Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Illinois is now effectively a one-party state

There's a reason I don't go to Vegas or bet on horses: I'm lousy at picking winners.

Just yesterday, on this blog, I offered views on the outcome of three local Congressional races. Despite acknowledging that all three districts had been drawn to eradicate the incumbents, I predicted that only one (Tea Party stalwart Joe Walsh) would lose for sure. I expressed some hope that more moderate incumbents Bob Dold and Judy Biggert might survive, while suggesting that Biggert was in deeper trouble than Dold.

Well, all three lost.

The Mapmaker won.

Illinois today is as close to a one-party state as you can get without being Cuba. The difference is that the Democratic Party in Illinois is not a monolithic entity; it is a marriage of convenience among those who wish to gain and retain office. Ideology is for amateurs. What wins elections are the lines on the map. Because of lines drawn on a map, yesterday's election was, in Illinois, almost a formality.

Democrats gained seats in the State House and Senate. David Ormsby, writing for The Illinois Observer, said "Illinois House and Senate Republicans were wiped out on Tuesday night."

The Mapmaker won.

Once and future Rep. Smith
The "signature win" for Illinois Democrats (although they're slightly embarrassed about it) was the election of Derrick Smith to the Illinois House in the 10th District.

Outside of Illinois, you've probably not heard of Smith. The name doesn't register. Smith was appointed to his seat in March 2011 by Democratic committeemen when a vacancy occurred. In March 2012, just a week before the Democratic primary, Smith was arrested on federal charges. An informant caught him on tape accepting a $7,000 bribe to promote a grant to a day care center. On tape, Rep. Smith can be overheard telling the man passing the money to just 'leave it in the envelope.'

The man passing the money was also the man wearing a wire.

Smith's erstwhile patrons would eventually demand that he step aside. But not right away. Not until after the primary.

Smith faced opposition in the Democratic Primary from a one-time Republican operative named Tom Swiss.

It simply wouldn't do to let a Republican-in-Democrat's-clothing gain a free pass to Springfield simply because the Democratic candidate stood accused of taking a bribe. So the Democrats pushed hard for Smith in the primary... and only then called for him to step aside.

But Smith wouldn't go voluntarily. So, this summer, Smith was expelled from the Illinois State Legislature. That cost Smith his seat in Springfield and his paycheck -- but it didn't remove him from the ballot.

Some of the area Democratic committeemen recruited a bond lawyer and former Daley and Stroger staffer, Lance Tyson, to run against Smith as the candidate of the "Unity Party." But Smith won easily.

So many people in Cook County are so conditioned to vote Democratic that they will do so even when the leadership would rather they didn't.

Smith can't be booted out of the General Assembly again -- unless, of course, he is convicted. Given the tape recordings, the presumption of innocence notwithstanding, a conviction seems like a pretty safe bet. Then the Democratic committeemen will appoint someone else.

The Derrick Smith fiasco is emblematic of the chokehold that the Democratic Party has on Illinois -- because it draws the map.

The Party's control of the primary process is more tenuous.

The primary is in March -- deliberately so long before the election so as to discourage people from even thinking about voting, except for those committed (and loyal) to the Party. (Suppressing voter turnout is really a bipartisan strategy.) The last thing the Democratic Party in Illinois wants is serious public interest in the primary process.

But that's the only game that's left in town. In our town, anyway.

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