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Careful what you wish for

Monday, Sep 9, 2019

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills) announced last week that he will not seek reelection. Instead, he said he’ll likely be making a 2022 statewide bid for either US Senate against Sen. Tammy Duckworth or secretary of state if Jesse White retires.

He may not be a household name, but Rep. McSweeney has been a huge thorn in Republican leadership’s side since he first ran for the Illinois House in the 2012 primary.

He took on Rep. Kent Gaffney, who had been the House Republicans’ appropriations director for a decade and was appointed to the seat after the untimely 2011 death of Republican Rep. Mark Beaubien. McSweeney at one point during the campaign claimed House Republican staff had violated the law by doing political work on state time and tried hard to get Gaffney kicked off the ballot. He won a three-way primary and then went on to defeat Beaubien’s widow, who ran as an independent in the general election.

In other words, he did not arrive in Springfield well-liked by the people who ran his own party. And he hasn’t tried to ingratiate himself with them at any point since then.

He refused to attend House Republican caucus meetings and eventually became one of the most outspoken Republican critics of Gov. Bruce Rauner. McSweeney became a go-to person for reporters needing anti-Rauner quotes. He basically served the same purpose as former Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks, who built up his name recognition by regularly slamming Democratic governors and was beloved by political reporters and now chairs the McHenry County Board. McSweeney’s district includes part of McHenry County, and Franks and McSweeney have worked together over the years to pass various local government-related bills.

After Rauner lost, McSweeney turned his fire on his own House Republican Leader, Jim Durkin. He has called Durkin corrupt, said he was an anti-Trump “RINO” (Republican in name only) and called on him to resign. Durkin retaliated by yanking staff support on two separate occasions. McSweeney kept his name in the papers.

McSweeney is an information sponge. He is super-smart and makes it his business to constantly find out what is going on in this state’s politics and governance.

He immediately sought out many of Springfield’s old hands after taking office and pumped them for every bit of advice and insight he could get. Those relationships, combined with his outspoken critiques of his own party helped him pass a lot of bills through the Democratic-controlled House, and also probably helped keep him safe from any serious general election challenges.

Rep. McSweeney’s far northwest suburban district is somewhat odd. It was once represented by conservative firebrand and trial lawyer Al Salvi, who left to run for US Senate. Rep. Beaubien was a pro-choice liberal Republican. Gaffney was somewhat more conservative than his mentor Beaubien, but was definitely to the left of McSweeney, who is hard-right on taxation and social issues.

The 52nd District was long considered a Republican bastion, except for the usual Jesse White wins (the popular pol routinely wins most legislative districts and won every single county in 2002). Republican Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama by 10 points in the district during the 2012 election.

But President Donald Trump, who had problems everywhere in suburbia, only won McSweeney’s district by a mere 1.6 percentage points in 2016. And then Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza won it last year by 2 points. Trump isn’t doing much to improve his popularity in the suburbs, so 2020 could be even worse for Republicans in that part of the world.

McSweeney has sharply criticized Gov. JB Pritzker, so it’s possible that the Democrats might have tried to take him out if he ran again, but it seems unlikely since his dissension in the Republican ranks can be quite useful to their Statehouse purposes (every time the Democrats advanced one of McSweeney’s bills they drove the other side crazy). Even so, a warm Democratic body with little party support could’ve forced McSweeney to spend big bucks on his reelection just to be safe, and that money would be better spent on setting himself up for the 2022 statewide contest.

The House Republican operation was completely blindsided (and overjoyed) by McSweeney’s announcement, so they don’t yet have a list of possible candidates.

But McSweeney’s exit means it’s now quite possible that the district goes into play next year if the Democrats can find the right candidate. That could turn out to be McSweeney’s ultimate revenge on his party. Careful what you wish for.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

9 Comments »
  1. - Perrid - Monday, Sep 9, 19 @ 9:50 am:

    “he hasn’t tried to ingratiate himself” lol, understatement of the year award goes to…


  2. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Sep 9, 19 @ 9:53 am:

    Great read, good accounting of McSweeney.

