By BILL STEINBACHER-KEMP
The general election on November 3 poses the first test for the Republican-drawn legislative map. GOP architects of the carefully crafted partisan map hope it ushers in a decade of Republican dominance over the General Assembly. Even if the map falls short of Republican expectations, it will still have a profound effect shaping Illinois' political landscape for the next 10 years.
This November, the stakes are highest in the Senate, where the Democrats currently hold a precarious majority of 31 seats in the 59-member chamber. Control of the Senate rests on a shift of just two seats, with Minority Leader James "Pate" Philip (R-23, Wood Dale) poised to become the first Republican Senate president in 18 years. The last GOP Senate president was William C. Harris of Pontiac, who led the chamber from 1973 to 1975.
Conventional wisdom holds that the Senate is the Republicans' to lose. The crafty GOP map increases the strength of the Republican-dominated collar counties at the expense of Chicago and downstate. More than a half-dozen incumbent Democrats in the suburbs and downstate face strong challenges in new districts with Republican majorities. In addition, four incumbent Democratic senators decided not to run for reelection, gutting the party leadership in the chamber. Joining Senate President Philip J. Rock (D-8, Oak Park) are four of the party's six assistant leaders, John A. D'Arco Jr. (D-10, Chicago), Jerome Joyce (D-43, Bradley), Thaddeus "Ted" Lechowicz (D-6, Chicago) and Frank D. Savickas (D-15, Chicago).
An examination of voting trends in the precincts that make up the new districts indicates Democrats have an arduous task defending their slim Senate majority. Based on votes for University of Illinois trustees — an indicator of a district's political leanings — the Republican map has created 23 "safe" Democratic seats and 26 overwhelmingly Republican districts. Incorporating the popularity of each incumbent with an analysis of voting trends, four additional districts can be termed "leaning" Democratic and six "leaning" Republican.
If Republicans carry their 26 safe seats and also carry four of their so-called swing districts, "Pate" Philip might be doling out committee chair assignments by January. "We're frankly in a position we've never been in before," says Mark Gordon, press secretary for the Senate Republicans. "We need only to defend a number of seats to gain control of the Senate." But if Democrats manage to win their safe and swing seats, and if they capture three of the six Republican-leaning districts, they retain the Senate, at least for another two years. One-third of the Senate's seats come up for election in 1994.
The Senate Democrats have their own formula for election-day success. Linda Kingman, the new chief of staff for President Rock, remains optimistic that her party will keep its tenuous majority status. Kingman, at least publicly, maintains that the 28 Democratic incumbents are "in pretty good shape." But at least one incumbent. Sen. Ted E. Leverenz (D-26, Maywood), faces steep odds in the new Republican-leaning 39th District that stretches through prime GOP territory in the west suburbs of Chicago and parts of DuPage County.
Senate Democratic strategists have identified four races, apart from the 28 incumbent seats, that they deem as "toss-ups," according to Kingman. All four Democratic challengers face uphill battles in districts with Republican majorities. These toss-up Senate races targeted by Democrats include:
• Rep. Grace Mary Stern (D-58, Highland Park) versus outspoken Sen. Roger A. Keats (R-29, Glencoe) in the new 29th Senate District that includes the affluent suburbs north of Chicago.
• John J. McNamara (D-27, Oak Lawn), another state representative, versus Republican newcomer Patrick J. O'Malley in the southwest suburbs of Cook County for the 18th Senate District seat.
• Democratic former state Sen. Kenneth Buzbee of Makanda, returning from political retirement, versus Sen. Ralph Dunn (R-58, DuQuoin) in the 58th Senate District in southern Illinois.
• Former Olympic athlete Craig Virgin, the Democratic candidate, versus Sen. Frank Watson (R-55, Greenville) in the 55th Senate District in south-central Illinois.
are highest in the Senate,
where the Democrats currently
hold a precarious majority
of 31 seats in the 59-member chamber
The Senate Democratic staff has also identified five "dark horse" candidates, including former state Sen. Doug Kane from the Sangamon County farm community of New Berlin, who is running against popular state Rep. Karen Hasara (R-100, Springfield) in the new 50th Senate District.
The bottom line for Senate Democrats: Hold the 28 seats held by incumbents and win two of the nine toss-up or dark horse races. In the event one of the incumbents falters, Democratic campaign strategists are prepared to shift resources elsewhere, even to dark horse candidates if necessary. "We have to be flexible and react to polling," says Kingman.
