DECATUR — It is time for the Illinois Democratic Party to put-up or shut-up when it comes to addressing the state’s myriad of issues, said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Roughly 12 hours after Democrat J.B. Pritzker defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in Tuesday’s election, Redfield spoke about the impact the election will have on the state's future during the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce’s monthly community breakfast at the Decatur Club.

Along with Pritzker’s victory, Democrats won every statewide race, kept their super-majority in the state Senate and took a super-majority in the House of Representatives. While the results were not a big surprise, Redfield said, the big question now is how Pritzker and the Democrats take on Illinois’ $7 billion in unpaid bills and roughly $130 billion in unpaid pension liabilities.

“The problem now is that we’re in such bad shape,” Redfield said. “If (Democrats) try to skate by, it’s going to be a disaster ... But (House Speaker Mike) Madigan’s people are on the ballot in two years, every member of the House. So the Democrats own everything, and they’ll want something to run on in two years.

"That’s the only thing that has me optimistic that we’ll actually get some things done and make some hard choices.”

He said the state's Republican Party leaders need to discover their identity and strengthen their fundraising infrastructure if they have any hope of competing against Democrats in 2020 and beyond.

Since 2013, the Illinois Republican Party has been almost completely funded by three people: Rauner and the duo of Ken Griffin, a hedge fund manager from Chicago and Illinois’ richest person, and Richard Uihlein, a Lake Forest businessman. In the last two gubernatorial races, Rauner has spent $111 million, while Griffin has contributed $58 million and Uihlein has contributed $27 million.

“It’s a real issue if a political party is dependent on a financial angel, and if that angel goes away, it’ll be a huge problem,” Redfield said, noting that Rauer contributed much less this year to legislative races than he did in 2016.

While Democrats have their own wealthy contributors such as Pritzker, Redfield said they also have a good financial infrastructure with support from labor groups and other unions.

In addition to money, Redfield said the party needs to decide what type of policies it wants to focus on, whether to focus its campaigns on fiscal issues or focus more on social issues such as immigration and abortion.

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That division was most prominent earlier this year when Rauner barely held off a challenge from state Rep. Jeannie Ives in the March primary election. Ives, R-Wheaton, ran a campaign that called out Rauner for being too liberal on social issues and for signing House Bill 40, which provides state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions.

The other major takeaway Redfield had from Tuesday night’s results is that Democrats now will have control of redrawing all General Assembly and congressional districts after the 2020 U.S. Census is complete. Illinois will likely lose at least one of its 18 congressional seats because of population loss, and Redfield said that will almost surely affect Southern Illinois.

Democrats will likely draw lines to strengthen their recent gains in the Chicago suburbs, as well as find a way to draw at least two downstate GOP congressmen into the same district.

“Downstate districts are going to be huge, and they’re already huge,” Redfield said. “If we lose one seat, it will come out of downstate, clearly ... (those drawing the map) are going to make the downstate districts as big as possible.”




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Contact Ryan Voyles at (217) 421-7985. Follow him on Twitter: @RVVoyles


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