LEGISLATIVE LITMUS TEST
Conservatives are challenging moderate House Republicans
in the primary. What's new? 'Partial-birth9 abortion. And an
ideological battle at the top of the GOP ballot.
Analysis by Jennifer Davis
Illustrations by William Crook Jr.
Republican state Rep. Rosemary
Mulligan has a tenacious grip on
her north suburban district — for now.
But Jim Curley, a 66-year-old semi-
retired pharmaceutical representative
from Mulligan's hometown of Des
Plaines, has spent the past few months
trying to change that.
Curley has done all the expected
campaign tasks: He walked door-to-
door, sent out direct mail, held $50
fund-raisers at a local banquet hall.
But probably the most important thing
he's done — indeed, the one thing that
makes Mulligan, a popular, three-term
incumbent, view this one-term former
alderman as a "serious threat" — is to
garner the support of Family PAC, a
wealthy organization whose 500
members are committed to electing
anti-abortion, "pro-family" candidates.
Mulligan, a self-described fiscal
conservative and social moderate who
recently voted against a ban on the
controversial "late-term" or "partial-
birth" abortion procedure, is not their
type of legislator. That's why, she says,
"they've declared war,"
A series of battles in critical
legislative primary races is more like it.
Mulligan is not the only "moderate"
Republican facing a so-called "ultra-
Illinois Issues March 1998 / 23
conservative" in the upcoming March
17 election. Indeed, there are several
such races worrisome to House
Minority Leader Lee Daniels, who is
struggling to regain control of the
chamber he lost by the slimmest of
margins in the last election.
Both parties want to be in the best
shape possible for the fall general
election and that usually means having
an incumbent candidate on the
November ballot, someone with
stronger name identification and fund-
raising skills. But to get there, they've
got to get past here. And here is a
primary election with a handful of
races crucial to both sides.
If Democratic Speaker Michael
Madigan expects to keep control of the
House he's going to have to win two
contested primaries in Chicago's south
suburbs, an area that could swing back
to the Republicans. Of 16 contests for
the House Democrats, those two likely
top the list.
Still, it's easily Daniels' side of the
aisle that has the greater challenge.
While House Republicans face 15
primary challenges, three legislative
districts in the northwest and west
suburban area covering DuPage and
McHenry counties are getting most of
In those districts, moderate,
pro-choice Republicans are facing
anti-abortion Republicans backed by a
wealthy, organized Christian Right.
That's nothing new. Here's what is:
This year one of the conservative
Republicans' poster boys — state Sen.
Peter Fitzgerald of suburban Inverness — is running a strong race at the
top of his party's ticket for U.S. Senate
against the moderate state Comptroller Loleta Didrickson. If Fitzgerald
draws conservative voters, those voters
also may give candidates like Jim
Curley enough support to beat
popular incumbents like Mulligan.
What's more, this past year saw an
issue that divides the Republican Party
played out in the General Assembly:
"late-term" or "partial-birth"
abortion. The law was struck down
last month in federal court.
The Republicans who voted
against a ban on that abortion
procedure became immediate targets
of the Christian Right. Mulligan is
one. State Rep. Mike Brown of Crystal
Lake is another.
Both represent portions of the
northwest suburbs — a traditional
Republican stomping ground.
It isn't so much that Daniels is
worried about losing those seats to
Democrats, as that he's interested in
supporting his moderate incumbents
and not letting an ideological split
among House Republicans fracture his
future as party leader. In other words,
Daniels benefits from the current
makeup of his side of the aisle:
This wide divide — pro-choice
Republicans vs. anti-abortion Republicans — is reflected throughout the
country. Indeed, earlier this year,
details on just how divisive the split
has become made national news when
a contingent of conservatives tried to
convince the Republican National
Committee not to fund pro-choice
Republicans. The effort failed, but it
illustrates the rift within the Republican Party. It's not something Daniels
can be thrilled to deal with when, as
his spokesman so emphatically states:
"We cannot lose any seats."
Enter Family PAC. Since it was
launched in 1992, the group, run by
conservative Chairman Tom Roeser
and Director Paul Caprio, has spent
$450,000 supporting and recruiting
pro-family, anti-tax candidates.
