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Politcal Kaleidoscope: The new legislative map reflects shifts in Illinois' population

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Jeff Schoenberg is in the catbird seat. 

His new Senate district just to the north of Chicago is largely Democratic, and home to thousands of Jews. Schoenberg is a Democrat; he’s also Jewish. And he does especially well with these constituencies. 

Beyond upscale Evanston, his hometown, the new 9th District encompasses some of the state’s most affluent communities. It stretches north through Wilmette, Winnetka and Kenilworth, and west through parts of Skokie, Morton Grove, Glenview and Northbrook. The economic downturn isn’t readily apparent here: New homes are going up everywhere. These voters are prosperous movers and shakers, and, by and large, they’re social liberals and fiscal conservatives. 

This is Schoenberg’s kind of crowd. 

On a tour of the district, he chuckles as he drives by the Barnum & Bagel, a restaurant in Skokie where he used to film a cable television show. “I would have guests sit down and have breakfast with me and people got a big kick out of it,” he says. “It was supposed to be like a bunch of friends getting together and talking about various issues, politics or whatever.”

Schoenberg can’t claim this district, at least not yet; he’s still a state representative and, officially, only a contender for the Senate seat. But the odds are against his opponent, little-known Wilmette Republican Robin Thybony. After all, this district was drawn just for Schoenberg. 

He’s serving his sixth term in the House and, while he’s not in leadership, he chairs the Appropriations-General Services Committee. Last year he explored a run for state treasurer. But, Schoenberg says, after the Democrats won the right to draw new boundaries for the state’s legislative districts, party leaders persuaded him to help “lead the charge” for control of the Senate.

That will be the chamber to watch in the coming months. 

Republicans hold the majority in the Senate now, with 32 members to the Democrats’ 27. But the once-a-decade remap, required to reflect shifts in the state’s population, increases the potential for partisan change. And the Democrats gave themselves every advantage by drawing districts, including the 9th, that favor their party. 

The real partisan battle is shaping up in the Senate. And there's plenty at stake. A Democratic win in the Senate likely will mean Democratic control of the General Assembly - if, as expected, that party retains the House. The Democrats haven't enjoyed that power in a decade.

They drew a favorable House map, too. But that chamber is already controlled by the Democrats, 62 to 56. In fact, Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago has managed to win a majority in four of the last five elections, despite facing a map drawn by the GOP 10 years ago. Republicans face especially long odds this year in the House. 

The real partisan battle is shaping up in the Senate. And there’s plenty at stake. A Democratic win in the Senate likely will mean Democratic control of the General Assembly — if, as expected, that party retains the House. The Democrats haven’t enjoyed that power in a decade.

Further, Illinois is in line to help tip the balance of power among the nation’s legislatures. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans and Democrats control 17 legislatures each; the other 15, including Illinois, are split. (Nebraska’s legislature is unicameral and nonpartisan.) As in Illinois, the political parties in other states are expected to focus considerable capital on the legislative races.

And for good reason. Partisan control determines a legislature’s policy agenda. Gun control measures, for example, routinely pass the Illinois House but die in the Senate. That more conservative chamber also is not nearly as generous as the House when it comes to human services spending.

To reverse their fortunes in the Senate, the Democrats will need to hang on to 27 seats and win three more. 

This scenario is not as straight-forward as it seems. Three Democratic incumbents won’t be returning and one incumbent faces a serious challenge. Sen. Lisa Madigan of Chicago opted to run for state attorney general, Sen. Robert Molaro of Chicago is running for a House seat and Sen. Evelyn Bowles of Edwardsville is retiring. In addition, Sen. William O’Daniel of Mount Vernon in the southern region of the state is facing a formidable challenge from GOP Rep. John Jones, also of Mount Vernon. O’Daniel’s victory is not assured.

That leaves the Senate Democrats with 23 seats held by seemingly secure incumbents. But there’s more to the equation. There are two new Chicago-based Hispanic districts that presumably will be filled by Democrats. And Bowles’ seat in Metro East, a Democratic stronghold, is expected to be filled by Madison County State’s Attorney William Haine, a Democrat who is running unopposed.

Now that’s 26 Senate seats the Democrats consider securely in their corner, not including O’Daniel’s. By this calculation, they’ll need to win four more seats to get the 30 votes required for control of the Senate. So they’ve set their sights on six priority races. They consider three of the six districts safely in their camp and three competitive. Only two of these priority districts, including O’Daniel’s, lie outside the Chicago suburban region.

