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Cullerton talks about his legacy

Monday, Dec 9, 2019

* Daniel Vock at the Center for Illinois Politics scored the first extensive interview with Senate President John Cullerton since he announced his retirement. The whole thing is worth a read, but here’s one excerpt..

How exactly did the Senate Democrats build such a sizable majority? Cullerton says it’s mostly a matter of changing demographics in Illinois and good candidate recruitment. The caucus has emphasized recruiting women to run as candidates, particularly in the suburbs. That’s one reason why women now make up nearly half (17 of 40 seats) of the caucus. The presidency of Donald Trump has helped drive suburban voters to Democratic candidates, even in former Republican strongholds like DuPage County. But, he notes, Trump makes it harder for Democrats to win downstate. Cullerton has also been willing to spend heavily on tight races, in some cases even going in debt.

But Radogno, the former Republican leader, says there’s more to it than that. For one, Republican primary voters have often nominated candidates who are too conservative for the district they’re running in, so those candidates have lost in the general election. Plus, she says, just being in the majority makes it easier for the Democrats to raise money from political donors. And, of course, the Democratic majority is cemented in place because Democrats drew the district lines following the 2010 Census, giving them a built-in advantage for a decade.

Cullerton chafes at what he calls the “myth of the map.” When Republican Bruce Rauner first ran for governor in 2014, Cullerton says, Rauner won majorities in 35 Senate districts and two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts. (Not all state Senate seats were up for election that year, though.) “We drew fair maps that are competitive, and that’s why we have the potential to have as many as we get,” he says. “We don’t just take care of safe districts for 35 incumbents. There’s been demographic changes, but the maps themselves were extremely fair.”

Voters tend to split their tickets if they like their own legislators, but Cullerton and Radogno do make valid points. Better campaigns and candidates could produce better outcomes for Republicans. The first problem for the GOP is getting moderates past their primaries. The next problem is raising sufficient funds and devising sound campaign strategies.

* Thank goodness this era is behind us now

The [”Grand Bargain” between Cullerton and Radogno] broke down because Rauner intervened. “The governor’s office did not think it was enough,” Radogno says. “I think that was foolish in hindsight. And he literally threatened members.”

Rauner won that little battle and lost the war.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - A Guy - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:20 am:

    == “We drew fair maps that are competitive, ==

    John, I’ve always liked you despite our philosophical difference, but a statement like this is beyond any sense of reality. In reality, you drew them even better than you thought. We need better candidates, but this map doesn’t start with a level field. Whoever draws them puts their thumb on the scale. We need genuine fair maps legislation.

  2. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:24 am:

    === We need better candidates===

    Until this becomes most true, the maps don’t matter.

    Even statewide, the SoS, Treasurer, and Comptroller nominees in 2018 prove, once again, you can’t win with mediocre candidates, especially if they are outspent.

    Better candidates make the map argument possible.

  3. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:26 am:

    The ILGOP should maybe look to blue states like Massachusetts, where the GOP governor is very popular. Illinois is not a red state. Right wing politics don’t work here for very long: union-busting, anti-tax, austerity, anti-abortion and LGBTQ, etc. The previous governor found it out. As demographics keep changing, it’s more to Democrats’ advantage that the ILGOP keeps following a right wing playbook. But they can’t quit attacking Madigan. It’s like a gambling addiction, keep chasing after losses.

  4. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:26 am:

    The maps partisan Democrats draw are extremely fair?

    More arrogance from long time legislators who think they know better than the will of bipartisan majorities of voters

  5. - jim - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:36 am:

    The ILGOP should maybe look to blue states like Massachusetts ????
    Mass. Senate 34 Ds and 6 Rs.
    Mass House 126 Ds and32 Rs.

  6. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:36 am:

    === More arrogance from long time legislators who think they know better than the will of bipartisan majorities of voters===

    Get 71 and 36 on the stairs.

    Rauner ran a phony sham of a petition drive that collected millions for the collecting of names, but couldn’t find 2-3 competent lawyers to write a constitutionally found petition?