Candidates like Jim Curley, who says
it was Mulligan's vote on the "partial-
birth" abortion bill that finally pushed
him to challenge her.
And Mulligan, a 56-year-old former
paralegal who in 1992 first won this
DuPage County district — a mix of
middle- and upper-class bedroom
communities — is taking that
challenge seriously. Not because she
doubts her abilities or her record, but
because she knows she's up against a
well-funded, well-organized group that
could appeal to a conservative contingent within her "socially moderate"
"I'm reluctant to cry wolf, but it is
true [that] I'm dealing with a group
dedicated to removing people like
myself and Rep. [Carolyn] Krause,
who is the other half of this [Senate]
Indeed, before Mulligan won the
seat, the 55th House District was
represented for 16 years by Republican
Penny Pullen, a staunch abortion foe.
"The people angry [that] 1 finally
beat her are the same ones driving this
issue," says Mulligan, adding that she
hasn't done herself any favors by
speaking out. "I'm very vocal on the
House floor. Many of my colleagues
who are pro-choice, particularly on
our side of the aisle, don't feel they've
met the challenge in their districts the
same way I have. So, it's all right for
me to stand up and take the lead position on a bill. The more adept you are
at presenting the arguments, the more
they rely on you. Which makes them
want to get rid of me more."
And Family PAC does want to oust
Mulligan, along with a few others.
Freshman state Rep. Mike Brown of
Crystal Lake is one candidate Caprio
believes is especially vulnerable.
Brown, who replaced third-term
incumbent Ann Hughes in that strong
Republican district after she resigned
last year, faces ultra-conservative Steve
Verr, who repeatedly ran against the
pro-choice Hughes. That McHenry
County district northwest of Chicago
has been mostly rural but is quickly
becoming urbanized as the suburbs
In the 1996 primary, Hughes spent
$137,430 defending her seat. Verr
Caprio says Verr's forces are
stronger than in the past. "If he is
nominated, we believe he will win in
Hughes isn't so sure.
"It's a little less Republican than it
looks," she says of her former district,
pointing to an influx of new voters
moving in from Chicago and inner-
Another weak spot in Family PAC's
eyes is the 56th House District, represented by Republican Krause of Mt.
Prospect. Her district abuts Mulligan's
and includes Park Ridge, an upper-
class bedroom community with a sizable contingent of Catholics.
While Krause voted for the "partial-
birth" abortion ban, a position
24 / March 1998 Illinois Issues
Catholic voters are likely to support —
she's still pro-choice. Caprio is betting
the more conservative Bob Lowen, a
Park Ridge police commander, can
squeeze out the three-term incumbent,
especially if the conservative voters
come out in full force.
"The partial-birth abortion bill is
going to be the 800-pound gorilla of
politics in this primary," Caprio forecasts. "Those Republicans who voted
against it are going to find it very difficult to explain themselves to voters."
Daniels no doubt knows that. In
what appeared to be a divide-and-
conquer strategy, he had several of
those at-risk Republicans — including
continued on page 27
House primary contests
Republicans face 15 primary contests on March 17.
Of those, the leadership is keeping a close eye on five:
• 55th District. Republican incumbent Rosemary
Mulligan faces Jim Curley, a former one-term Des Plaines
alderman. Mulligan, who was first elected in 1992, is pro-
choice. Curley is not. He has the support of Family PAC,
a conservative grass-roots group. This DuPage County
district includes most of Des Plaines, a middle-class
suburb with both white- and blue-collar workers, and part
of Park Ridge, an upper-class bedroom community with a
sizable contingent of Catholic voters.
• 56th District. Republican incumbent Carolyn Krause
faces Bob Lowen, a Park Ridge police detective commander. Krause, who was first elected in 1992, is pro-choice,
but she supported the ban on "partial-birth" abortion.Lowen is supported by Family PAC. This DuPage County
district includes most of Park Ridge.
