By ELIZABETH DONALD
Illinois’ Democratic incumbents held most of the state and federal offices in the Nov. 8 midterm election, while a few seats flipped back to the Republicans despite union endorsement.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the full slate of Democrats for statewide elected offices won reelection in what the Chicago Tribune called a “Democratic blowout,” using words like “shellacking” and “blue wave” to describe Illinois’ election results.
Pritzker vowed to work toward a society where “books are not banned, nor children are shielded from the truth about all of our American history.” Touching on conservative extremism, women’s rights, education, health care, a living wage and former President Donald Trump’s imminent presidential campaign, Pritzker’s speech has spurred pundits’ speculation for a future presidential run for the reelected governor.
Illinois Democrats now hold a wider majority in the state House than any time in history, with as many as 78 of 118 seats held by Democrats. With at least 40 Democratic state Senators, the Senate also will have a supermajority.
Pritzker, who has repeatedly campaigned downstate including in the Metro East, easily defeated rural conservative Darren Bailey with 2.1 million votes to Bailey’s 1.7 million in final but unofficial results.
Two surprise upsets unseated Labor-backed Democrats, however. State Sen. Kris Tharp, who had been appointed to take Rachelle Aud Crowe’s seat when she accepted appointment as a U.S. attorney, lost a narrow race to Erica Conway Harriss (R-Edwardsville). Tharp, a captain with the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, lost by fewer than 2,000 votes, according to the Belleville News-Democrat. He had served less than a year in the legislature.
Also unseated was State Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis), an upset that surprised local Labor leaders.
Scot Luchtefeld, chair of the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council, said: “We lost a great state representative who voted 100 percent for Labor issues. The gentleman who was elected… we’ll be lucky to get 30 percent.”
Luchtefeld said there was a “smear campaign” of ads alleging that Greenwood was responsible for rising utility bills. “People believed the lies, and they put it out right before the election,” he said.
GOP state Rep. Amy Elik defeated Labor-backed challenger Joe Silkwood in the 111th District, while Labor-supported state Rep. Katie Stuart easily held off her GOP challenger, Jennifer Korte.
At the federal level, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth easily retained her seat for the Democrats, and the state congressional delegation is now 14-3 Democratic, with Nikki Budzinski (D-Springfield) flipping the 13th Congressional seat that had been held by the GOP for decades.
Budzinski defeated Republican heiress Regan Deering 56 percent to 44 percent. Budzinski was a national political director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in Washington D.C. before running for Congress. She succeeds the GOP’s Rodney Davis, a five-term Congressman who lost his primary run against Deering.
Labor issues had come up several times in the Congressional race, after Deering said she believes the minimum wage should be lowered and “doesn’t believe we need to enshrine union power” when asked about the Workers Rights Amendment. In reply, Budzinski said she was proud to have worked in the Labor Movement and said it was “disappointing but not surprising” to hear Deering’s comments. “She inherited millions and couldn’t know the struggles of working people,” Budzinski said.
On election night, Budzinski said it was her “greatest honor to have the opportunity to represent the working families and communities of central and southern Illinois” in Congress. She said her win was possible because of the women trailblazers ahead of her. “We need more women in public service, and I’m proud to help pave the way for future generations of women leaders,” she said.
The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette pointed out that Budzinski will be the first woman to represent Champaign County in 190 years since the county was incorporated.
Meanwhile, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Miller defeated Democrat Paul Lange 71 to 28 percent to hold the 15th Congressional District, and U.S. Rep. Mike Bost defeated Homer “Chip” Markel in the 12th Congressional District by a similar margin of 75 to 25 percent.
Luchtefeld said he believes there is a “stigma” against Democrats in some areas of southern Illinois, and it was reflected in the mixed results of the election.
“We won a lot of seats we were going for and lost some, unfortunately,” he said. “This area is getting redder, and we are voting against ourselves.”
Luchtefeld put some of the blame on the campaign mailer designed to look like a newspaper that hit mailboxes right before the election.
In Madison County, 10-year incumbent county clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza was defeated by Republican Linda Andreas, and Republicans will hold 18 of 26 seats on the county board, a reversal over the last several years for a county government that was Democrat-controlled from World War II until 2016.
Among the judicial races, all three Labor-backed Democrats running for circuit judge were defeated by Republican candidates in the new 1st Subcircuit. Democrats Ebony Huddleston, John Barry Julian and Associate Judge Ryan Jumper were each endorsed by multiple Labor organizations.