Patrick Skarr, Senior Account Executive
In late June a Cook County Judge invalidated two citizen-led constitutional reform measures from being placed on this year’s ballot. This judicial decision was the fatal blow to the group pushing for redistricting reform, while the group advocating term limits has decided to further press its case in court.
While erudite and highly compensated attorneys will continue to argue over the compatibility of the term limit initiative with the text of our state constitution, wholesale reform of state government through citizen-initiated amendment seems unlikely anytime soon. The high threshold established and codified decades ago has claimed at least one well-funded initiative already this year.
What does this mean for this year’s election prospects and the overall political environment for Illinois? After all, the term limits and remap amendments would have had an impact, but not until the 2022 elections at the earliest.
I’m far from a soothsayer, but it is easy to write the essence of the press stories to be filed on November 5 about the election results for the General Assembly: “Little changed in Springfield, few new faces to be seen in the capitol.”
That’s because as of today, of the 100 Illinois House members seeking reelection 56 have no opponent this fall! Once the pending objections are decided, as many as 62 incumbents seeking reelection will win by default for just having survived the primary season.
For all of the talk and interest in rewriting the state constitution to shakeup Springfield, an equally potent and legally recognized way of challenging the political system – contested elections – went untapped this cycle. While inches of column space were devoted to the arcane certification procedures used to certify petitions for the ballot initiatives, Monday, June 2 came and passed with little fanfare across the state.
That was the last day established parties could nominate an individual to run for office if no one ran during the primary election. Say what you want about political parties, but they serve a useful purpose in having orderly and contested elections.
With precinct captains, township organizations and county party chairman of every rank, experience, and stature, you would think Illinois would have a vibrant two-party system in the fifth-largest state in the nation. But in reality we are looking at a very staid and predictable November election – excluding the current ‘chicken dances’ consuming the gubernatorial election.
Once again the hope for the minority party has been placed in a top-heavy ticket, whose coattails are hopefully long enough to carry through modest change in the caucus count in both chambers of the assembly. The big money, experienced field organizers, and media will focus on the gubernatorial election; all while the 11 contested open House races that will truly dictate the balance of power operate underneath the radar.
There is a strategy of minimizing the playing field to focus scarce resources on a few targeted races. There are also arguments to be made that fielding too many candidates would drive Democrat turnout across Chicago and Cook County during a close election cycle endangering a chance of capturing the governorship.
But given the millions pouring into the two amendment committees, you would have thought slightly more than 37 percent of the elections for the Illinois House would be contested this fall. Despite the fact that Illinois’ governors have some of the strongest executive powers in the nation, bills must originate in either the House or Senate. This cycle 85 percent of incumbent House members and 94 percent of Senators are seeking reelection.
Both ballot initiative committees were able to secure a stream of five, six and seven figure contributions. A search on the State Board of Elections shows that since July 1 last year, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin raised over $760,000 and the House Republican Organization raised $956,000. An impressive haul, but Democrats maintain a crushing financial advantage.
Both ballot initiative committees turned in more than 500,000 signatures on petitions, to gain certification by the State Board of Elections to be placed on the ballot. In contrast, a House candidate needed only 500 valid signatures, but could turn in no more than 1,500 signatures; double that amount for Senate elections. Theoretically you would need only 78,000 valid signatures to field a candidate in every legislative district in the state.
It, of course, isn’t as simple as walking around and collecting signatures. As Kristen McQueary recently detailed in the Tribune, there are a ridiculous amount of technicalities in the election code including this nugget, “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][p]aper clips instead of punch holes? You’re toast.” That’s where expert circulators and savvy election attorneys could have made an immediate difference this cycle.
Republicans have operated in asymmetric electoral warfare against opponents with larger staffs, budgets, and the omnipotent Speaker Madigan for years. However, the definition of insanity is doing that cycle after cycle and expecting different results.
Granted there is high certainty of futility in contesting districts where the partisan or demographic balance is so overwhelming. However, if the goal is to actually institute a change in power, one day Republicans will have to field enough quality candidates who are able to connect with the voters in their respective districts and have adequate funding to meaningfully endanger the Madigan caucus. Otherwise it is simply a game of clipping the Speaker’s wings a tad here and there.
We don’t need ballot initiatives; we need candidates and real elections.
Before I’m accused of having a ‘House bias,’ it is worth noting that despite there being 19 Illinois Senate seats up for election, there will be little impact. No incumbent Republican senator faces opposition this cycle and Democrats could lose every contested election and still maintain their majority. However, between 58 and 68 percent of Senate races will be contested this year, a higher figure than the House.
- 91 Total candidates filed, they currently hold 71 of 118 seats (super majority).
- 65 Incumbents are seeking reelection. Between 29 and 33 incumbents face an opponent.
- Ceded at least 27 races to House Republicans, or 23% of the total House.
- Filed 5 objections to remove a Republican candidate from the ballot.
- 79 Total candidates filed, they currently hold 47 seats (super minority).
- 35 Incumbents are seeking reelection. Between 24 and 26 incumbents face an opponent.
- Ceded at least 40 races to House Democrats, or 33% of the total House.
- Filed 3 objections to remove a Democrat candidate from the ballot.
- 13 Total candidates filed, they currently hold 40 of 59 seats (super majority).
- 12 Incumbents are seeking reelection. Between 5 and 7 incumbents face an opponent.
- Ceded at least 6 races to senate Republicans, or 10% of the total Senate.
- Filed 4 objections to remove a Republican candidate from the ballot.
- Did not challenge a single incumbent Republican senator seeking reelection.
- 14 Total candidates filed (one already withdrew), they currently hold 19 of 59 seats (super minority).
- 6 Incumbents are seeking reelection. No GOP incumbent faces an opponent this cycle.
- Ceded at least 4 races to Senate Democrats, or 7% of the total Senate.
- No petition challenges were filed to remove a candidate.
- They are defending one open-seat race, currently held by Kirk Dillard.