• 63rd District. Republican incumbent Mike Brown
faces Steve Verr, an ultra-conservative who has run
repeatedly for this seat. Brown was appointed last year to
replace Rep. Ann Hughes, who resigned. He voted against
the "partial-birth" abortion ban. Verr has been supported
by Family PAC since 1992. This McHenry County district
northwest of Chicago is strongly Republican and has been
mostly rural until recent years.
• 79th District. Jim Giglio of South Holland and Gene
Wolfe of Lansing are battling it out in this primary race.
Both men, former Democrats, are vying to face Democrat
incumbent Mike Giglio in the fall. House Republicans are
supporting Jim Giglio, a distant cousin of the incumbent.
No doubt they would like to capitalize on voter confusion
over the names to win this seat, which was held by ;
Republican Bill Balthis for one term. This southern Cook
County suburb consists of mostly blue-collar middle-class
families. It's a crucial swing district.
• 116th District. Bruce Brown of Chester and Al
Mehrtens of Millstadt face each other in this race. House
Republicans support Brown, a Republican state central
committeeman, to take on Democrat incumbent Dan
Reitz in the fall. Reitz was appointed to this seat last year
following the death of Rep. Terry Deering. Reitz, like
Deering, was a coal miner. This Washington County
district in southern Illinois is populated by former coal
miners. It's been represented by Democrats for the past 24
Democrats face 16 primary contests. Here are five
of the more serious races:
• 1st District. Democrat incumbent Sonia Silva of
Chicago faces two Democrat opponents: Susana
Mendoza and Alan Mercado, both of Chicago. Silva, a
first-term legislator, is considered vulnerable because
competing Hispanic factions make up the majority of this
southwest Chicago district.
• 2nd District. Democrat incumbent Ed Acevedo also
faces two challengers: Guillermo Gomez and Linda
"Evangelist!" Johnson, both of Chicago. House Democrats
consider these challenges a serious threat to their incum-
bent. In the 1996 primary, five Democrats split the vote.
The winner won by only 290 votes. Further, Gomez is
backed by state Sen. Jesus Garcia, that district's senator.
Johnson, an Italian American, could also benefit from a
split Hispanic vote. This southwest Chicago district also
has a large Hispanic working-class population.
• 29th District. Democrat incumbent Ariine Fantin of
Calumet City faces three opponents: Willis Harris,
Clarence Richard and Richard Sparks, all of Chicago.
Harris is Fantin's biggest threat. She narrowly beat him in
the 1996 primary by 169 votes. Further, Harris is black,
while Fantin is white. This south Chicago district is more
than 65 percent African American.
• 79th District. Democrat incumbent Mike Giglio of
Lansing faces Linda Slubowski of Thornton. Giglio, a
freshman, is embroiled in a confusing primary battle that
insiders say boils down to local back-stabbing. Slubowsfci
appears to be backed by a longtime rival of Giglio's
father, Frank. Slubowski is Frank Giglio's former
secretary. This south suburban district with mostly blue-
collar, middle-class families is a crucial swing district for
Democrats. They will do whatever it takes to keep their
incumbent in place.
• 80th District. Democrat incumbent George Scully of
Flossmoor faces Michael Maynard of Crete. Scully,
another freshman from a crucial south suburban swing
district, wasn't challenged in the last primary. House
Democrats want Scully, a lawyer and former bank
examiner, over Maynard, a former teacher who lost his job
due to an old marijuana charge. Gov. Edgar recently
pardoned him. Education, the issue Scully was elected on,
remains an issue for this district, which has a poor
commercial real estate base. Jennifer Davis
Illinois Issues March 1998 / 25
26 / March 1998 Illinois Issues
Mulligan and Brown — stand by his
side last month while he announced
his plan to double the credit property
taxpayers get on their income tax —
a proposal embraced by strict anti-tax
While both Caprio and Daniels
focus in on Mulligan's, Brown's and
Krause's seats as the most critical,
there are others the conservatives are
watching. For instance, Family PAC
supports Tim Schmitz, a Batavia computer salesman, in his effort to replace
retiring 18-year incumbent pro-choice
Republican Rep. Suzanne Deuchler of
Aurora. And the group wants Patricia
Trowbridge, a former DuPage County
Board member, to replace the pro-
choice Judy Biggert in the 81st House
District. Biggert, a three-term incumbent from Westmont, is leaving to run
for Congress. Three other Republicans
are in the race for that open seat.
