Saturday, March 24, 2018

Illinois Primary Results—Not News Any More So This Must be Analysis—McHenry County

A year ago this month more than 2,000 people showed up to completely ring Woodstock Square in a counter march to a pro-Trump, anti-immigrant rally around the Gazebo.  The counter protest, organized on line in just three day dwarfted the Trumpista turn out and was an early indication of progressive energy in McHenry County.

Well, our review of the Illinois Primary has gotten down to the local level of McHenry County, the most northwestern of the traditionally Republican Collar Counties that surround Chicago and Cook County, for you outlanders who may not be conversant with the Prairie State’s geography.  A few years ago we used to say it was where the suburbs meet the corn fields and the suburbs won.  That was when the county was one of the fastest growing in the nation with subdivisions larger than most of its municipalities a few years earlier springing up like mushrooms.
All of that ended abruptly with the housing crash of 2008 and the onset of the Great Recession.  Tens of thousands lost their homes to foreclosures and some of those new subdivisions became virtual ghost towns.  Retail constructed to serve the population collapsed leaving empty strip malls, big box stores, and hollowed out downtowns.  Most of that never returned and another wave of closings is ongoing now as brick and mortar yield to e-commerce.  Much local industry has closed or shipped most of its production to low wage states and Mexico.  With growth stagnant, population actually declining, and a near bankrupt state government slashing support for infrastructure, education, and social services, property taxes have grown more and more burdensome. 
To borrow Jimmy Carter’s term, that has led to a malaise that fed the Tea Party and made Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again spiel resonate with some of the disempowered, downwardly mobile middle class.  On the other hand many younger folks, Gen Xers and Millennials have given up worship of capitalism and were stirred by Bernie Sanders and his Democratic Socialism.  They became activists along with middle class women who felt their interests particularly under siege, and the county’s growing minority population, mostly Latinos.
The recent primary can be viewed as a clash between those to disaffected groups.  Guess who came out ahead.  Hint, they weren’t wearing slogan emblazed red ball caps.
Symbolic of the shellacking that the right wing  took is what happened to Recorder of Deeds Joe Tirio’s dream leading an insurgency against  the old guard—Republicans in Name Only (RINOs) he would call them—and becoming the central power broker of the captured party.  If you read our pre-election post you may recall his machinations which included inducing the sitting County Clerk, Mary McClellan to opt out of a run for re-election in favor of a run for a judgeship with his backing.  That paved the way for Tirio to run for Clerk and complete his plant to consolidate the Recorder’s office into the Clerk’s with him as master of the patronage rich combination.  It would also give him influence over the conduct of elections and voter registration where the highly partisan Tirio could press the GOP’s voter suppression agenda.

