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Pritzker, Durbin battle over control of state party

Tuesday, Feb 23, 2021

* Let’s start with the Politico story, which is pretty good

Gov. J.B. Pritzker made his move to have greater control of the party by joining with Sen. Tammy Duckworth to endorse Chicago Ald. Michelle Harris.

Harris is seen as a strong candidate because she’s worked behind the scenes in Democratic circles. Harris served in the Cook County Democratic Party on committees handling recruitment, pre-slating and other appointments. Harris’ challenge could be that her career is focused on Chicago and Cook County politics, but Pritzker knows that to win statewide elections, northern Illinois is where the votes are.

“The next leader of the Democratic Party of Illinois must continue the progress we’ve made by supporting Democratic candidates who will help working families at the local, state and federal levels equally,” Pritzker and Duckworth said in a joint statement, adding they believe Harris “is best qualified” to do that.

Loyalty could matter, too. Harris was an early backer of Pritzker’s run for governor, and her daughter works for Duckworth.

Another big name in play is Rep. Robin Kelly, who tweeted her interest in the job and is endorsed by Sen. Dick Durbin and Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Iris Martinez. Kelly’s challenge is that she would have to split her time between D.C. and Illinois, so she likely would lean on Durbin’s downstate aide, Bill Houlihan.

In a statement, Durbin praised Harris as “a proven leader” but endorsed Kelly, noting she lived 20 years in Peoria and was a statewide candidate when she ran unsuccessfully for Illinois treasurer. “Her experience in Congress, the state legislature, and managing an Illinois constitutional office afford her a breadth of important experience and skill sets,” he said, adding he “can’t think of a better person” to lead the party.

While Kelly could be a good fundraiser for the party — which was Madigan’s strength — it’s Pritzker’s wealth that is likely to fuel the organization in the coming years. And if that’s the case, he’d want his own candidate in the top position.

Latino activists are pushing state Sen. Cristina Castro for party chairman. She is a member of the Democratic Central Committee. Still, other candidates could emerge in the next 30 days when an appointment must be made. In the meantime, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough will serve as interim chair.

Durbin and Houlihan have had their eyes on the state party for a very long time. And while it’s true that Pritzker’s wealth would be a boon to the party’s finances, and that in most normal states the governor is the party’s titular head (and that’s also true here with Republican governors), what happens after he leaves?

Here are some other questions I’m still trying to find answers for: Why would the state’s senior US Senator go up against his party’s governor and his state’s junior US Senator in a battle over control of the state Democratic Party? And how far will Durbin and Pritzker push this? And what happens if Pritzker loses yet another political fight? And where’s the mayor in all of this?

* Roundup…

* Rep. Robin Kelly Launches Bid to Replace Madigan as Head of Illinois Democratic Party

* Embattled former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan steps down as state Democratic Party chair

* Madigan Resigns From Democratic Party Chairmanship

* Ex-House speaker Michael Madigan quits Democratic Party post

* Madigan Resigns as State Democratic Party Chairman

* Mike Madigan resigns as Illinois Democratic Party Chairman

- Posted by Rich Miller        

66 Comments »
  1. - Colin O'Scopy - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:18 pm:

    For what it’s worth, my money is on the money guy.


  2. - Wow - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:21 pm:

    It’s like a fight to be captain of the Titanic


  3. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:23 pm:

    ===Why would the state’s senior US Senator go up against his party’s governor and his state’s junior US Senator in a battle over control of the state Democratic Party?===

    I would imagine that it is a difference in opinion regarding how to reform the party or if the party needs to be reformed at all.

    But this is a very good question that might need to be addressed at some point should the central committee actually need to vote. Given how poorly the Fair Tax campaign was handled and how much was spent and how unsuccessful it was Pritzker may need to make a case that he and his campaign hires actually know what they are doing.


  4. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:24 pm:

    ===It’s like a fight to be captain of the Titanic ===

    Score board.


  5. - Rabid - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:27 pm:

    Durbin wants to fill madigans shoes, as the most hated


  6. - what the what - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:31 pm:

    == I would imagine that it is a difference in opinion regarding how to reform the party or if the party needs to be reformed at all. ==

    I think it’s funny anyone would think it has anything to do with the platform or the party. It’s about power and control. Period.


  7. - Levois J - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:32 pm:

    Am I overstating this a bit if the state’s political universe has been shaken up a lot since Madigan lost his speakership? It might be a minute before things settle down I’m guessing.