    Why aren’t you angry at Rauner for ruining the petition drive?

    That’s right, you know. It was never about it being possible, but running against it never happening.

    Another Rauner failure, I suppose.

  7. - NotRich - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:37 am:

    Go back to the 90’s.. republican map.. Dems won 4 out of 5 elections with the R map.. candidates and hard work win..

  8. - SSL - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:41 am:

    Legacy? The same as all the other legislative leaders that drove the state to fiscal ruin. He was a big part of the problem. Well done JC.

    Of course if you are talking about his legacy with family and friends, he was aces.

  9. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:45 am:

    To the post,

    Daniel Vock does great work, from Governing to this piece, Vock is someone that should already be in your reading rotation.

    When Cullerton (and Radogno) worked for a bipartisan way to save the state, ask YOURself, was I about saving Illinois from Rauner, it was I too consumed to appease Rauner I needed to hurt Illinois.

    The irony is, the Cullerton Legacy is tied with Radogno.

    The deal makers willing to save Illinois was only an extension of Cullerton’s ways, the way he went about his business; “Let’s Make A Deal”

    All that said, it’s easy to recruit diverse members that fit districts because Cullerton’s own style was lead by bringing everyone together and then we move forward, as a leader if a group, not leading and forcing a group to follow.

    More and more, it’s because OF Cullerton that we see how great Radogno was, and all who were willing to destroy this state because partisan thoughts had to be better than a bipartisan deal.

    Of all the “foolhardy” moves of the Rauner destruction, deciding that a bipartisan debate deal… is bad.

    The Cullerton legacy, with Radogno giving it credence, is an important thing to consider what made Cullerton such a good Senate President.

  10. - NoGifts - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:46 am:

    LOL yes better candidates would seem to be key to getting elected.

  11. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:47 am:

    “The ILGOP should maybe look to blue states like Massachusetts ????“

    They have a popular Republican governor in such a blue state. That’s a full third of government. Illinois has…no Republicans in any positions of power. But, keep thinking it’s maps and Madigan instead of unpopular policies and governance. The last governor waged war and obstructed instead of working with opponents.

  12. - @misterjayem - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 11:48 am:

    As mentioned elsewhere previously, Sean Casten won a Congressional district that was explicitly designed to elect a Republican.

    Damning evidence that, in Illinois, districting is an excuse, not an explanation.

    The IL-GOP’s second biggest problem continues to be its candidates, not the map.

    And the IL-GOP’s biggest problem is its stubborn refusal to recognize that simple fact.

    – MrJM

  13. - Anyone Remember - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 12:04 pm:

    NotRich -
    “Go back to the 90’s.. republican map.. Dems won 4 out of 5 elections with the R map.. candidates and hard work win..”
    And the election won by the GOP was the Newt-wave (1994).

    Let us not forget the impact of hard work. Consult Oswego Willy’s comment about how Mike Madigan and Tom Cross spent a sunny 50+ degree November election day. (Last Comment)

  14. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 12:05 pm:

    Go back to the 90’s when Republican Pate Phillip spent a decade as Senate President?

    Senator Cullerton’s retirement is all about Rauner’s support for fair maps and not JB Pritzker’s?

  15. - NeverPoliticallyCorrect - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 12:17 pm:

    The maps were extremely fair? Wow, the propaganda never ends. Yes, they were and are fair to ensure Democratic victory. It’s obvious to anyone who understands voting trends that they did their best to place as many Democratic leaning voters in as many districts as they could. Kudos to them because it worked, for the Democrats. For the State of Illinois, not so much.

  16. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 12:19 pm:

    Cullerton and every other Illinois politician who has been around for two plus decades should go out with their heads down and tails between their legs. The debt burden for current and future generations is ridiculous.

  17. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 12:24 pm:

    === The maps were extremely fair? Wow, the propaganda never ends. Yes, they were and are fair to ensure Democratic victory.===

    If you’re in denial why the SRaunerites are sitting at 19, you can’t be helped.

