In Tuesday's Democratic primary elections, political newcomer Jason Gonzales is challenging one of the most powerful men in Illinois, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).
Gonzales, a business consultant, is running against Madigan in the 22nd House district race, which some political observers suggest is a proxy war between the longtime Democratic House Speaker, who was been in office since 1971, and Bruce Rauner, the state's first Republican governor in over a decade.
Progress Illinois spoke with Gonzales as he greeted voters this afternoon outside Kinzie Elementary School, 5625 S. Mobile Ave. The school is one of the polling sites in the 22nd House district, which covers neighborhoods surrounding Chicago Midway International Airport on the Southwest Side of Chicago and outlying suburbs.
Gonzales stressed that he's not a "Rauner plant," as Madigan's team has reportedly alleged.
"I've never met the governor. The governor didn't put me up," Gonzales said. "I've wanted to do this a long time. Some of the contributors that have given money to my campaign have given, some of them, to his campaign, but also have given to other Democrats. [Rauner] hasn't done anything to assure me of financing for the campaign or anything. I've been on my own and with the blessing of many good people, who believe in many of the platform items that I'm trying to accomplish, and hope to accomplish if I get in the legislature."
In addition to working on the state budget, which Illinois has been without for the past eight months amid the ongoing political standoff between Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders, Gonzales said he would push for term limits, redistricting reform, a progressive income tax, a minimum wage increase and "funding for good, solid public neighborhood schools."
"I'd like to bring about a new era of politics in Illinois," he said.
What's Gonzales' main message to voters?
"We're in the worst shape in Illinois history, and my opponent, Michael Madigan, has been in office for 45 years, and I believe that he's part of the reason why we're in the mess we're in, and he's holding back progress, and it's time for change," he said.
"One man having more power than anybody should ever have in a Democracy is not right, and it's actually hurting us," Gonzales added. "We need more of a balance. We need reforms, and we need a new politics in Illinois, a new Democratic Party, I believe. And I want to be part of that. I want to be part of that rebuilding process, and I want to work with anybody in Springfield, including Republicans, that want to work with me, and work for commonsense solutions for our state."
Lawns outside 22nd district polling sites and homes are filled with Gonzales and Madigan political signs, including one highlighting the Chicago Teachers Union's support for the House speaker.
Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown said the House Speaker "is telling voters in the 22nd district that year in and year out, week in and week out, he's there to worry about middle-class families, trying to solve school overcrowding, which is a big problem throughout that region, and making neighborhoods safe for families."
"As you look around the district, you'll see there are plenty of signs that people are supportive of what he has been doing and he will continue to do," Brown added.
Joe Scara, 56, cast a vote for Madigan this afternoon at Kinzie Elementary School.
"I like Madigan. I voted for him before, and I voted for him again," said Scara. "He just seemed to take care of the neighborhood pretty well."
Another voter, Jorge Chavolla, 38, didn't get to vote in the Madigan vs. Gonzales race because he is a Republican, and Democratic races are not on his GOP primary ballot.
Chavolla, who voted for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in the GOP presidential primary, along with "the candidates who were on Ted Cruz's side," said he would have voted for Gonzales over Madigan, had he been able to do so.
"If it would have been on (the ballot), I would have just voted Jason Gonzales," Chavolla said after voting at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, 5550 S. Merrimac Ave. "I kind of believe in term limits. Mike Madigan's been there a number of years, and I thought maybe it was time for a change."
Gonzales, meanwhile, declined to say for whom he voted for president, but did offer his thoughts on the Cook County State's Attorney's race, in which incumbent Anita Alvarez is in a tough re-election fight.
Alvarez has come under public scrutiny for taking 400 days to charge the Chicago police officer involved in Laquan McDonald's shooting death. She faces two challengers: Kim Foxx and Donna More.
Gonzales said Cook County needs a new State's Attorney, adding that he supports Foxx, a former Cook County Assistant State's Attorney.
"I really believe that the public trust has been lost with Anita Alvarez," he said. "To take that long to investigate and to bring charges is unacceptable. In this case, it was so unacceptable that a new State's Attorney is warranted, someone who, I believe, is worthy of the public trust, and I'm willing to say that Kim Foxx is that person. I believe that she's a change agent. She wants to reform the criminal justice system. She wants to be also a prosecutor as well, but has more of a temperament that, I think, that understands that there's some systemic issues in our justice system that need to be addressed."