October 1992/Illinois Issues/27
The wild card in the Senate deck is the Harold Washington Party, comprised of disgruntled African-American political leaders and activists from Chicago. Cynthia Taylor, representing the HWP in the new 12th Senate District, poses a formidable challenge to Democratic primary winner Robert S. Molaro, 12th Ward Chicago committeeman. The district, which stretches through some of Chicago's black wards on the city's south and west sides, is more than 88 percent black. Molaro, who is white, is likely to alienate voters because he supported white opponents of former Mayor Harold Washington in 1983 and 1987. One confusing scenario has Republicans and Democrats each winning 29 Senate seats, with the final deciding seat held by the unallied Taylor.
game rests on
that Bush will
The GOP legislative map is also improving prospects for Republicans in the House of Representatives. For Mike Tristano, chief of staff for House Minority Leader Lee A. Daniels (R-46, Elmhurst), 60 is the magic number to reach majority status in the 118-member lower chamber. The Democrats, led by House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-30, Chicago) and his chief of staff, Gary LaPaille, currently hold a veto-proof majority of 72 seats. The Republicans have only 46 seats. But armed with their partisan map. Republicans are aiming for significant, even historic, gains. Tristano claims the new map puts the Holy Grail of 60 seats within reach. "We're going for the gold," he says of breaking the Democrat's decade-long hold of the House. "We do believe it's attainable."
LaPaille, who is also chairman of the Illinois State Democratic party and the Democratic candidate for state Senate in the new 11th District on Chicago's southwest side, says the presidential and U.S. Senate races could exert tremendous influence over the fortunes of House candidates. If Bush falters, LaPaille contends, Democratic prospects of retaining between 67 and 72 seats improves. Tristano agrees with his rival's assessment. "We can't overcome a 10-point Bush loss and get 60 seats," he says. "If [U.S. Senate candidate Rich] Williamson gets blown away, that's going to cause us a great deal of problems." But if the GOP surges in October and November, led by Bush and Rich Williamson, Speaker Madigan's troops will be scrambling to keep their majority. "This is not going to be a fun experience with a Republican-drawn map," LaPaille says.
Democrats can find some solace in the poor track record of House Republicans. In 1990, Republican representation slipped from 51 to 46 seats despite Gov. Jim Edgar's victory. Anger then over the apparent disorganization in the House Republican campaign led to an unsuccessful coup against Minority Leader Daniels.
A tight-lipped LaPaille would not discuss Democratic strategy, contending any statements regarding tactics would only help Republicans. Tristano, who was more open, says House Republicans have identified 72 of the 118 seats within their grasp. Thirty-two of those 72 are in overwhelmingly GOP districts that, barring unforeseen disasters, Republicans are expected to win. They include Minority Leader Daniels himself in the new 46th House District and Terry R. Parke (R-49, Hoffman Estates) in the new 53rd House District. "To be very blunt, we should win those," Tristano says.
That leaves 40 seats within reach of the Republicans. Half of those are considered Republican-leaning districts that GOP candidates have a better-than-average chance of winning. Included in this category are GOP candidates Carl James Vanderburg of Tinley Park, running in the new 37th House District in the southwest suburbs, and Bill DeMarco, Sangamon County sheriff, vying for the new 99th House District that covers northern Sangamon, Menard and eastern Cass counties.
The other 20 Republican-leaning districts will make or break the campaign to transform minority Republicans to the majority in the House. These 20 seats are categorized as either "toss-ups" or having Republican dark horse candidates "within striking distance," according to Tristano. Dark horse candidates include Republican Jeffrey Stevens Perlee, who is facing Judy Erwin, the communications director for Senate President Rock, in the new 11th House District that hugs the lake shore on Chicago's north side.
Tristano's numbers game rests on the assumption that Bush will remain competitive in Illinois. If Bush appears heading for a devastating loss, Republicans will be forced to retrench and "jettison" some toss-ups in a last-ditch effort to concentrate resources on the candidates with better odds. "I know that sounds harsh," says Tristano. "But we can't extend our supply lines too thin like Napoleon heading to Russia."