House Democrats have their own
troubles. While not plagued with a
serious ideological split, Madigan
faces primary challenges in the two
crucial south suburban districts
known to swing toward either party.
The House Democratic leadership
won five such south suburban districts
this past election, giving them a two-
Madigan's top priority is holding on
to that edge in the fall — something he
could do more easily with incumbents
But freshman Democratic state
Rep. Mike Giglio of Lansing faces a
confusing primary battle that insiders
say boils down to a personal spat
involving Giglio's father, Frank, a
township committeeman. Mike
Giglio's opponent, Linda Slubowski
of Thornton, used to be Frank
Giglio's secretary. She appears to have
the backing of a longtime political
rival of the elder Giglio.
A second south suburban race
important to the Democrats is that of
freshman Rep. George Scully of
Flossmoor. Untested in primaries, he
faces Michael Maynard of Crete, a
former teacher who was recently
pardoned by Gov. Jim Edgar on a
What's at stake this fall is
obvious: control of the House and,
thereby, control of the legislative
When the Republicans won the
House in 1994, their agenda — from
caps on personal injury lawsuits
(overturned by the courts) to truth in
sentencing — sailed over to the
Republican-controlled Senate and on
to a Republican governor. If Madigan
retains control of the House in
November, he says he'll continue to
push for an end to overreliance on the
property tax to fund schools.
Still, more is at stake than just
control of the House. Candidates who
win this general election, points out
Kent Redfield, professor of political
studies at the University of Illinois at
Springfield, will have the incumbent
advantage in the 2000 general election.
"Whichever party wins the majority in
that election will get to draw the next
[legislative] district map."
And redistricting, as even political
neophytes know or soon learn, is
everything in this game. To the map-
makers go the political spoils.
Nevertheless, while Madigan and
Daniels are no doubt planning ahead,
their first concern is the next couple
If history holds, Madigan's game
plan will be to outspend his incumbents' challengers in the south suburbs
so he can keep control of those crucial
swing districts. That winning formula
— money — won't be so easy for
House Republicans, who face considerable spending from their own conservative wing. While Family PAC
won't say how much it's spending or
where, Caprio has said he could invest
$100,000 in an important district.
Again, Hughes spent nearly $140,000
to defend her McHenry County seat
against Steve Verr's last attack.
So, yes, it often takes money to win.
The conservative wing has that. It also
takes votes. And they may have those
in this primary as they've never had
before, thanks to an ultra-conservative
at the top of the ticket and the
controversial vote on "partial-birth"
In fact, some political analysts see
March 17 as the race for House
Republicans. And GOP political
consultant Art Hanlon calls it "the
bellwether race" for Daniels.
Hanlon predicts the Fitzgerald vs.
Didrickson race, a "clear-cut philosophical difference at the top of the
ticket and the only real hotly contested
primary on our side," will draw conservative voters in droves. And with other
conservatives claiming their movement
is growing, Daniels could be concerned about his status as party leader.
While the makeup of the House
Republican caucus is mostly moderate,
the dynamic has shifted. In "partial-
birth" abortion, the conservatives have
an issue they can run with. After all,
even many pro-choice Democrats
couldn't support the procedure.
Hanlon sketches a scenario worth
watching: "This could be it. We could
see a complete change in the makeup
of the House Republicans."
William Crook Jr.
Illinois Issues used William Crook Jr.'s first pen and ink sketch of the
exterior of the state Capitol on the cover of its September 1975 edition.
We've been publishing his work ever since.
In fact, the Springfield artist considers the Statehouse an important
symbol of his hometown. Crook got his start as a photographer, and his
first photograph was of the Capitol. Now, his Capitol scenes, including the
legislative chambers and the stained glass dome above the rotunda, are sold
widely to lawmakers, lobbyists and political journalists.
Crook also is well-known for his pen and ink drawings of old houses and
country churches, street scenes and roadsides, rivers and open fields.
Illinois Issues March 1998 / 27