Party leaders won’t speculate about their chances. But privately, candidates and campaign strategists contend the Democrats are working with a Senate map that virtually ensures 30 to 32 Democratic seats in that chamber.

Not so fast, say others. Even a Democrat-drawn map offers no guarantees. 

“There are a lot of people out there who have already come to the conclusion that the Senate is likely to be in Democratic hands,” says Todd Maisch, vice president of government affairs at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “I think those people have jumped the gun; it’s going to be a battle down to election day. And it’s very likely that neither party will have a margin for error; whoever has control will have 30 votes.”

For their part, Senate Republicans have been less forthcoming about strategy. They challenged the map in state and federal court, arguing it’s politically “unfair,” and that the remap commission’s deliberations last summer violated due process. The Illinois Supreme Court, which consists of five Democrats and two Republicans, upheld the map. The federal district court heard arguments in mid-January.

Nevertheless, candidates from both parties filed for office in December. The campaign season is underway.

And Senate Democrats have their work cut out for them going into November. David Gross, the Senate Democratic political director, says he’s not taking any of his party’s six priority races for granted. He says it’s difficult to predict with any precision voter turnout for either party in any given district. “I classify all those [six] districts as swing races.”

Still, three of those races are likely to favor Democrats. Besides the 9th, there’s the 19th District, encompassing the far southwest suburbs, and the 39th District, encompassing the near northwest. 

The new 19th District stretches from Orland Park south to Tinley Park and southeast to Park Forest. Rep. Maggie Crotty, an Oak Forest Democrat, is the only candidate who filed. Under state election law, though, the parties have until early May to slate candidates for spots where there is no party nominee coming out of the March primary.

Crotty is serving her third term in the House, where she has focused on health and school-related issues.

She was elected in 1996 when the Democrats swept the southwest suburbs. Communities there had been growing more Democratic and, in an effort to regain control of the House — Republicans had control in 1995 and 1996 — Madigan, now House speaker and chair of the Illinois Democratic Party, targeted those districts. Crotty, together with James Brosnahan of Evergreen Park, George Scully Jr. of Flossmoor, Mary Kay O’Brien of Coal City, Kevin McCarthy of Orland Park and Mike Giglio of Lansing, helped the Demo-crats regain their majority in the House. If she has a disadvantage in this race, it’s that she currently represents only a small portion of the new Senate district. “Whether I’m opposed or not opposed, I’m going to work very hard to make sure people know me,” Crotty says.

The 39th District runs from a tip of Chicago’s West Side northwest through Franklin Park to O’Hare International Airport. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat and associate with the Chicago law firm of Mayer, Brown & Platt, is running for this seat. Harmon is Oak Park Township Democratic committeeman. The University of Chicago law school graduate served in 1995 as legal counsel for then-House Minority Leader Madigan. He has not run for office before. 

“This is one of the most diverse districts that I could imagine,” Harmon says. “It runs from the west side of the city through Oak Park and Oak Forest. It picks up communities like Elmwood Park, River Grove, Rosemont, Bensenville, the airport. 

I think the issues that will resonate with voters from corner to corner are truly the bread and butter issues: job creation, education, health care and improving the quality of life for our kids.”

In November, Harmon will face James Caporusso, a Franklin Park Republican and aide to Republican Rep. Angelo “Skip” Saviano of Elmwood Park. 

One issue certain to play in this race: the deal struck between Gov. George Ryan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to expand O’Hare. Harmon says he supports the plan, including construction of a new south runway, which would displace several hundred residents in Bensenville. “O’Hare Airport is the economic engine that drives the region and I fully support responsible development and expansion,” he says. Caporusso did not return calls for comment.

Beyond these three priority districts, the Democrats have identified three competitive districts that could be more likely swing to either party. In the north suburban 29th District, Rep. Susan Garrett is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Kathleen Parker. The other so-called “target” districts are located downstate: the Champaign-based 52nd and the Mount Vernon-based 54th.

The suburban 29th stretches north through parts of Glencoe, Highland Park and Lake Forest, then heads southwest to Des Plaines. Parker, who lives in Northbrook, is a strong campaigner and Democrats have their work cut out for them.

Parker currently represents about a third of this new district, and has no primary opponent. In the Senate, she has focused on health care, disabilities, transportation and small business issues. “This year alone, I got six ‘legislator of the year’ awards,” she says. “I have a lot of broad-based issues that I work on.”