Regulars hit back hard against Joe Tirio with mailings like this showing up at the homes of registered Republicans.
Tirio did win the Clerk nomination, albeit by a much narrower than expected margin over a deeply flawed candidate, Janis Dalton who filed for personal bankruptcy the same day she filed her nominating petitions listing “$10,000 in cash loss due to video gambling” and $30,000 in money she withdrew in her husband’s name from his annuity fund.  His it-sounds-good referendum handily passed, approved by voters who hardly understood what they were voting on.  Although his plans for consolidation can now go forward, the rest of his plans went up in smoke.
The right-wing ideologues he tried to get on the Bench lost badly to Bar Association recommended incumbents, Judges Tiffany Davis and Robert Wilbrandt won retention handily.  And poor duped Mary McClellan, who Tirio essentially abandoned, also lost.
But the damage and embarrassment didn’t end there.  All of Tirio’s allies in the Republican civil war lost their bids for County Board nominations, mostly by substantial margins.  That included the duo in District 6—the unapologetic former right-wing paramilitary terrorist and church bomber Orville Brettman former Board member Ersel Schuster whose home computer was the source of a threat to County Board Chair Jack Franks that said he needed killing and that the writer knew someone who would do the job for $5,000.  They lagged far behind establishment incumbents Michelle Aavang and Peter M. Smith.
In District 4 former McHenry mayor and state Senator Pam Althoff, loathed by the right as a moderate and RINO “came home” to run for County Board ran up a landslide margin against Steve Bellemore and incumbent Chuck Wheeler took the second Board slot.  In District 5 John Jung, Jr., one of Tirio’s chief targets handily led the field while from while a second incumbent, conservative Michael Rein held a slim 11 vote lead over Jung’s running mate Lesli Melendy.  In other districts incumbents were un-opposed.
The so-called country club Republicans routed the right-wing insurgency everywhere leaving Tirio the last man standing instead of the commander of legions.  Not that the old guard are either liberal in any sense or shining heroes.  All are generally old school conservatives and a couple are themselves reactionary.  But the good news is that even Republicans in McHenry clearly reject the extremism represented by the Trump era.
Even better news is how well Democratic candidates did in their unopposed bids.  In all but one race in which Democrats had candidates, they drew more votes than any Republican candidate.  And in District 6 the virtually invisible Buffy Brasile who may as well have been labeled “generic Democrat” fell only 265 votes shy of Republican leader Michelle Aavang. 
In District 2 the impressive Suzanne Ness not only was the top vote getter in either party, but she led running mate Timothy O’Neill in a combined Democratic vote of 5,110 compared with the two Republicans combined 4,996.  A very impressive show of strength in the county’s most urbanized District centered on Crystal Lake.
Carlos Acosta's performance was a highlight of the McHenry County primary
One of the most impressive showings in the County Board races was by Carlos Acosta in District 5 who led all candidates in both parties, including top Republican John Jung, Jr. with 2,129 votes.  Acosta, best known as the former head of the Latino Coalition is particularly despised by the white nationalist tinged elements of the Republicans.

In the only county-wide race with a Democrat in it, the hard working Andrew “Drew” Georgi topped both Joe Tirio and his opponent in their runs for County Clerk.  He got 17,428 vote as opposed to would-be king maker Tirio’s 13,312, a better than 4,000 vote advantage.  And many of Tirio’s enemies in the Republican Party will not hold their noses to vote for him this fall.  Tirio is clearly vulnerable and Georgi is the man who can beat him.
Drew Georgi showing of his nominating petitions as he files to be placed on the primary ballot.
About 21.6 percent of registered voters in McHenry County cast ballots in the primary, up from 17 percent in the 2014 primary election, according to the McHenry County Clerk’s Office.    About 7,344 voted early.  Those numbers are more typical of Presidential year primaries, and probably herald a big turnout in the fall.  Democrats always benefit by large turnouts.
Given the over-all success of progressives and Dems in the county this spring and strong interest in the Governor’s and Congressional races in what look like a Democratic wave year candidates are likely to come forward to seek placement on the General Election ballot by caucus for the open County Board slots in District 4, some of the open county-wide positions and legislative seats.
McHenry County Assessor Mary Mahady is running for the State Senate seat vacated by Pam Althoff.

In other action, in my round-up of local endorsements earlier I inexplicably omitted the race to fill Pam Althoff’s vacant spot in the State Senate from the 32nd District which includes much of McHenry County.  McHenry Township Assessor Mary Mahady will face conservative Retired Air Force Colonel and County Board member Larry Wilcox.  Mahady has already showed her political chops by becoming one of the very few Democrats to win a Township election.  She also has support of progressives and women’s groups.  With the general improvement of Democratic prospects she can raise more money to be competitive in the race.
And on a final note in a rare instance of voters agreeing with my endorsements in local races, progressive pick Peter Janko won his race for 14th Congressional District State Central Committeeman while the energetic McHenry Count Democrats Vice Chair Kristina Zahorik retained her seat as Central Committeewoman.  Congratulations to both.  I trust that both will try to shake things up on the Central Committee which has been a subservient creature of Party Chair Mike Madigan and not responsive to the progressive trends in the party.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Illinois Primary Results—Not News Any More So This Must be Analysis—Congressional Races

Much of the energy fueling a Democratic and progressive surge this year comes from highly motivated women activists.

