By CARL GREEN
With the Illinois primary now history, Democrats and their labor supporters are refocusing on their battle with their common and unrelenting foe, Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Winning a few more seats in the House of Representatives would be a good move for them. The party theoretically has a veto-proof majority in both the House and Senate, but party leaders on several occasions have come up just a vote or two short of overriding Rauner’s vetoes.
Most recently was a vote on a $721 million bill to fund both the community college system and the Monetary Award Program (MAP) that helps needy students attend college, in turn benefiting Illinois universities and the many union members they employ. The measure came up two votes short of what was needed in the House.
Earlier, the House fell three votes short on a veto override of a union-backed bill allowing binding arbitration for AFSCME members who work for the state.
One positive result of the March 15 primary was the defeat of the leading Democratic supporter of Rauner, Rep. Ken Dunkin in the 5th House District in Chicago. Dunkin has almost single-handedly delivered legislative control into Rauner’s hands by voting to uphold his vetoes, including the higher education bill and the arbitration bill, among others.
Unions joined with the Democratic Party and even President Obama to support the candidacy of Juliana Stratton, director of the Center for Public Safety and Justice at the University of Illinois-Chicago. She defeated Dunkin handily with 68 percent of the vote.
At least three races in the metro-east will be vital to protecting and extending the Democrats’ advantage in the House. In two of them, strong Democratic challengers with union ties are seeking to wrest seats away from Republican incumbents. In the other, a Democratic newcomer is trying to win a seat being left open by a retiring Democrat, Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson of East St. Louis.
In East St. Louis, LaToya Greenwood won the Democratic nomination in the 114th House District. She now faces Republican Bob Romanik in the general election for Jackson’s seat.
Greenwood brings a record of accomplishment to the contest. She has worked as director of Human Resources for School District 189 and served two terms on the East St. Louis City Council.
“LaToya’s been elected to two terms in East St. Louis,” said Rep. Jay Hoffman in introducing her to the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council. “She understands the issues of working families.”
Greenwood told the Council that she is a labor supporter.
“East St. Louis has been my home all of my life, and I feel like I have so much to offer,” she said. “When I look at what’s happening in Illinois, and how the Republicans are trying to roll back everything that makes the middle class strong, it is terrifying.
“The Labor Movement was and is essential to building and maintaining our way of life here in Illinois,” she added. “I’m proud to support the men and women of Labor. I’m proud to be endorsed by the AFL-CIO.”
In another key race, longtime Macoupin County Circuit Clerk and union member Mike Mathis is running to unseat Rauner appointee Avery Bourne in the 95th Legislative District, which sits at the north edge of the Metro East and includes parts of Madison County.
Mathis worked as a miner and remains a member of United Mine Workers. He later was an alderman and then mayor of Gillespie. He was elected Macoupin County circuit clerk in 1996 and served until Jan. 1, when he resigned to devote full-time to the legislative race.
Mathis is facing incumbent Avery Bourne, a 23-year-old college student appointed by Rauner and is receiving support from him.
Mathis is running a campaign that emphasizes his accomplishment as a public official and his ties to labor.
“This is about unions and it’s about middle-class families,” he said. “That’s what the fight is all about – nothing else. They think they can buy this election. That’s what Rauner wants to do.”
Another Democratic challenger is Katie Stuart, a math teacher at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville who is challenging Rep. Dwight Kay, a major Rauner supporter, in the winnable 112th House District.
As she told the Labor Tribune: “Just like a lot of people I’ve spoken to, I’m very frustrated with the gridlock in Springfield. I think politicians need to be willing to work together to come up with positive solutions to problems – everyone, from both sides of the aisle.”
Stuart, Mathis and Greenwood all have been endorsed by the AFL-CIO.
One State Senate election offers hope for expanding the Democrats’ lead in the Senate – the 58th District, where incumbent Republican Dave Luechtefeld chose not to run in the primary.
So the Democratic nominee, former Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, 55, may have a shot against the Republican nominee, Waterloo attorney Paul Schimpf, who won in a contested primary.
Simon was lieutenant governor from 2011 to 2014 and has been a law professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
The 58th District ranges across much of southern Illinois, encompassing both Republican and Democratic areas and touching on eight counties. It extends into St. Clair County on the north and west, catches Carbondale in its southern regions and goes east to Mt. Vernon in Jefferson County.
Most other Democratic legislators and officers in the Metro East area ran without opposition in the primary, but they expect Republicans will be more aggressive this time about fielding opponents for them. And those opponents, whoever they may be, can expect to be well-funded by Rauner and the party.
Madison County Auditor Rick Faccin, who is also running for re-election, described it well at the last meeting of the Trades Council.
“These are not traditional Republicans we face,” he said. “These are Tea Party Republicans who are against everything. They’re against working people making a living. They’re against children, they’re against senior citizens. And we have to look no further than our governor in Springfield.”