Illinois still blue despite Republican gains

A tainted Republican victory leaves Democrats retaining power in the 92nd district, the Senate and in the State of Illinois.

Peaking Too Early?

In the months leading up to midterms, Republicans were motivated. Voters were disgruntled over a health care plan nobody wanted and disappointed with an economy crushing its workers with a 9.7 percent unemployment rate nearly two years after Democrats pushed the American Recovery and Restoration Act onto President Barack Obama’s desk. Two months before the election, the GOP had already begun vying for House leadership positions and drafting their agenda for health care overhaul, permanent Bush tax cuts and a much smaller federal deficit in the Pledge to America, a 21-page document that focuses largely on solutions to the big issues.

But Republicans may have peaked too early. Despite a historic comeback in Capital Hill’s House chamber with over 60 new conservative representatives showing up for freshman orientation, the party’s victory at home was stifled—at least in Illinois. Democrats’ stronghold in Chicago sealed a win for them in the state’s top spot. In other state races, Incumbent State Representative Jehan Gordon kept her seat in a campaign against Republican challenger Jim Montelongo, a city councilman since 2007 running on the slogan: Jim’s for Jobs.

Gordon handily defeated Montelongo on November 2. The Republican says he will not seek re-election to his place on the City Council, claiming after seven months of campaigning, jumping into another election for the next five months “would be a little bit unfair to my family and to my business colleagues.”

Gordon won a second term by garnering 13,587 votes, or 62 percent, 5,229 more votes than Republican Peoria City Councilman Jim Montelongo, who got 8,358 votes, or 38 percent. The 29-year-old says she won support due to her strong constituent service, hard work and active engagement in the community. “Our office has worked really hard to show the citizens how we will be an independent voice representing the people in the 92nd District. We worked really hard to keep an active and engaged office.”

Two years ago, Gordon defeated Republican Joan Krupa by a 53.5 to 46.5 percent margin. Her support base was much stronger this year, winning with 4,424 more votes in the city than Montelongo and 805 more in the county. Gordon received more than $126,000 from state party sources, including the Democratic Party of Illinois, Downstate Democratic Caucus and Speaker Madigan.

Gordon says the impetus of being a good representative is being a good listener. “I’m very blessed to have the opportunity to do this again.” Gordon is the second woman to represent her district. Democrat Ricca Slone won the seat in 1996.

Montelongo, 43, will continue to serve the remainder of his term, which will expire May 2. His decision not to seek re-election will give him more time to spend with his three sons as well as attend to his business. The owner and president of Advanced CAD/CAM Service in Peoria, the former candidate said he needs time to initiate a national branding campaign for the company and launch new start-up businesses in the Peoria area. Elected to the council in 2007, Montelongo is the first Hispanic member of the City Council. He says he is “very proud” of his campaign, which was run on “substance” and acknowledges that the biggest issues were “the budget and growing jobs.” “My campaign provided solutions to our biggest problems.” Montelongo received more than $21,000 from state Republican Party sources.

Gaining Ground

Republicans did gain some ground in Illinois state races. Republican East Peoria City Councilman Mike Unes won a tough race against Democratic Incumbent Mike Smith for the 91st District House seat. After 16 years serving in the state house, Smith conceded to Unes, 36, on his way to victory with 16,727 votes, or 54.5 percent, compared with Smith, 44, of Canton, who had 13,967 votes, or 45.5 percent.

Unes said he was “very proud” to have the opportunity to serve his constituents in a greater capacity. “It’s so humbling to have so many supporters,” said Unes, who celebrated at Embassy Suites in East Peoria. Unes’ race accumulated $1.7 million raised between both candidates in the second most expensive legislative race in the state. Despite negative attack ads, he remained positive in his campaign, focussing largely on the issues.

The Republican works for Heinold-Banwart accounting firm and helps to initiate pro-growth policies that will produce jobs and tax revenue. He plans to grow the state’s tax base and increase revenues. Smith supported a graduated income tax increase to prevent property taxes from being used for school funding.

Unes will be sworn in Jan. 12, and his council seat is up in April; however, he said he will resign before that time.

Close Call

Both political demographics and political history in Illinois suggest the odds of Democratic Governorship in the state are high. These odds were with Governor Pat Quinn on November 2 in the race against Republican State Senator Bill Brady. Quinn and Brady were locked in a tight race with 98 percent of precincts reporting and Quinn holding onto 47 percent of the votes and Brady with 46 percent. Quinn’s lead was just over 9,100 votes out of more than 3.6 million cast. By Wednesday, November 3, Quinn declared he had won and attributed his victory to time, effort, hard work and service to the voters. The race was declared an official Democratic victory by the end of the week.

The Governor, who says he has been protecting both consumers and workers as a staunch consumer advocate even before he was elected believes he has “a better connection with voters than (Brady).”

“In the past year since I have taken over the Illinois Governorship in one of the most difficult times in our state’s history, I have pursued public works projects to put people back to work.”

Quinn had served as lieutenant governor before taking over the Governor’s chair after former Governor Rod Blagojevich was ousted on charges of attempting to sell Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat. With the state still under a liberal agenda, Illinois taxpayers are due to face an income tax increase from 3 percent to 4 percent to help mitigate the state’s record-setting $15 billion deficit and procure more money for education. Shelia Simon, who supports Quinn’s tax increase, will serve as lieutenant governor.

“We’ve engaged in strategic borrowing for education and healthcare. We’ve lost over $1 billion to pay for the budget within the last year making interest payments on the money we borrowed. If we don’t raise income taxes to pay for education we’ll see at least 17,000 Illinois teachers laid off,” Quinn had said during a campaign interview, also claiming that it will be “very hard” to coordinate the state’s educational efforts without the tax increase.

Brady flatly rejects raising taxes and during his campaign touted tax breaks to help the state’s economy, claiming the breaks could add as much as $1 billion to the deficit but also contending an improved economy would generate enough funds to make up the difference.

There was also question over whether Brady’s extreme conservative views may have lost him the election. Quinn says Brady’s views, while winning him some votes with conservative Republicans, may, in the long run, have disconnected him with Illinois voters, portraying him as “out of touch with mainstream voters.”

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