and allowed fracking for natural gas.
However, the biggest controversy was Illinois’ pension shortfall, which is now close to $100 billion, an increase of $20 billion since 2011. Almost $10 billion of the state budget annually is allotted to pensions. The so-called "reform" bill cuts state payments by $1 billion annually and allegedly will save $160 billion over 30 years, but unpaid bills of $11.6 billion, a deficit of $4.1 billion, a decline of operating revenue and an increase in spending loom by 2016.
The senators listed in the vote chart are all Democrats. Cullerton, Harmon and Dan Biss face re-election this year. Here’s how they voted:
Ira Silverstein (D-8) of the West Rogers Park 50th Ward was first elected in 1998. An Orthodox Jew, he said that he was out of the chamber when the gay marriage vote occurred. Silverstein usually is a conventional liberal, for gun control and against fracking, but he would have been out of his mind to commit himself on gay marriage. His wife Debra is the 50th Ward alderman. He is safe politically, and he was unopposed in 2012.
John Mulroe (D-10) of Edison Park won in 2010 because Cullerton spent close to $1 million to beat Republican Brian Doherty. Mulroe defeated Doherty 30,087-24,203, with 55.4 percent of the vote. Mulroe usually votes as Cullerton dictates, but he showed some spunk backing concealed carry and to override Quinn’s veto. He was unopposed in 2012.
Dan Kotowski (D-28) is a former social worker who moved from Rogers Park to Park Ridge in 2004, started running for senator in early 2005, and proved that hard work and discipline can overcome the odds. Kotowski worked precincts more than 6 hours a day for 18 months. He eked out a 1,434-vote win in 2006, and he kept up his routine. He won by 16,051 votes in 2008, and he won by 11,612 votes in 2012, spending more than $1.6 million. Kotowski supported gun control and gay marriage and opposed fracking.
Dan Biss (D-9) of Evanston is a young man in a hurry who has mastered the art of political fund-raising, marketing and campaigning. In 2010, when longtime Republican state representative Beth Coulson retired, Biss, then age 33, won the historically Republican House seat, centered in Glenview and Northfield, by 4,038 votes, with 54.8 percent of the vote. In 2012, when incumbent Democrat Jeff Schoenberg retired, Biss quickly preempted the field, raised nearly $600,000, and won by 34,983 votes. A fervent liberal, Biss will run for Congress when Jan Schakowsky (D-9) retires.
Don Harmon of Oak Park, who was first elected in 2002, is a political chameleon. In Springfield he is the Senate president pro tempore and a tight ally of Cullerton. In liberal Oak Park, where he is the Democratic committeeman, Harmon postures as an independent and a reformer while perpetually building his political machine. Harmon was unopposed in 2012, but he faces a primary race against attorney Bob Galhotra. Harmon will win, but he suffered a setback when his hand-picked choice for Oak Park mayor lost in 2013.
Heather Steans of the Rogers Park/Uptown area is proof positive that money can buy you happiness — or at least a state Senate seat. Steans was just a rich socialite until she and her husband began lavishly donating to Rod Blagojevich and other Democrats. When a Senate seat opened in 2008, she got it, proving that if you can’t work your way to the top, you can buy your way to the top.
Iris Martinez, a Puerto Rican who has been a senator since 2002, is allied with the liberal wing of the North Side Hispanics, who are in perpetual battle with Joe Berrios. One of the two House seats in her district was occupied by Deb Mell, who now is the 33rd Ward alderman. Martinez lives in the 33rd Ward, where Dick Mell is still the Democratic committeeman. There are rumors circulating that Martinez will challenge Deb Mell in 2015.
Willie Delgado, a protege of former state senator Miguel del Valle, also is Puerto Rican. Delgado was a state representative for 8 years before succeeding del Valle in 2006. As the chart indicates, Delgado is rather erratic in his votes — for concealed carry but then for Quinn’s veto, against pension reform on two votes but then "present" on the third. At some point, perhaps in 2016, the Berrios machine will try to take him out.
Cullerton, who has been in the legislature for 36 years, the last 24 as senator, is a lifer and an insider, representing the North Lakefront; he has a Republican opponent. At age 65, he will be the Senate president for many more years, if not decades.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.