By Rich Miller
“I’m not in charge,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said recently, “I’m trying to get to be in charge.”
Rauner said he’ll “get to be in charge” by taking away House Speaker Michael Madigan’s Democratic majority next year. Madigan, Rauner says, is “really” in charge of Illinois.
The Republicans need to win nine net seats. So, can Rauner really take out Madigan next year?
Keep in mind that Speaker Madigan drew the legislative district maps. Thumping him in what looks to be a big Democratic year after taking four net seats away from Madigan in 2016 will stretch the partisan possibilities of that map beyond what most would consider common sense.
Rauner does have three things going for him, however: Money, the income tax hike passed over his veto and Madigan himself. Rauner has plenty of the former, and the latter two don’t poll well for the Democrats.
The Republicans must first sweep four southern Illinois districts to have a shot, and winning them are very possible.
The only statewide Democrat to win appointed Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie’s, D-Elizabethtown, deep southern Illinois district since 2012 was Secretary of State Jesse White. She has a great family name for the area, however, and she was appointed after the income tax hike votes.
Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Smithton, also has a well-known family name, voted against the tax hike, but also has a district that has been won only by White since 2012.
Freshman Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, was the sole bright spot for the House Democrats last year. She defeated a flawed Republican incumbent, Dwight Kay, who is running again against a female Republican. Stuart voted against the tax hike.
Rep. Dan Beiser’s, D-Alton, winning margins seemed to tighten every two years, which is one reason why he’s retiring. While President Trump won Beiser’s district by 16 points, Tammy Duckworth and Susana Mendoza both won, as did Dick Durbin, Lisa Madigan and Jesse White in 2014. President Obama also won it by five points in 2012. So, while it’s in play because it’s an open seat, this won’t be easy for the Republicans.
OK, so let’s say Republicans win all four of those (not a lock, but maybe). They still need five more.
Let’s start with three suburban races that have been in play before.
Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, underperformed Hillary Clinton by 9 points and had to be dragged across the finish line in the closing days by Speaker Madigan’s top field generals. He won what was considered to be a GOP district in 2012, so the Republicans won’t ever give up. Yingling voted against the tax hike.
Retiring Rep. Carol Sente, D-Vernon Hills, cruised to an easy victory last year. She had some trouble in 2014, winning by five points. Rauner won that district by 16, which puts it in play in the GOP’s mind along with it being an open seat.
Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, won his last race by 19 points, but the Republicans never give up on him, either. Just three statewide Republicans have won this district since 2012 (Munger, Rauner and Judy Baar Topinka). Moylan voted against the tax hike. The anti-gun Democrat is facing a pro-gun Republican, Marilyn Smolenski.
If the Republicans somehow win all three (not likely), they’re still two seats shy of taking the chamber — if they can somehow hold onto all their own suburban seats.
Now, let’s look at possibly vulnerable Democrats who voted for the “Mike Madigan income tax hike” earlier this year.
Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, is at the top of the list. Scherer voted to override Rauner’s tax hike veto after first voting against the tax hike. Her district just barely went Democratic last year.
Rauner and Topinka are the only two Republicans who’ve won Rep. Fred Crespo’s, D-Hoffman Estates, district since 2012 (Clinton won it by 29). Add Tom Cross to that very short GOP winner list for Rep. Deb Conroy’s, D-Villa Park, district. Those same three Republicans won Rep. Stefanie Kifowit’s, D-Oswego, district. Rep. Anna Moeller’s, D-Elgin, district is also pretty solidly Democratic, outside of Rauner and Topinka wins during a strong national GOP wave.
Two pretty Democratic north suburban open seat races might possibly be in play: districts represented by retired Rep. Elaine Nekritz and attorney general candidate Rep. Scott Drury. And there may be one or two more, but I have my doubts about Rauner picking up a net nine.
So, if Rauner is re-elected next year, he probably still won’t be in charge — by his own definition.