In fact, on the campaign trail, Parker is regarded as one of the GOP’s best contenders. In 1994, she beat former Democratic Rep. Grace Mary Stern following a hotly contested race.

This time around, the Democrats do have a primary race.

Chris Cohen, a Glencoe Democrat with a law practice in Chicago, is vying to face Parker in November. He was a Chicago alderman in the 1970s, and has subsequently held an array of federal, state and county jobs.

Rep. Garrett, who lives in Lake Forest, has been endorsed by local Democratic office-holders. She hopes to “make the Senate much more open and democratic with a lower case ‘d.’” She says more than half the bills that pass the House don’t get past the Senate Rules Committee to substantive committees. And she blames that on Senate President James “Pate” Philip, the Wood Dale Republican who directs Senate activity. (To be fair, House members last year introduced 3,717 bills, more than twice the 1,540 introduced in the Senate, and passed 743 of those House bills to the Senate. The Senate did pass more bills — 432 — proportionate to those introduced.) 

So would making the Senate “Democratic” make that chamber more “democratic”? She responds: “Whether or not it’s Democratic with an upper case ‘D,’ I have the interest and persistence to follow through on important issues and I’ll do everything I can to get those issues heard in the Senate.” 

Garrett is serving her second term in the House, where she pushed legislation to permit residents of unincorporated areas to use their library cards at all participating public libraries in their regional library system. Previously, nonresident cards could be used only at the library where the card was issued. That law took effect last month.

“The good news,” Gross says, “is that Jeff Schoenberg, Maggie Crotty and Susan Garrett are strong, proven commodities, and they are going to be key campaigns for us as we look to take the majority back.”

In central Illinois, the new 52nd District, which stretches from Champaign east to the Indiana border, also is considered highly competitive because it encompasses Democrat-leaning Urbana-Champaign, home of the University of Illinois, and Republican-leaning farm country to the east.

The Republicans have a primary contest in this district. Incumbent Sen. Judith Myers of Danville faces a challenge from Rep. Rick Winkel of Champaign.

Myers has served in the Senate since 1997, where she sits on the Agriculture, Local Government and Executive Appointments committees. She was Vermilion County recorder from 1980 to 1997. 

Winkel has served since 1995 in the House, where he sits on the Judiciary (criminal law), Higher Education and Elections committees. An attorney, he served as a Champaign County Board member from 1992 to 1994.

In November, the GOP nominee will face Dan McCollum, a Champaign Democrat and that city’s former mayor.

And in southern Illinois, the 54th District swings through 13 counties. Democratic strategists consider this a race to watch. There are plenty of Democrats in this district, where labor unions are strong. But these Demo-crats, unlike those on the North Shore, are socially conservative. Republicans can appeal to this constituency.

Sen. William O’Daniel, a Mount Vernon Democrat, currently represents the bulk of that district, where he is regarded as extremely popular, and is running for re-election. In the Senate, where he has served since 1985, he sits on the Agriculture, Transportation and Forestry Development committees, all areas of interest to his region. O’Daniel also served two terms in the House in the 1970s. 

But Rep. John Jones, a Mount Vernon Republican, will oppose him in November. In the House, where he has served since 1995, Jones sits on the Agriculture, Tourism and Transportation committees. 

Both parties are keeping an eye on this district. “John Jones is an excellent candidate who is well liked and respected,” says Rep. Tom Cross, an Oswego Republican and newly appointed deputy House minority leader. “But he’s running up against an equally tough candidate [in O’Daniel] because of the incumbency issue.”

Nevertheless, incumbency may not mean as much this year. Ordinarily, it confers the benefits of name recognition and a tested voter base. That’s not necessarily the case in the election after a remap. 

In southern Illinois, economic development-related issues prevail in campaigns. But the O’Daniel-Jones race could get more personal if O’Daniel’s age — he’s 78 — becomes an issue.

“From what I can see, a lot of incumbent senators who may have had safe districts are now going to have a lot of new territory to become known in and it will not be an easy walk for them by any stretch,” says Sean Stott, legislative director at the Illinois American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations.

A few House races also could get heated. (Each Senate district encompasses two House districts.) In District 103, based in Champaign, Rep. Tom Berns, an Urbana Republican, is unopposed in the March primary. Two Democrats have filed to face off in the primary: Naomi Jakobsson and Laurel Lunt Prussing, who lost in 1994 to Winkel. Both reside in Urbana. 

In District 17, the west half of the north suburban Senate district drawn for Schoenberg, Rep. Elizabeth Coulson, a Glenview Republican, is unopposed in the primary. Michael Ian Bender of Skokie and Pat Hughes of Wilmette are seeking the Democratic nomination.

