Teaching the 2016 Election: Competition Lacking in Illinois General Assembly Contests

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Beyond the statewide race for Comptroller, 158 of the 177 Illinois General Assembly seats are in play this November. This includes all 118 House seats and two-thirds of the Senate (39). Senators enjoy four-year terms and are staggered into three different groups, where all face voters in the election after the decennial redistricting process. House terms are two years (see Article IV, Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution).

However, only 41% of these races field candidates of the two major parties, meaning that 98 of the contests were decided in the March primary, if not on the day candidate petitions were filed.

According to analysis from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR), 50 House seats and 12 Senate seats remain contested. On top of the gerrymandered districts drawn after the 2010 census, this dearth of competition locks in a Democratic majority in both chambers for at least another two years.

Democrats currently hold a supermajority in the House and Senate, accounting for 60% plus of the seats, and if their caucuses stick together, enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto. This margin is at the bare minimum in the House (71 votes and 71 Democratic representatives), but more comfortable in the Senate (36 votes and 40 Democratic Senators; see Article IV, Section 9 of the Illinois Constitution).

House Speaker Michael Madigan has struggled to hold his entire caucus together in votes to override Governor Rauner’s vetoes, thus the perpetual stalemate. But he is hoping to pad his margins this fall with the nuclear Trump atop the Republican ticket.

On the other side of the ledger, Governor Rauner has invested more than $20 million of his own resources in competitive legislative contests. He is seeking to further undermine Madigan’s Democratic majority, potentially providing an opening for parts of his “Turnaround Agenda” to advance before his own re-election battle in 2018.

Where you live and/ or teach determines whether or not the General Assembly races are competitive. Half of the 62 contested races are in Chicago’s suburbs, while 6 are in the city (only one is truly competitive), 14 in Central Illinois, and 10 in Southern Illinois.

ICPR’s Illinois Sunshine database lists them all and provides campaign finance comparisons. Note than most of these contests are one-sided on the financial ledger, heavily favoring the incumbent of either party. We wrote earlier about money in politics, but this provides yet another data point proving that cash in hand may not guarantee victory, but a lack of it spells defeat.

Taken together, it’s difficult to see the Springfield Stalemate stymied this election cycle. Sadly, we may indeed be doomed to at least two more years of the dysfunctional status quo.

No comments :

Post a Comment