PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday March 16th, 2016, 6:10pm

Rauner Takes A Hit In Illinois' Primary Elections

Progress Illinois breaks down the winners and losers in some key legislative races in which stakes were high for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. 

Tuesday was a rough go for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and his allies. The Illinois primary elections saw Rauner's reportedly preferred candidates defeated in several key races.

In the high-profile 5th state House district's Democratic primary, Juliana Stratton unseated seven-term incumbent Rep. Ken Dunkin. Many considered the Chicago race to be a proxy battle fought by Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. The two political leaders have been locked in a monthslong budget stalemate centered around the governor's pro-business, anti-union policy agenda.  

Madigan himself handily defeated his 22nd House district primary challenger, Jason Gonzales, who got some campaign funding from Rauner allies. And in the Republican primaries, state Sen. Sam McCann (R-Plainview) beat Rauner-endorsed opponent Bryce Benton in central Illinois' 50th Senate district.

"All three races show that Rauner was unable to affect the outcome, and it may make it possible to convince some Republicans to vote with the Democrats to create a budget, and to be veto proof," said University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor Dick Simpson. 

Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, also weighed in on the election results. 

"The bottom line is both the speaker and the governor had the exact same situation, and the governor failed and the speaker succeeded," Mooney said, referring to the general assembly's 5th House and 50th Senate district races, in which both incumbents crossed their party's leadership. "If Sam McCann would have lost, then the governor could have rightly said, "You step out of line, and you're gonna have trouble, and I can take you down.' Just as the speaker can say about Dunkin now. But the governor cannot say that."

Record-breaking spending went into the $6 million Dunkin vs. Stratton primary race.

The Illinois Opportunity Project, an outfit with ties to Rauner and the GOP, gave Dunkin's re-election campaign a total of $1.3 million. IllinoisGO, a Rauner-alligned super PAC, also supported Dunkin's campaign. IllinoisGO spent $588,125 in support of Dunkin and $993,798 against Stratton, according to figures from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's (ICPR) campaign finance database.

Labor groups and Democratic operatives were among those that funded Stratton's campaign.

AFSCME Illinois Council No. 31 PAC and SEIU* Healthcare Illinois Indiana PAC, for example, donated $138,900 and $122,247 to Stratton, respectively. Hedge fund manager Michael Sacks was also one of Stratton's top donors, contributing $150,000 to her campaign, according to ICPR's database.

Even President Barack Obama got involved in the 5th House district contest by endorsing Stratton.

"The Ken Dunkin race was really decided by Obama's endorsement," Simpson said. "It was a very expensive race ... but the Obama endorsement was pivotal there."

Stratton captured 67.7 percent of the vote to Dunkin's 32.3 percent, according to unofficial election results, with 95.3 percent of precincts reporting.

Dunkin defied Madigan when he missed votes to override Rauner's vetoes of social services legislation and a labor bill, costing the House Speaker his required supermajority to advance the measures. Democrats were seeking to reverse the governor's deep cuts to the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and seniors services, as well as his veto of binding arbitration legislation for resolving labor disputes between his administration and unions.

Mooney spoke to the implications of the 5th House district race for legislators.

"On very key few issues like this one that are very important to the party, to the speaker, especially in this sort of battle royal that they got going on right now, if (a state lawmaker is) gonna cross that line, you can expect there's gonna be some consequences," Mooney said. "The speaker has shown that, even in the face of an unprecedented onslaught of money from the other side, he can defeat even an incumbent of his own party. His fingerprints are off this. He didn't really do it himself. It was mostly done through surrogates. The same thing with the governor. But I don't think it's out of line to say this was the governor fighting the speaker in the 5th House district."

"The flipside is the exact same thing in the 50th Senate district, but the big difference is that the governor failed to do exactly what the speaker accomplished in the 5th House district," he added.

McCann landed in Rauner's crosshairs when he broke Republican ranks and supported the Democrat-backed union arbitration bill. The move was so controversial that the Liberty Principles PAC, an independent expenditure group operated by Rauner supporter Dan Proft, put $3 million toward supporting McCann's challenger in the race. 

