2010 shows there's still nothing like Illinois
As far as politics and governance goes, to paraphrase the old South Pacific number, "There is nothing like Illinois." Since 1960, the "land of Lincoln" has elected several governors â three have gone to jail, one has just been convicted and, after his appeal, will become number four. At the same time, Illinois has been the only state to elect African-Americans to the U.S. Senate in the past several decades, one of whom is currently living in the White House.
Both the governor and U.S. Senate Democratic battles were interesting and even exciting, but they were soon overwhelmed by the party's lieutenant governor contest. In Illinois, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary (the law has now been changed so that in 2014 governor and lieutenant governor candidates will run as a team for the nomination).
By Paul Green, Arthur Rubloff Professor of Policy Studies at Roosevelt University.
This is an excerpt from a chapter prepared for inclusion in Larry Sabato, Editor, "Pendulum Swing" (New York: Pearson / Longman, 2011).
The book can be purchased at Amazon.com and you can check with local book stores.
On election night, Scott Lee Cohen, a political unknown, defeated a group of several state legislators for the lieutenant governor nomination. Cohen was the only LG Democratic candidate who put on a real campaign, with outstanding media, financed almost solely by himself. Cohen was now Pat Quinn's running mate â or was he?
Stories broke immediately that Cohen was a pawnbroker who had some serious problems with domestic abuse and involvement with prostitutes. Party leaders and other Democratic influentials demanded Cohen withdraw from the ticket. Cohen refused. Only when his former girlfriend, once arrested for prostitution, said he was unfit for office did Cohen fold his hand. He dropped out Chicago-style â in a saloon during half-time of the Super Bowl, an event that was covered by all local media.
But this is Illinois. After further political reflection some weeks after his withdrawal, Cohen announced his independent candidacy for governor â and yes he was on the November ballot. On the Republican side, state Sen. Bill Brady, an unsuccessful 2006 gubernatorial primary candidate, was the only 2010 candidate not from Chicagoland. In the end, Brady's residence proved to be the difference maker.
The GOP U.S. Senate primary was a virtual "walk in the prairie" for 10th district Congressman Mark Kirk compared to other contests. Kirk destroyed his little-known five opponents, winning 57 percent of the vote. Again â but this is Illinois.
Just when it seemed that Kirk was the real deal, press reports appeared revealing that the congressman had either misspoken, exaggerated, or lied about crucial parts of his resume. Specifics about these episodes are less important than the political impact â it resurrected a disheartened Alexis Giannoulias back into the general election battle.
The Kirk v. Giannoulias contest was bizarre â even by Illinois standards. Following his tight primary victory, Giannoulias was hit by the media and Kirk on his role at his father's Broadway Bank in Chicago. This issue dominated the early Giannoulias campaign. He was asked about bank loans that he approved to members of organized crime; about his total bank involvement since the institution was about to be closed; and whether or not other members of his family were involved in those sordid operations. Giannoulias, a young, personable, and attractive candidate was simply in a political vice and everyone was "squeezing." His carefully worded response showed that he would not and could not blame his family and the bank for being less than vigilant in their loan procedures, nor could he explain away why they happened in the first place.
Kirk was on a roll until he started to campaign by stressing his personal history. He emulated the fictional character "Walter Mitty" as he expanded, exaggerated, and finally "misrepresented" (his word) his military and teaching records as well as his life-changing experience on a boat in Lake Michigan. Like his opponent, Kirk spent most of the early campaign "defending his life."
This election should have been a huge GOP victory in Illinois. To be sure, Chicago remains undeniably heavily Democratic (Quinn and Giannoulias both received more than 76 percent of its vote) but the rest of Illinois was up for grabs. Obviously, it was a good night for the GOP â they took a U.S. Senate seat, won two lesser statewide offices (treasurer and comptroller), and unseated four incumbent Democratic congressmen. Still, the Democrats retained the governorship and both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly â which means 2012 redistricting will see a Democratic map.
The man most responsible for this Democratic "hold the line" outcome is Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Despite an all-out effort to discredit him by certain media and the GOP, he remains the shrewdest and ablest politician in Illinois.
Immediately following the election, Brady was unwilling to concede, saying all the votes (absentee, etc) had to be counted. As the numbers rose against him, he still would not admit defeat. This caused the Chicago Tribune's deputy editorial writer, John McCormick, to write that perhaps Brady was waiting for the "lost county of Atlantis" o be found and have its votes recorded. Brady quickly caved. What a state! Paul Green, Arthur Rubloff Professor of Policy Studies at Roosevelt Universit, is a contributing author to the new book, "Pendulum Swing," edited by UVA professor Larry J. Sabato, from which this article is adapted. To reach the author, contact Beacon features and commentary editor Donna Korando.
Paul Green, Arthur Rubloff Professor of Policy Studies at Roosevelt Universit, is a contributing author to the new book, "Pendulum Swing," edited by UVA professor Larry J. Sabato, from which this article is adapted. To reach the author, contact Beacon features and commentary editor Donna Korando.