The face of Illinois politics is shifting, and nothing better illustrates the stunning transition than the individuals who filled the three major vacancies created by former House Speaker Michael Madigan’s fall from grace.
Madigan was replaced as speaker of the Illinois House by state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a suburban Chicago legislator.
After he resigned as Illinois Democratic Party chairman, Madigan’s slot was filled by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of Matteson.
When Madigan gave up his seat representing the predominantly Hispanic 22nd Illinois House District, he was replaced by Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar.
The 78-year-old Madigan epitomized the old Illinois and Democratic Party power structure — the Irish pol who learned politics sitting at the knee of party boss and longtime Mayor Daley I — Richard J.
Now he’s been replaced by a Black man as speaker, a Black woman as state party leader and a Hispanic woman as state legislator.
Those are but a few examples of how shifting demographics affect governance in a democratic society.
“The faces of the Democratic Party have definitely changed,” said Kent Redfield, a retired political-science professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield.
The manner of Illinois’ Democratic Party politics is changing, too. Where it was once driven by top-down party leaders who slated candidates, it’s slowly evolved into a free-for-all accentuated by candidate ethnicities.
“There is a strong element of identity politics, when it used to be party politics,” Redfield said.
For example, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is not running for re-election next year. Already, candidates representing a range of ethnicities have announced they’ll seek the party’s nod to fill White’s ballot spot.
In 2018, a similarly diverse group of candidates competed for the nomination to succeed retiring Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of the now-former speaker. Kwame Raoul, a Black man, emerged from the scrum and ultimately won the office.
Including Raoul, four of Illinois’ six statewide state offices are held by Blacks or Hispanics — Raoul, White, Comptroller Susan Mendoza and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.
Black political dominance is such that Redfield said the group has displaced the Irish as top dog in Chicago and Cook County’s Democratic Party. But he said Hispanics are emerging, and the various groups will be vying for power.
The pending completion of the U.S. census, followed by legislative reapportionment, will set the stage for the political scramble.
The 2010 Census showed that Illinois had a population of 12.8 million, with Whites accounting for 71.5 percent; Blacks, 14.5 percent; and Asians, 5 percent.
While Hispanics only received a limited mention in the population percentages in 2010, they will be substantially higher when the 2020 numbers are released.
With Blacks and Hispanics located predominantly in Cook County and Chicago, changing demographics will create problems for majority Democrats drawing federal and state legislative district boundaries.
The basic problem is too many mouths to feed.
For example, Illinois has four Black Democratic representatives in the U.S. House — Kelly, Lauren Underwood of Naperville and Bobby Rush and Danny Davis, both of Chicago — and one Hispanic — Chuy Garcia of Chicago. The Blacks want to keep what they have, while the Hispanics want more.
Accommodating both groups could impinge on the districts of other federal and state legislators in the Chicago area.
Map drawers may be inclined to ease that pressure by extending the current districts of White Democrats. One scenario involves extending U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos’ district from Rockford to Champaign-Urbana.
Illinois has 18 U.S. House seats currently represented by 13 Democrats and five Republicans.
The state is expected to lose at least one seat — possibly two — because of its declining population. Democrats will certainly eliminate a downstate Republican seat, but it will be a challenge to redraw the maps in a way that keeps all Democratic incumbents happy.
Meanwhile, bear in mind the examples of Chicago and Cook County. Current Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Black woman, replaced longtime party insider Rahm Emanuel, a White Jewish man, as mayor, and Lori Preckwinkle, a Black woman, is both president of the Cook County Board and chairwoman of the Cook County Democratic Party.
Gone are the ethnic Whites who have used ethnicity to balance tickets to ensure maximum Democratic Party appeal. In their place are successors who believe their time has come.
Mostly homogeneous Republicans are a different story, dominating low-population downstate but a spent force statewide.
“The Republicans have problems, too,” Redfield said. “They’re just ideological.”
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-351-5369.