By CARL GREEN
The solidly Democratic Metro East didn’t look so solid in Nov. 4 as voters turned to Republicans in state, regional and even some local elections.
Even so, Democratic issues won by large margins in a series of referendums.
Madison County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza barely won re-election against little-known Republican Stephen Adler.
Attorney Marlene Suarez ran a hard-charging campaign to unseat Madison County’s only Republican officeholder, Treasurer Kurt Prenzler, but fell short.
Madison and St. Clair counties were strong contributors to Republican Bruce Rauner’s defeat of Gov. Pat Quinn. Rauner had 45,892 votes in Madison County to 28,290 for Quinn.
Even popular U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, re-elected statewide, lost in Madison County.
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, a Democrat from Belleville, couldn’t win in his own backyard to Republican Mike Bost, best known for his screaming rants on the Illinois House floor.
Ann Callis, the former Madison County chief judge, fought hard but lost to U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) in a race Democrats had thought was winnable.
Callis issued a short statement on Friday thanking her supporters and pledging to continue working for good causes.
“I’m proud of the campaign we ran and the issues we sought to highlight,” Callis said. “It has been inspiring to have met so many incredible people.”
POOR VOTER TURNOUT
Democrats and labor leaders suggested voter apathy and frustration and bad weather all contributed to the low turnout and poor performance at the polls.
“We got the word out, but we didn’t get the people out,” said Bill Mathes, legislative representative for United Transportation Union Local 1402
Despite Illinois’ new early-voting opportunities, people still waited until the last minute and then were frustrated by a cold, stormy Election Day, Mathes said.
“It was a national wave,” said State Rep. Jay Hoffman, a Democrat from Swansea who won re-election. “It seems like it happens every other year. I don’t believe the public has turned away from Democrats, but our electorate didn’t participate in the way that they needed to.”
Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, had repeatedly warned the trades community that electing Rauner could make all of their lives more difficult because of the candidate’s anti-union attitude – and the governor’s powers to direct public policy.
“We’re curious to see what he’s going to do,” Stewart said.
On the plus side, he said, Democrats still control House and Senate in Illinois, which will should keep some limits on Rauner.
The Metro East judiciary will take a definite swing toward the Republicans with the defeats of two strong Democratic candidates for open judgeships.
Heinz Rudolf barely lost in the 20th Judicial Circuit to Republican Stephen McGlynn, and Clarence Harrison lost in the Third Judicial Circuit to John Barberis.
TOUGH WINS AND SURPRISING LOSSES
State Sen. James Clayborne, an East St. Louis Democrat, won re-election in a close race, buoyed by strong margins in Madison County and East St. Louis. He lagged in the outlying parts of St. Clair County.
Labor favorite Cullen L. Cullen, a Democrat from Edwardsville who challenged state Rep. Dwight Kay, lost both in Madison County and overall Democrats had considered it a promising race.
Hoffman won fairly easily over Melinda Holt.
Another friend of labor State Sen. Andy Manar, scratched out a win over Linda Little in his heavily rural district north of the Metro East.
Most Republican statewide candidates ran well in the Metro East. Even Attorney General Lisa Madigan, considered a potential future candidate for governor, won re-election statewide but lost in Madison County.
Cullen, who works as the Venice school superintendent and waged a persistent door-to-door campaign, said he is not convinced from talking to voters that the region is becoming more Republican.
Many voters were just frustrated, he said, and that worked against Democrats.
While Democrats were losing in individual races, their issues were winning strongly in several state referendums. Ironically, it was Gov. Quinn who led the original campaign to change the state constitution to make such referendums possible.
Two of the referenda were for binding amendments to the state constitution. One protects voters from being disenfranchised over race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other grounds – a Democratic response to Republican attempts nationally to restrain turnout among voters who traditionally support Democrats.
The other is a measure to protect rights of crime victims in the judicial process.
Three other referendums were non-binding and thus still require legislative action:
- Raising the state minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 – something Quinn promoted and Rauner opposed.
- A school funding measure that would impose a 3 percent tax on those earning $1 million or more in annually adjusted gross income.
- A constitutional amendment requiring health insurance plans to cover birth control – a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling that allows “closely held” private companies to opt out on religious grounds.
Stewart said he would be watching to see who Rauner appoints as director of the Department of Labor, an influential position that has sway over the many government projects involving the trades.
Rauner has repeatedly suggested the benefits right-to-work or “right-to-work zones,” though the Illinois legislature is unlikely to approve such a measure.
He has also proposed fragmenting state prevailing wage protections to allow municipalities, counties and townships to set their own.
“That’s what we’re concerned about,” Stewart said. “That’s what’s going to hurt us.”
Hoffman said he expects attacks on working families to continue, at least for the next two years.
“We’re going to have to keep standing up for what we believe in,” he said.
BACK IN 2 YEARS
In only two years, America will be choosing a new president, and the legislative bodies will be shuffled yet again.
Americans weary of campaign ads, telephone surveys, mailings and news coverage will soon be hearing about potential presidential candidates jockeying for position in the primaries.
That’s what democracy looks like.