And in District 107, the west half of O’Daniel’s new district in southern Illinois, Republicans hope John Caveletto, a Salem Republican, will give incumbent Rep. Kurt Granberg, a Carlyle Democrat and assistant majority leader, a run for his money. Granberg dismisses the challenge as weak. 

In the House, the Democrats are looking to protect incumbents and pad their margin. Beyond that, they’re pinning their hopes on winning the chamber on the other side of the Capitol rotunda — control, in short, of the General Assembly. 

That’s not a foregone conclusion. 

As Gross puts it: “I’m always optimistic, but I’m never going to count my eggs until they’re hatched.” Much could depend, for example, on whether the Democrats have a strong gubernatorial nominee.

As for Schoenberg, he’s comfortable growing into the Senate district designed for him. He parks his Jeep to survey The Glen, a subdivision being built on the site of the closed Glenview Naval Air Station. Though construction is far from complete, there’s already a train station, a strip mall, town houses and an assisted living center built by Hyatt.

“The Glen will have all the finest amenities of the North Shore,” Schoenberg says. “And if a synagogue or temple were to be established here, it would probably serve as a magnet for more younger Jewish families, which would in turn help my political fortunes down the road.” 

 

Legislative races

to watch

Democrats will try this year to win control of the Senate, where Republicans have had the majority since 1993. To accomplish that, they will need to gain three seats. Republicans hold a 32-27 edge now. But the Democrats are tracking six districts, and, given the vulnerability of one incumbent, party strategists figure they?ll need to win four of these six to be safe. Here are the districts the Democrats will focus on, starting with those deemed most competitive.

District 29. Rep. Susan Garrett of Lake Forest and Chris Cohen, a Glencoe resident and attorney, are seeking the Democratic nomination in this north suburban district on March 19. The nominee will face Sen. Kathleen Parker, a Northbrook Republican, in November. The incumbent, Parker is a strong campaigner. 

District 54. Sen. William O?Daniel, a Mount Vernon Democrat, and Rep. John Jones, a Mount Vernon Republican, will face off in November in this southern district. Democrats in this district are socially conservative, and Republicans can appeal to this constituency. 

District 52. Sen. Judith Myers of Danville and Rep. Rick Winkel of Champaign are seeking the GOP nomination in this central Illinois district. Come November, the winner will face Dan McCollum, a Champaign Democrat and that city?s former mayor. This district encompasses strong pockets of Democrats and Republicans. 

District 9. Rep. Jeff Schoenberg, an Evanston Democrat, and Robin Thybony, a Wilmette Republican, will face one another in the November general election. The upscale North Shore area votes heavily Democratic, so that party counts it as secure. 

District 39. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat and lawyer with Mayer, Brown & Platt, faces James Caporusso in November in this west suburban district. Caporusso is a Franklin Park Republican and staffer for Rep. Angelo ?Skip? Saviano, an Elmwood Park Republican. 

District 19. Rep. Maggie Crotty, an Oak Forest Democrat, is running unopposed for the seat in this south suburban district. No Republican has filed, but that party has until May to slate candidates for spots where no party nominee emerges from the primary. 

 

The House is now controlled by the Democrats, 62-56, and they won four out of five election cycles under the previous Republican-drawn map. So this chamber is not expected to change hands. Still, there are some districts worth watching

District 103. Rep. Tom Berns, an Urbana Republican, is unopposed in next month?s primary in this central Illinois district. Naomi Jakobsson and Laurel Lunt Prussing, both of Urbana, are seeking the Democratic nomination. Prussing served one term in the House. Republican Rep. Rick Winkel, who is making a run for the Senate, unseated her in 1994. He beat Jakobsson, who tried to unseat him, in 1996. 

District 17. Rep. Elizabeth Coulson, a Glenview Republican, is unopposed in the primary in this north suburban district. Michael Ian Bender of Skokie and Pat Hughes of Wilmette are seeking the Democratic nomination. 

District 97. Jim Watson, a Jacksonville Republican, has no opposition in March for the seat that was vacated by Republican Tom Ryder. John Glynn of Carrollton, Steve Pohlman of Jerseyville and Rick Stevens of Jacksonville are vying for the Democratic nomination. 

District 107. Rep. Kurt Granberg, a Carlyle Democrat, and John Cavaletto, a Salem Republican, will face off in November in this southern district.


 

Illinois Issues, February 2002

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