“I’m not in charge,” Governor 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 (including presidential candidates) to win appointed Representative 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.
Representative Jerry Costello (D-Smithton) also has a well-known family name, voted against the tax hike, but also has a district which has been won only by Secretary White since 2012.
Freshman Representative 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.
Representative Dan Beiser’s (D-Alton) winning margins seemed to tighten every two years, which is one reason 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.
Okay, 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.
Representative Sam Yingling (D-Grayslake) under-performed Hillary Clinton by nine 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 Representative 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.
Representative 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 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.
Representative 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 (Clinton +2, Duckworth +3, Mendoza +1).
Rauner and Topinka are the only two Republicans who’ve won Representative 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 Representative Deb Conroy’s (D-Villa Park) district. Those same three Republicans won Representative Stefanie Kifowit’s (D-Oswego) district. Representative 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 maybe be in play: districts represented by retired Representative Elaine Nekritz and attorney general candidate Representative 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 reelected next year, he probably still won’t be in charge – by his own definition.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.