If progressives were disappointed by the choices voters made at the top of the ballot in the Illinois Primary on Tuesday, they had a lot to celebrate in other races where they did just fine, thank you.  In fact, they shifted the center of gravity among Democrats substantially to the left and proved the power of their activist-driven grass roots style is effective. 
3rd Congressional District
Even in the most high-profile race which got national attention and which the progressive favorite lost by an eyelash was a win of sorts.  The story of that race is actually astonishing.  Marie Newman was one of the wave of women candidates motivated by Hillary Clinton’s loss and Donald Trumps ascension as a President determined to un-do every progressive advance since the New Deal.  Although a veteran activist who had had directed a national anti-bullying nonprofit and was Illinois spokesperson for the gun control group Moms Demand Action, Marie Newman was virtually unknown to the public.  As late as February, after months of campaigning, her own internal poll showed a name recognition in the 3rd District of only 13%.  And she was an abortion rights defender in a heavily Catholic District with many conservative white ethnic voters that stretches from Chicagos Southwest Side through largely blue-collar suburbs to the cornfields around Romeoville.

Progressive feminist Marie Newman nearly upset Blue Dog Dem Dan Lipinski.
By contrast her opponent could have been the dictionary example of an entrenched incumbent.  Dan Lipinski had already served seven terms in Congress and commanded a well oiled political organization with the firm backing of the Cook County and state party apparatus.  Moreover, he was the scion of a political dynasty sometimes called the Polish Kennedys.  Dan’s father, William preceded him in Congress and after several terms handed the District over to his son on a platter.   Together father and son sat in Congress for 35 years.
Already noted as staunch anti-abortion politician, Lipinski proved to be one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress on a wide range of issues frequently supporting Republicans in critical votes.   He was an ardent opponent of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and voted repeatedly to repeal it.   He also balked on civil rights issues, Gay rights, gun control, and immigration reform.  Lipinski became the chair of the notorious Blue Dog caucus of conservative Democrats and the target of liberal and progressive scorn.  Yet party leaders defended Lipinski for “reflecting his district.
As late as January polls showed Newman down 24 points to the incumbent.  But that was better than other underfunded upstart challenger had ever managed, and her activist fueled campaign was showing signs of life.  Encouraged Emily’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and other liberal and progressive organizations began to heavily invest in the campaign with money, professional expertise, and even boots on the ground.  The Blue Dogs rallied to Lipinski’s defense along with hefty expenditures by the allegedly centrist groups No Labels and Country Forward, and faux feminist anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List.  The race became a proxy fight between factions vying for control of the Party.
While Lipinski’s influx of money kept him treading water, Newman use hers to create a groundswell of support.  In the end she fell just a hair short.  Two more days of hard campaigning might have pushed her over the top. As of Wednesday morning, she trailed Lipinski 49% to 51% with 98% of precincts reporting only 2,124 votes down.
Feminists and progressives were elated by what had been accomplished and status quo, establishment Democrats were thrown into a panic with similar races coming up in several districts around the country.
Closer to my home, progressives won nominations in crowded fields for two seats where entrenched Republicans are believed to be in danger this fall—the 6th and 14th Districts.  Neither of those two candidates are the ones I endorsed in those races, but it is a tribute to the talent depth of the field that there were multiple outstanding candidates to choose from.  I am entirely satisfied with the choices voters made and both winners have excellent prospects against now vulnerable Republicans.
6th Congressional District

Sean Casten scored a win in his race with his platform for action on climate change, the environment, and respect for science.