28/ October 1992/ Illinois Issues
House Republicans are emphasizing several themes to give their campaign coherence. Most Republican candidates are out on the stump attacking the high cost of worker's compensation and unemployment benefits to Illinois businesses. Some themes are tailored to regions of the state. For example, suburban Cook County and collar county Republicans are opposing the "Education First" amendment. Republicans, who fear the amendment might necessitate an income tax increase, are unwilling to support the constitutional change without a direct linkage with property tax relief. Democratic strategists, according to LaPaille, have created several radio and television advertisements touting their standard-bearer. Bill Clinton, and the Democrats' politically savvy theme of "change."
Tristano says the southwest suburbs of Cook County will be a "major battlefield." The Republican-crafted map is threatening the seats of two incumbent ethnic Democrats. Rep. Jane M. Barnes (R-38, Palos Park) is running against Rep. Terry A. Steczo (D-78, Oak Forest) in a clash of incumbents in the new 35th House District. To the immediate west is the new 36th District, where Madigan ally Andrew J. McGann (D-29, Chicago) has moved into the suburbs to face Republican Maureen Murphy of Evergreen Park, a newcomer to state politics but a lifelong resident of the district who has run countywide. Both Steczo and McGann are running in districts with Republican majorities.
races translates into
dollars for Senate
and House candidates
A second battlefield is the northeast comer of the state where two other incumbent Democrats face serious challenges. Rep. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-56, Skokie) faces GOP challenger James D. Henderson of Winnetka in the new 58th House District. That district includes staunch Republican turf such as portions of affluent Niles Township. Immediately north along the lake shore. Rep. John S. Matijevich (D-61, North Chicago) opposes Rep. Virginia Fiester Frederick (R-59, Lake Forest) in the new Republican-leaning 59th House District.
Yet the most elaborate campaign strategies are meaningless without the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to field candidates and run competitive races. In the 1990 election cycle, the political action committees of the four legislative leaders and the state parties raised more than $7 million. Although party leaders expect to raise a similar amount this campaign season, the sheer number of competitive races translates into fewer campaign dollars for Senate and House candidates.
Two years ago, the race between Patrick D. Welch (D-38, Peru) and Republican Nancy Beasley was the only Illinois Senate campaign in which both parties devoted substantial amounts of money and resources. In comparison, this year between eight and ten races are as competitive as the Welch-Beasley 1990 race. In addition, the campaigns for U.S. Senate and president are bleeding contributors dry. Tristano says lawmakers are grumbling because contributions are off 10 percent from the 1990 election cycle.
Still, money is heading to those campaigns deemed competitive by party leaders. The Committee to Reeled a Democratic Senate, the Senate Democrats' political action committee, expects to raise about $700,000 before November to help candidates in close races. The fund will help pay for staff
October 1992/ Illinois Issues /29
and the costs of direct-mail campaigns, polling and other operations. Tristano says House Republican leaders will dole out about $1 million in direct and in-kind contributions to their candidiates.
During the past decade, the well-oiled machine of Speaker Madigan has set the standard for political efficiency and effectiveness at the ballot box. LaPaille says the House Democratic Majority Committee will raise about $2 million for the November election to provide direct and in-kind contributions to state and local candidates. Both parties disperse legislative staff members (who must take leaves of absence to work on political campaigns) to districts across the state. In addition to the House fund, Democrats also expect to raise an additional $2 million through the campaign fund of the state party. Party funds will be channeled to voter registration drives, "generic" radio and television advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts on election day.
The looming battle between Sen. Ted Leverenz and Rep. Dan Cronin (R-40, Elmhurst) for the new 39th Senate District is an apt symbol of this year's high-stakes election. The Leverenz-Cronin race promises to be one of the liveliest and most bitter contests of the season.
The district has voted at least 57 percent Republican in the past four election cycles, according to an analysis of U of I trustee votes in the precincts that comprise the new 39th. Leverenz is relying on his battle-tested campaign skills to overcome steep odds. "If anybody can win that district, it's Ted Leverenz," says Senate Democratic Chief of Staff Kingman. "He works very hard, and he's a good campaigner." Leverenz boasts that he has Virginia Fiester Frederick the finest door-to-door precinct organization outside the city of Chicago.
