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, “