The 6th which includes wealthy and middle class suburbs with a handful of working class pockets in a comma shaped district that includes parts of western Lake, northern Cook, southern McHenry, and slices of Kane and DuPage Counties was once considered the bastion of the Republican heartland.  But it has been trending more Democratic in recent years going for Barack Obama in 2008 was carried by Hillary Clinton by 7 points over Donald Trump.  And Democrats have been elected to county boards and county and local offices in increasing numbers.  Much of that energy has come from restive women. 
Those trends naturally attracted national attention and the district is now considered a winnable swing district.  In the end Sean Casten, a Downers Grove environmental engineer and entrepreneur ran largely on climate issues, respect for science, and creative economic development emerged at the top of a field of seven.  Casten was rated the favorite in the race and drew support from national environmental PACs, Democratic organizations, as well as key Illinois Democrats.  He ran a smart, well financed campaign with enough money for significant media buys.
Kelly Mazeski, a former chemist and financial advisor, who made healthcare and women’s rights her signature issues gave Casten a close race.  Endorsed by Emily’s List and a slew women in Congress led by Jan Schakowsky.  She was also my pick.  Mazeski held a slender lead late into the night while thousands of DuPage county ballots could not be counted because of a computer glitch.  When they were finally accessed Wednesday morning Casten went ahead 18,863 to 16,686 with the other candidates trailing behind.
Mazeski graciously conceded and pledged to support and work with Casten to defeat incumbent Pete Roskam, as did the others in the race.  Democrats and progressive in the district will be united going forward.
Together all the Democrats got 62,990 votes.  Final totals for Roskam, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary, have surprisingly not been released, but given the strong Democratic turn out on election day I would not be surprised if his totals were less. 
The District, which was already listed as one of the top 10 most competitive in the country, just heated up even more.  Roskam, who trailed in fundraising through the primaries, is sitting on a $ 2 million plus campaign fund and can expect money to come pouring in from the Party and from a plethora of right-wing PACS.  That will be matched by the Democratic Congressional Campaign fund, Democratic National Committee, and a host of liberal, progressive, and environmental funds.  Expect one of the most expensive races in this election cycle.
In addition, Casten will benefit from a strong local activist base and will attract volunteers and canvassers from around the country.  Dems will have the boots on the ground advantage.
In addition to his environmental themes Casten will hit Roskam hard on his votes to kill the Affordable Care Act, for the disastrous tax bill, immigration reform, and abortion rights.  He will also slam the incumbent for dodging town hall meetings and other opportunities to hear from constituents since Trump’s election.  He will probably continue to evade all but the most tightly controlled public appearances and agree to as few debates or candidate forums as possible.  He will run an expensive media campaign and be heavily dependent on attack ads placed by those right wing PACS.
Expect a tight and exciting race.
14th Congressional District
Lauren Underwood on the line with supporters calling out Randy Hultgren on health care.  That focus resonated with voters.

Despite the national spotlight on the 6th District, Lauren Underwood’s achievement in the 14th was even more impressive and could portend almost revolutionary change in the sprawling district, another longtime Republican stronghold.  Underwood was a blow out winner in a seven-person race earning 28,047 votes, 57% of the total vote.  She left Mathew Brolley, the highly touted Mayor of Montgomery, who had the almost unanimous support of party leaders, local elected Democrats, labor, and most of the newspapers, in the dust of second place with only 6,538 votes, 13.4%.  My pick, Jim Walz who ran against incumbent Randy Hultgren two years ago and exceeded expectations, lagged in third place with 4,796 votes and 9.8%.
Underwood, a registered nurse and former senior policy advisor in Barack Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services, ran a campaign focused on health care and women’s rights.  Her campaign picked up steam with the critical support of Emily’s List and Off the Sidelines PAC which enabled her to get on the air and in social media with an effective advertising campaign.  But a raft of dedicated activist volunteers, many of them inspired by the Women’s March and by Medicare for All campaigns, really fueled her success across the District.
As her strength as a candidate became more obvious, many Party leaders backing Brolley were thrown into a near panic because they were convinced a Black woman could not win in an overwhelmingly White district.  But they were unable to get an effective handle on an attack ad campaign by surrogates that did not come off as blatantly racist. Ms. Underwood’s closet seems uncluttered by any whiff of scandal.  And while the District certainly has its share of Trump supporters with white panic over losing place and privilege, establishment Dems seem to forget voters embraced Barack Obama and that Black candidates like Secretary of State Jesse White have frequently out performed the rest of the Democratic ticket.
Underwood is an attractive, articulate, and charismatic campaigner who connects with even skeptical voters at public events.  With a high turn-out of motivated Democrats and independents a discouraged and fragmented Republican base that may not turn out in their usual numbers either because they despise Trump on one hand or believe that Governor Rauner has betrayed the conservative agenda, Underwood has a real shot at carrying off a real upset in November.
It is possible that Democrats could end up surrounding Chicago and Cook County Democratic Congressional Districts including the Lakefront 10th District already represented by Brad Schneider, through the 6th and 14th, to Bill Foster’s 11th District in the southwest suburbs.  And wouldn’t that shake things up!