    The regionalism that also festered all but forced a retreat for Raunerites in DuPage.

    Maps are one part, but in 2018 the SRaunerites didn’t even field enough candidates, if they ALL won, to challenge the SDem stranglehold on the chamber, map or no map, showing up and running good races matters.

    Rauner also all but cut off funding in 2018, so there’s that too.

  18. - Honeybear - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 12:31 pm:

    Of all the “foolhardy” moves of the Rauner destruction, deciding that a bipartisan debate deal… is bad.

    That reminds me that Rauner was about one thing.
    The destruction of labor
    He was never, I feel, about anything else.
    That he “gestured towards” topics
    was his continual perfidy.

  19. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 12:36 pm:

    Maybe we can put Cullertons likeness in the corner of the new $150 liscence plate.

  20. - Huh? - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 12:47 pm:

    How much impact to the Cullerton legacy will be the recent revelations about the fiscal mismanagement of his campaign accounts?

  21. - Benjamin - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 12:50 pm:

    == “We drew fair maps that are competitive, ==

    One back-of-the envelope way to see if the maps are fair is to see if the percentage of each house controlled by one party matches roughly with their share of a statewide vote, such as for governor or president. Now, JB Pritzker won in a landslide, but that was as much of a factor of Bruce Rauner’s unpopularity as it was of Democratic dominance in the state. So let’s look back at the 2016 elections.

    In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 55.83% of the Illinois vote. In that same election, 67 seats of the 118 in the Illinois House went to Democrats, or 56.78%. Not all of the Illinois Senate seats were up for election that year, but the final tally for the Democrats was 37 of 59 seats, or 62.71%. That’s not exact, but it’s pretty close (particularly for the House), which suggests gerrymandering is a minor issue at worst.

    Let’s contrast this with North Carolina, commonly held out as a badly gerrymandered state. Clinton got 46.17% of the vote there, but Democrats ended up controlling just 15/50, or 30%, of the NC Senate and 46/120, or 38.33%, of the state House.

    There are more detailed ways to calculate this, but I think that we can say that Illinois’ legislature reflected the will of the voters reasonably well, whereas North Carolina’s did not. Ergo, I don’t think gerrymandering is the reason Democrats have stayed in power here so long.

  22. - lincoln's beard - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 12:55 pm:

    I’m reading that Cullerton delivered a bunch of bipartisanship, but nothing about any victories on Democratic priorities. Why isn’t there anything about raising the minimum wage in here, or any other policy?

  23. - Pundent - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 1:01 pm:

    I sit in a district that was drawn to benefit Republicans. Last year the party drafted Helene Miller Walsh to run as state rep and this year it looks like Jeanne Ives will be the congressional candidate.

    Remind me again how this is a map issue?

  24. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 1:01 pm:

    === Why isn’t there anything about…===

    I do think it’s nuanced, at least I know it’s nuanced for me;

    You can’t run two caucuses on “Because… Madigan”… and not have policy and accomplishments be part an parcel in both policy and politics of candidate recruitment… even retention of seats.

    What can Mr. Batinick say he was instrumental in… in arguably one of the most busiest first year of any governor of any party in recent memory? He voted… no?

    - Anyone Remember -, appreciate the hat tip. Still waiting to get 9 holes in with Cross so we can reminisce on things.

  25. - Anonymous - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 1:19 pm:

    =Illinois’ legislature reflected the will of the voters reasonably well=

    And if Republicans in the suburbs and collar counties around Chicago embrace the political messaging coming out Washington the state will continue to be blue. The Republican party currently seems content with a regional message and our largest region in this state is the Chicago-land area where that message doesn’t go over particularly well.

  26. - Froganon - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 1:46 pm:

    Republicans run on policies/ideas that the majority of voters reject. Reps. Underwood and Casten won in districts designed for Republicans. No amount of map changes or messaging massages will persuade this former Republican to vote for Jeannie Ives or any of her ilk. I wouldn’t trust these people to manage a garbage dump.

