The election of 2006 in Illinois is shaping up to be one of the more interesting races in a long time. In many ways 2006 will prove to be a much more important election to Illinoisans than this last presidential election. With Illinois squarely in the Kerry/Democrat fold, little, if any, resources were expended by either the Bush or Kerry camps.
This year, Illinois will see a battle for the Governors mansion, but it may start at the March primary, where at least one candidate is mentioned as a possible primary opponent to incumbent Gov. Rod Blagojevich. If that does not happen there is a line-up of at least six or more potential general election opponents one of whom will make it through the primary.
The potential primary opponent to Blagojevich is State Rep. Jack Franks of Woodstock, my hometown. Franks is a very formidable opponent. He is representing conservative McHenry County in a representative seat that voted for George W. Bush. He has mastered the art of getting voters to split their tickets in a heavily Republican county.
Franks has earned a reputation as a very hard worker with an almost unbelievable knack for constituent service. I can say this from experience because I was a constituent and had an issue one time that I wrote Franks on, and not only did I get a written response back, but I received a follow-up call and then a follow-up to that.
Franks is also a fishing buddy of Blagojevichs father-in-law, Chicago Ald. Dick Mell. They made news when Mell signed on as a sponsor for Franks fund-raiser for some undetermined office. Mell endorsed Ross Perot for president in 2002, so he is no stranger to out of body experiences in politics.
Blagojevich has about $20 million in the bank, but a lot of enemies. He is also quickly becoming the only governor who could have pulled off the impossible by starting to make us forget about George Ryan. Many of the expectations for the Blagojevich administration have been dashed, but the funds raised are going to be a huge obstacle for both primary and general election foes.
The six or so announced or close to announced Republican gubernatorial contenders should hope Blagojevich is still standing after the primary. They will get a lot of help from the media, and all have very healthy campaigns going so far. The list includes, so far, Peoria Congressman Ray LaHood, State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, State Sen. Bill Brady, businessman Jim Oberweis, businessman Ron Gidwitz, and perhaps one or two others.
2006 will also be interesting when it comes to the Illinois State Legislature. The Illinois Senate and House is controlled by Democrats, and retirements from the Republican side will be increasing unless there is vision and resources behind any hopes of winning either body back for the Republicans. Republican leader Tom Cross made some progress last cycle and has been feverishly raising the funds. Republican State Senate Leader Frank Watson will have to deal with the retirements. The more open seats he needs to defend, the tougher it gets to make forward progress. Watch for Illinois politics to be all over the national news in 2006.
Jim Thacker is a political consultant and columnist.
From the July 13-19, 2005, issue