Democrats boosted their already strong majorities in the state House and Senate on Tuesday, taking advantage of new legislative boundaries they drew over the protests of frustrated Republicans.
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats, heralded the victories as a sign that voters support their party's leadership in Springfield. But the new legislative district boundaries drawn last year paved the way for the Democratic tidal wave that put their party in position to hold the two chambers for a second consecutive 10-year run.
Democrats were poised to win up to 40 seats in the 59-member Senate, boosting their 35-24 margin, according to Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon. Cullerton said voters recognized Democrats are willing to “take on tough issues” and rejected a conservative tilt in the state's Republicans.
House Democrats were in range of boosting their 64-54 majority to 71 seats, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said, adding the party has been willing to “confront the state's problems year after year.”
“The map the Democrats drew performed as they designed,” lamented Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.
Charles N. Wheeler, who teaches how to cover the Legislature at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said the Republican effort to stir support with a “Fire Madigan” campaign was an “ill-conceived strategy.” He said records showed the last time either party controlled as many as 40 seats in the Senate was in the years shortly before the Great Depression.
Illinois undergoes a realignment of districts after each census to adjust to changes in population, but the real exercise is over who can draw legislative districts to best help their political party. Democrats led by Madigan, who doubles as party chairman, had the rare opportunity to rewrite the map with little trouble because they control both legislative chambers and the governor's office.
The result was that more than a dozen sitting Republicans were pitted against each other, forcing primary showdowns, leading some lawmakers to retire and causing some Republicans to fight Democrats this fall in unfamiliar territory.
The biggest war in the House centered on Elmwood Park Republican Rep. Skip Saviano and his opponent, Addison Democrat Kathleen Willis, who drew huge support from Madigan in the close race. Brown said late Tuesday that Willis was on pace to beat Saviano.
Madigan also tried to stretch his reach into the northwest suburbs, but Republican David McSweeney of Barrington Hills declared victory against Dee Beaubien, an independent whose late husband, Mark, once held the seat as a GOP lawmaker.
Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz, under fire for voting for the state income tax hike last year, declared victory over Republican challenger Jonathan Greenberg in the contest between two Northbrook candidates. A Greenberg spokesman conceded.
In the only race between two incumbent state lawmakers, Rep. Carol Sente, D-Vernon Hills, declared victory over Rep. Sidney Mathias, R-Buffalo Grove, who conceded.
In Lake County, Republican Rep. Sandy Cole of Grayslake was trying to survive a strong challenge from Democrat Sam Yingling, the Avon Township supervisor, of Round Lake Beach. Yingling declared victory through a spokesman, but Cole could not immediately be reached.
In the Senate, veteran Republican lawmaker Carole Pankau of Itasca was in a tight battle with Democratic challenger Tom Cullerton, the Villa Park president and a distant cousin of the Senate president.
Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski was also taking heat for supporting a higher income tax in his race against Republican challenger and fellow Park Ridge resident Jim O'Donnell. Kotowski predicted late Tuesday that he would win, but O'Donnell had not conceded.
The contest to replace Sen. Suzi Schmidt, the lawmaker whose high-profile marital spat led to her not running again, was coming down to a very close race. Democrat Melinda Bush of Grayslake faced Republican Joe Neal of Wadsworth, whose father once chaired the Lake County GOP.
In a North Shore district, Democrat Julie Morrison, the longtime West Deerfield Township supervisor, declared victory over Republican Arie Friedman, a Highland Park pediatrician. He conceded through a spokesman.
In an open Senate seat in the southwest suburbs, Shorewood Democrat Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, the Will County regional school superintendent, faced Republican Garrett Peck, a Plainfield village trustee.