  27. - Tim - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 1:56 pm:

    Legacy, huh? That’s easy. I partnered with Mike Madigan and others to bankrupt the state of Illinois.

    One sentence. Thirteen words.

  28. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 1:58 pm:

    === bankrupt the state===

    States can’t go bankrupt.

    You’re welcome.

  29. - Nuke the Whales - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 2:02 pm:

    Well, Benjamin beat me to it, but let’s go with Wisconsin since it’s our neighbor to the north.

    To the Map Myth:

    Pritzker was in a three way race, so let’s use a generic Illinois one on one race. In 2018, Frerichs and Mendoza won 57% and 59% respectively while Democrats took 62.7% of the seats in the Illinois House of Representatives.

    In Wisconsin, the not Tammy Baldwin statewide candidates received between 49.4% to 52.7% of the vote. Republicans won ~63% of the seats. The statewide legislative Democrats won 52.99% of the statewide vote and received ~36% of the seats.

  30. - Anonanonsir - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 3:04 pm:

    Some people seem to think that the purpose of the Madigan-Cullerton remap was to maximize the number of Dem seats. If so, the results have been mediocre when compared to the overall popular vote.
    Another point of view is that the remap is intended to cement the power of those drawing the maps. If a legislator (of either party) has been critical of Madigan, it’s a relatively simple matter to change that legislator’s district to make re-election much less likely. So legislators tend to cooperate.
    A push for changing the remap process would likely have to come from citizens, the media, advocacy and “good government” groups, and a few rogue Republicans. Most legislators want to avoid talking about it.

    I agree with most of the other points in the post. The Dems work harder at it, and as the party more associated with government, the stakes are higher for them. They almost always have a candidate in any district that is remotely competitive, while the GOP lets some districts slide.

  31. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 3:13 pm:

    If you want to immortalize your legacy, get a gig at a state university and call yourself a distinguished fellow. He can be the first.

  32. - Thomas Paine - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 3:46 pm:

    Great golfers don’t blame the course when they lose.

    Great baseball players don’t blame the ump.

    And great candidates don’t blame the map.

    Also, claiming the map has made seats unwinnable does not help the GOP recruit top-tier candidates, but it sure does help Democratic candidate recruitment.

  33. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 5:37 pm:

    I cannot remember the last Republican candidate to have a decent campaign field operation, but it might have been George Ryan.

    The illinois GOP is so bad they had to hire Maze Jackson to help Leslie Munger.

    The Illinois GOP is so bad they make Proft look half-competent. Jeanne Ices spent $1M on a manifesto and one Super Bowl add and still almost won the nomination.

    If you cannot win primaries, how can you win general elections?

  34. - Oldtimer - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 6:00 pm:

    Every election beginning with 2002 has been under Democratic legislative maps. During this time, I believe the high water mark for the Senate Republicans was 27 after 2004. The House Republicans had 54 after 2010. With their complete collapse in Suburban Cook, Lake, and DuPage, I wonder whether the Republicans could reach those totals today under a map they drew.

  35. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 6:01 pm:

    - Yellow Dog Democrat -

    I think if you solely look at the political campaign apparatus, away from fundraising and the criminality to CFR, the last uber-large, multi-layered Crews begin with CFE and then the real rivalry and building of CFR… well beyond a regional coordinator or special group liaisons, the truly gifted operators and their own networking (“some” by patronage, but in context to both’s existences… ) arguably the CFR and CFE alums that did the teaching and the bringing along others, it was a “great” time… Jim Ryan has a Crew, the apparatus of the late Judy Baar Topinka was another that rivaled the historic context of CFE or CFR, but the legend of what also led to one prong the Ryan’s Crew downfall was how they ran FOLD races for the HGOP.

    Even today, the respect I still have for the political operational ways of the field crew of CFR and how they went about their business of field operations, that won’t be matched, technology or not… and the legality of other aspects notwithstanding.

  36. - Flyer - Monday, Dec 9, 19 @ 10:13 pm:

    Nobody could draw an acceptable map

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