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, unofficial election results show McCann with 52.7 percent of the vote to Benton's 47.3 percent. 

Labor's Candidates Win Victories

McCann and Stratton are among multiple candidates SEIU Healthcare Illinois supported in Tuesday's elections. Other victorious candidates the labor group backed include Omar Aquino in the 2nd Senate district, Sonya Harper in the 6th House district and Emanuel "Chris" Welch in the 7th House district --all of whom were facing opponents backed by Rauner-allied groups, according to SEIU Healthcare Illinois Executive Vice President Greg Kelley.

"We view the results of the legislative races last night as repudiation of this governor and his policies," Kelley said. "We think that in every case, where the citizens had an opportunity to say 'no' to what he was trying to accomplish, they said it emphatically and went the opposite direction, even after the governor, he and his friends, spent millions of dollars to try to sway people -- even in a Republican primary. We're clear that the public citizens don't like this governor and the place he's taking the state." 

Kelley looked ahead to 2018, the year in which Illinois holds its next gubernatorial election.

"This is a message to him that 2018 is not that far away, and folks have long memories," he said. "We think that this puts him in a tight spot. All of his agenda ... is in the balance at this point."

Madigan Comments On Election Results

Madigan, meanwhile, easily won in his primary contest, pulling in 64.6 percent of the vote, with 97.8 percent of precincts reporting. 

He was challenged by Gonzales. The political newcomer faced accusations of being a Rauner plant, an allegation Gonzales strongly denied.

Madigan released the following statement Wednesday on Tuesday's election results:

Yesterday, voters in the Democratic primary election made it very clear they want representatives in the State Capitol who will stand up for middle-class families, children and the elderly, not turn their backs on them. I'm honored to have again received the trust and support of the voters of the 22nd District, where they rejected a candidate who received his financial support from a number of Republicans and those aligned with the governor's belief in how government should be run.

Voters in the 5th Representative District clearly were unhappy with Ken Dunkin's record, how he turned his back on the elderly, children and families struggling to make ends meet, his failure to follow through on promises he made, and his association with Bruce Rauner and the governor's allies. Also, a message was sent that spending more money does not translate into electoral success. The millions spent by Ken Dunkin, IllinoisGO, the Illinois Opportunity Project and others - an effort that significantly outspent the Juliana Stratton campaign - did not persuade voters because their views do not reflect the views of middle-class and struggling families.

As Speaker, I have consistently and successfully worked with Republican governors to find common ground on issues important to moving the state forward. I am prepared, as I have been for the last year, to work cooperatively and professionally with Governor Rauner to address the most important issues facing our state today. However, the gridlock that we are experiencing stems not from a difference in political parties, but from the governor's insistence that we focus on his agenda attacking middle-class families, rather than making the budget deficit his priority. Over the last year, you will find the times that the governor and the Legislature were able to work together, such as the passage of a measure to free up billions of dollars in federal funds and rejecting cost of living adjustments for lawmakers, is when the governor was willing to put aside his agenda that hurts middle-class families and work directly with the Legislature on the most important issue at hand.

With the clear message sent by voters Tuesday, I am hopeful we can use this framework moving forward to implement a state budget and work together to get things accomplished for the people we serve.

Mooney said it remains to be seen how the election results will impact the political standoff in Springfield, if at all.

"There's no way (Rauner's) gonna say, 'Oh, well. I guess I was wrong. We're not gonna do it that way anymore,'" Mooney said. "He's got to find a way to save face, if that's what he wants to do. And it's also incumbent on, and it is smart politics anyway, for the speaker and Senate president, if that's what the governor wants to do, they need to help him out. They need to help him find a way to win, to give him a little something on workers' comp or something, and make a deal where they can all say it was a win-win for everybody, and then move along."

"Am I hopeful that that's gonna happen? I'm hopeful, but I don't know what the odds are," he continued. "I don't think odds are great." 

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.

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