    To that,

    It’s what has my own issues with McSweeney. There is/was this one step, and simultaneously another that was counter intuitive to what could be a natural progression.

    McSweeney desperately wanted to be an elected. Tried running for Congress, always “hanging about” waiting until he decided that an open seat, a seat that was occupied by a moderate GOP voice that was beloved, that was his chance.

    Again, looked for advice, but also looked to fracture and stand out in the ways not the most productive to caucus or party.

    I have my own issues with Leader Durkin, but in terms of the caucus, I’ve understood where he’s been both stuck and where he needs to show his strength.

    McSweeney got a great deal thru, but McSweeney was never a statesman. A statesman can point to bringing folks of both parties together, McSweeney reveled in working with the Dems to pass his bills, but not always at times with an open heart to all colleagues.

    The best thing a Trumpkin can do is call someone a R_ _ O.

    The GOP of old that Trumpkins despise is based on this embracing what the far Right wanted in a religious-like need for politics to be pure.

    For me, the very best way to describe Mr. McSweeney?

    His twitter handle celebrates Reagan, as McSweeney is anything but someone who follows the Reagan Rule.

    That’s the ball game. That’s who he is.

    I truly like him, I think the way he sought counsel before arriving, his truth to his own beliefs and governing, I respect.

    I truly never liked how McSweeney went about his business to alienate the caucus, upstage partisanship as a way to dig at colleagues, and the religious-like parameters in defining a party, that’s also his Springfield legacy.

    As someone so wanting to wrap himself as a Reagan disciple, the warped way he chose to highlight those attributes of the Reagan Revolution by all but ignoring the Reagan Rule is one of many issues McSweeney will need to overcome to even ponder a run statewide.

    We’ll see how Trump-y McSweeney will be, while trying to embrace Reagan.


  3. - Annonin' - Monday, Sep 9, 19 @ 10:10 am:

    McSweeney had a funny interview on WGN-AM this weekend. Mooch (i.e. no who wants all the stuff but refuses to pay) admitted that this top two choices from the taxpayer funded job buffet have nothing to do with cutting prop taxes, In fact a U.S. Senate perch puts him a group that paid for a “tax cut” with $1 trillion plus in borrowing.
    Pretty fun. Maybe he’ll develop a better rant.


  4. - The Captain - Monday, Sep 9, 19 @ 10:49 am:

    You would really have to federalize this race to win the district, Casten won the IL-06 precincts in McSweeney’s district by about 3 points and Underwood did about the same in the IL-14 precincts that overlap this district. The federal trends here are in the Democrats favor.

    The problem is this is an affluent district and the item on the ballot in 2020 that will likely have the most local TV spending is on the progressive income tax. And while that tax plan doesn’t raise taxes on 97% of Illinoisans, of that 3% that will see their taxes go up a number of them live here. That may be enough of a headwind to keep this district from being competitive.


  5. - Just Me 2 - Monday, Sep 9, 19 @ 11:11 am:

    Does Gaffney still live in the District? I’ll put my walking shoes on for that guy.


  6. - Rich Miller - Monday, Sep 9, 19 @ 12:10 pm:

    ===You would really have to federalize this race to win the district===

    It’s a presidential year with a president who is spectacularly unpopular in the suburbs.


  7. - Mama - Monday, Sep 9, 19 @ 2:26 pm:

    Who would be the right person to run in Gaffney’s district for State Representative?


  8. - Ela Observer - Tuesday, Sep 10, 19 @ 1:00 am:

    Just FYI, local Democrats WERE looking for a good candidate to run even before McSweeney declined to run again. With Trump at the top of the ticket, this is the year to capture this district.


  9. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 10, 19 @ 7:16 am:

    ===local Democrats WERE looking===

    But MJM wasn’t gonna touch it.


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