Cronin, who knocked off former Republican state Rep. Gene Hoffman in the 1990 primary, is a relentless, take-no-prisoners campaigner. Though Cronin is the youngest lawmaker in the General Assembly, political observers are already mentioning the Elmhurst Republican as a possible candidate for state-wide office in 1994. Cronin is casting the election as a choice between a conservative suburban lawmaker and a "wheeler-dealer" pol allied with Chicago. "Ted is the epitome of business as usual," says the tough-talking Republican. "He's a caricature of the old, tired ways of the past. Ted Leverenz will do or say anything that will help his candidacy."
nasty tone of the
race, the 59th House
District campaign is
But Leverenz, a state representative for 16 years before moving up to the Senate in 1991, is touting his own pro-suburban record, including sponsoring legislation to monitor noise at O'Hare International Airport and his efforts on behalf of regional planning for flood control. Leverenz also defends his status as a full-time legislator. "I'm a career politician," Leverenz says. "What's wrong with that? A career in public service is a very admirable thing."
Cronin wholeheartedly supported the painful cutbacks in state programs and personnel during the past two sessions. He also credits his fierce anti-tax campaign against Hoffman for drawing statewide attention to the issue of skyrocketing property taxes. During his first term, Cronin sponsored the legislation that placed caps on property taxes in the collar counties. "Property tax caps wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Dan Cronin," he says.
Leverenz maintains tax caps "aren't worth the paper they're printed on." The Maywood Democrat supports legislation to shift from an overreliance on property taxes to the state income tax over a four-year period.
Despite Cronin's reputation as a conservative Republican, he does stray off the GOP path. For example, he supports family leave legislation opposed by the Republican leadership and the business community. "I think for myself and look at everything issue by issue," he says.
In the House, the Republican-drawn map pits several incumbents against each other. In Lake County, two old friends, Democrat John Matijevich and Republican Virginia Frederick, are vying for the seat that includes portions of the blue-collar city of Waukegan and affluent commuter suburbs such as Lake Forest and Lake Bluff.
In contrast to the nasty tone of the Leverenz-Cronin race, the 59th House District campaign is downright cordial. "Virginia is a great person," Matijevich says of his colleague. "We've helped each other with legislation in the past. I can't and wouldn't say a word against her." In fact, he says the only letter-to-the-editor he ever wrote was to complain about the treatment Frederick received in a local editorial. Says Frederick: "Neither of us wants to do this."
In 1990, Matijevich and Rep. Bill Edley (D-95, Macomb) were the target of pointed attacks by the Republicans for their support of extending "good-time" release for state prisoners. Matijevich says that campaign literature grossly distorted his vote and portrayed him as soft on crime. Frederick, for her part, promises to run a clean campaign. "I've laid down the law. I don't want any sleazy stuff in the campaign," she says.
30/October 1992/Illnois Issues
The two Lake County candidates have diametrically opposite records on business-labor issues. Matijevich earned; scorn of the business community in 91 with a "5" rating from the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce. Frederick, in comparison, received an "89." the best way to produce tax dollars and create jobs is to be pro-business," he says. Her opponent makes no apologies for representing labor and consumer concerns. Matijevich boasts of receiving "100" ratings from the Illinois Environmental Council, the comsumer Illinois Public Action Council and the Citizens Utility Board.
Frederick acknowledges the challenge of balancing the diverse interests of a district that includes both the inner-city neighborhoods of North Chicago and some of the nation's wealthiest suburbs. "It will be difficult for either of us to adequately present the district,"she says candidly.
Both candidates oppose their own party platforms regarding abortion. The Waukegan Democrat is "pro-life" and the Lake Forest Republican is "pro-choice."
An increase in suburbanization under the new map guarantees the further 'suburbanization' of the legislative agenda....
Frederick, in this so-called "Year of the Woman," appeals strongly to supporters of Carol Moseley Braun, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate. In addition, Frederick received the highest rating by the Illinois Women's Political Caucus among Republican members.
Whether or not Republicans capture the Senate (Statehouse odds makers say they will) or the House (those same odds makers say they won't), the suburbs will be the big winner come November 3. An increase in suburban representation under the new map guarantees the further "suburbanization" of the legislative agenda, a process that has been under way since the early 1970s.
Still, a Republican Senate would enable Gov. Edgar and Republican lawmakers to negotiate from a position of strength against powerful House Speaker Madigan. In addition, a Republican majority would give priority to the suburban agenda that includes property tax caps, transportation gridlock and the issue of open spaces versus development.
Bill Steinbacher-Kemp is a former Springfield resident now living in Hattiesburg, Miss.
October 1992/Illnois Issues/ 31