By CARL GREEN
Collinsville, IL – The mood was somber but not quite grim as Metro-East Labor leaders recently got together to hash over the general election results. They were painfully aware that many of their members had voted for Donald Trump for president.
“The membership spoke. We’ve just got to be positive about it and see where it goes,” said Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council.
“The strong always survive,” he added. “We’ve just got to figure out where we’re at and make some adjustments. What the adjustments are going to be, I don’t know yet. You can’t play a hand until you know what you’ve been dealt. We’ve just got to hang in and ride the boat for a while and see where it’s going.”
Labor and its Democratic Party supporters had a few bright spots in Illinois in a generally dismal election.
One was the resounding victory of Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth over incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Kirk. Another was that of Susana Mendoza for state comptroller over Leslie Munger, the hand-picked candidate of Governor Bruce Rauner.
Union-supported Democrats were successful in some legislative races and managed to keep solid House and Senate majorities despite a few losses in the face of unprecedented spending by Rauner and the broad appeal of Donald Trump at the top of the ticket.
The successes included:
- Katie Stuart, the math teacher from Edwardsville, defeating incumbent Dwight Kay of Glen Carbon, taking 52 percent of the vote in the 112th House District. It was the only Democratic defeat of a Republican legislative incumbent statewide.
- State Rep. Dan Beiser (D-Alton) fighting off a strong challenge in the 111th District from Republican Mike Babcock, winning 53 percent of the vote.
- State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) turning back his challenger, Katherine Ruocco, with 59 percent of the vote in the 113th District. As chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee, Hoffman plays a crucial role for Labor.
- Latoya Greenwood posting a strong win with 57 percent of the vote in the 114th House District over radio host Bob Romanik, the Republican candidate. She will replace the retiring Eddie Jackson.
- State Rep. Brandon Phelps sweeping to re-election with 58 percent in the 118th District in southern Illinois over Jason Kaslar.
Otherwise, the news was mostly bad for Labor-supported Democrats.
CJ Baricevic, the Democratic nominee in the 12th Congressional District, lost to incumbent Republican Mike Bost, who had 54 percent to Baricevic’s 40 percent. Green Party candidate Paula Bradshaw accounted for the remainder. Baricevic did win in his home county, St. Clair, and narrowly in Madison County.
In the most southern counties of Illinois, Democrats and union supporters sustained major losses to two candidates funded by Rauner. Senator Gary Forby lost to his Republican challenger, Harrisburg Mayor Dale Fowler, who had 55 percent. John Bradley, a 13-year House veteran and an assistant majority leader, conceded to Dave Severin, a Republican, in the 117th District. Bradley had 44 percent.
Forby, Bradley and Phelps had been targeted as a group for unprecedented Republican attacks funded by Rauner.
High hopes that Labor leaders and Democrats had for Mike Mathis, a former Macoupin County official challenging appointed Representative Avery Bourne, were dashed when young Bourne, a Rauner protégé, took 57 percent of the vote in the 95th House District, just north of the metro-east.
Stewart said he was shocked that his friend Mathis did not even carry his home county.
“He’d been elected there for 20-something years, and he had endorsements and support from a lot of Republicans,” Stewart said. “I guess when the voters went over and started voting for Trump, they just stayed over there.”
PHONY ADS HURT
Misleading Republican advertising hurt Mathis and other Democrats trying to win for the first time, he noted.
“I just can’t believe how they made up all these things about these candidates being tied to Madigan when they hadn’t even been in office with him – but it sold. Between that and Trump, it just sold.”
Also, former Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon (D-Carbondale) conceded her Senate race in the 58th District to Waterloo lawyer Paul Schimpf, a Republican who took 61 percent of the vote. Newcomer Marsha Griffin, a teacher, lost in the 115th House District to a Republican, Terri Bryant, who had 56 percent.
The County Board chairmen in Madison County and St. Clair County both faced challenges, and only one – St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern (D-Belleville) –succeeded, defeating Republican challenger Rodger Cook, 62,506 to 54,834. Democrats swept the other county offices and kept control of the County Board, 18 to 10.
One of the closest decisions was also a huge blow to Labor. Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan lost to Tea Party Republican Kurt Prenzler 62,499 to 61,993, a slim 506 vote margin.
Prenzler will face a united group of Democrats in the other county offices, including State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons, who won re-election easily. But Prenzler will have a new Republican majority on the County Board, 15-13, with one independent. Three Democratic incumbents lost, and several open seats also went Republican.
Metro-East officials who won without opposition included state Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton) and southern Illinois Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville). Congressman Rodney Davis, who represents much of the Madison County area and parts north, easily defeated Democrat challenger Mark Wicklund of Decatur.
The Trump surge could also be seen in Republican successes in the judiciary.
The 5th District Appellate Court for southern Illinois, based in Mt. Vernon, will swing from a Democratic to a Republican majority after Republicans won both open seats.
John Barberis of Edwardsville defeated Brad Bleyer of Carbondale, and James “Randy” Moore of Carterville won over JoBeth Weber of Mt. Vernon in final tallies from several counties. Both Democrats had worked hard and secured strong Labor support, but their races show how treacherous it was for Democrats trying to win across southern Illinois.
In addition, Clair County Chief Circuit Judge John Baricevic, a longtime Labor supporter and Democratic Party official, barely lost his bid for re-election to a Republican challenger, Ron Duebbert.
Baricevic won in St. Clair County alone, but four neighboring counties’ votes changed the outcome to 79,921 for Duebbert and 79,111 for Baricevic (an 810 vote margin). He is the father of CJ Baricevic.
Another circuit judge, Robert LeChien, won his bid for re-election, and a third judge, Robert Haida, was unopposed. The three Democrats had decided to resign their positions and run for re-election instead of facing retention votes, which require 60 percent approval.
DURBIN: ‘LET’S MOVE FORWARD’
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, assistant minority leader in the Senate and a native of East St. Louis, called on Americans to move forward together.
“The bedrock principle of America is that we select our leaders and then come together as a country to find common ground and move forward,” he said.
“While the administration will change in January, our core values never will, and I will work with all of my strength each day in the Senate to look out for the most vulnerable among us, and to ensure liberty and equality for every person in America.”
He told the Chicago Tribune he was ready to work with Trump. “That’s my responsibility. That’s what I accepted when I took this office,” he said. “I just hope the office will build the man and help him understand the awesome responsibility which the American people have given him.
“You have to remember, though, the institution of the Senate was designed to respect the minority. Most important things will have to be done on a bipartisan basis.”
FOCUS ON ’18
At the Trades Council meeting, Council President Charles “Totsie” Bailey, business manager of Steamfitters Local 669, made his priorities clear.
“We’ve got to focus on ’18 and get Rauner out of there,” he said. “He’s got to go, no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Also at the meeting, some of the local business managers said substantial numbers of their members had voted for Trump, who won large majorities in Illinois outside of Chicago.
Dale Stewart said they will need consider that trend in dealing with their members.
“We’re going to have to evaluate what we do ourselves and how we talk to our members,” he said. “We’re just not listening to them. We’re still trying to get them to believe what we want instead of working with them on what they want to do.
“Are we going to have to make some changes in how we communicate with our members? Yes. Is it the end of the road? No. We can make out that way if we want to, but we’ve just got to be positive about this and try to move forward. We’ve got a lot of members out there we’ve got to take care of, and there’s a lot of work to be done.”