  8. - Nick - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:33 pm:

    This is simultaneously very interesting from a people perspective but also just not something I can bring myself to care about.


  9. - regular democrat - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:34 pm:

    Pritzker should push this as far as possible. With Madigan out of the way its his opportunity to take over the party. If I were him I wouldnt back down.


  10. - S. Side - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:36 pm:

    Why would Pritzker go around illinois’ most successful, substantive and long-lasting federal elected official? Does not make sense.
    Is Pritzker worried that Durbin would turn Chicago against him?
    Another novice blunder by Pritzker.


  11. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:39 pm:

    Not being a Dem, watching this is truly delicious to the intra-party politics of Illinois and the vacuum Madigan left for, let’s be really, truly, harshly honest… a mail house for the HDems.

    Pritzker hasn’t been to good at picking and choosing which places to jump in and cast a shadow. The Lightford debacle, and choosing sides in a state rep seat, it’s just odd places and weird outcomes for a guy who really can’t say he’s been part of the fabric of leadership of Illinois Democratic politics.

    Durbin? I’ve said his national presence and standing makes this an odd fight right now, even if he’s eyed this spot for far too long. Why even risk losing this struggle, Durbin, in DC, sure has some juice, but the juice and firepower to take on seemingly “everyone else”? What building will Durbin even do, he’s got enough balls in the air with his duties in the US Senate, now he wants the headache of his person handling stuff that Madigan seemingly refused to do; build a party from the street to the intertubes, to the airwaves? Mind boggling.

    And speaking of “everyone else”, is Lightfoot seriously hanging back… now? She could assist and be a kingmaker, have the new state chair owe her AND find some political allies along the way. But… silence? No, not silence, a retracting of her name off the initial support list. Lightfoot have her own person? What can Durbin or Pritzker give her, I mean, both continually and routinely *try* to help Lightfoot, they both can’t help she can’t grasp how to help herself. It’s unreal how little political acumen she has.

    Someone might look really bad if this goes sideways against them, and look weak to a longer game of political strength.

    Pritzker may have the cash, but doesn’t have the juice? Durbin may be prominent in DC but can’t carry any weight in Illinois? Lightfoot can’t pick a side, because fighting all sides defines her?

    It’s… wow.


  12. - Benjamin - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:40 pm:

    ===It’s like a fight to be captain of the Titanic ===

    As opposed to the struggle for control of the Illinois GOP, which is the fight to be the captain of the wreckage of the Titanic on the seafloor.


  13. - Lindenhurst - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:42 pm:

    Lightfoot is one of the worst mayors in the history of the city, her endorsement is as good as de blasio’s. Honestly two pretty undesirable people to lead but I 100% prefer durbin, staunch advocate for public election financing, compared to JB self funding everyone.


  14. - Fav Human - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:42 pm:

    I think the Mayor might want to stay behind the scenes, she’s not had much luck in the legislature. Best not to pick a fight unless you are sure you can win, or have a good shot at winning.

    As for Durbin, what has he done for IL with his seniority? Guess he wants to be kingmaker??


  15. - Nick - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:46 pm:

    In regards to Lightfoot, the Politico article does have a good point in that Kelly was one of her earliest backers, while Harris’ is Lightfoot’s floor leader on the City Council.

    Both of these people are pretty connected to her.


  16. - Captain Obvious - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:47 pm:

    If Jay Bob has not been a part of the fabric of party leadership is it possible Durby resents a very rich carpetbagger “buying” the party a la Uncle Bruce?


  17. - west wing - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:49 pm:

    Going back to around 2010, Senator Durbin made his move to exert more influence over the Democratic Party of Illinois. He helped with funds and resources to make sure counties all over the state had access to party resources like the voter file. That obviously created some tension with the Madigan team. But that’s an example of efforts started more than a decade ago to help build a better DPI. This move is a natural next step.


  18. - Hannibal Lecter - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:50 pm:

    Let the cannibalism within the Democratic Party begin.


  19. - Ok - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:54 pm:

    Come back Barack

    https://youtu.be/ZkPSbp3zTfo


  20. - 44th - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 1:59 pm:

    How about whoever lays hands on the most vaccines for the state wins?


  21. - PublicServant - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:01 pm:

    Rich, Lori is busy firing Cantanzara now, but not sure anyone wants her backing.


  22. - 1st Ward - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:11 pm:

    “And where’s the mayor in all of this?”

    With all the questions you raise and the players involved is the mayor relevant to the discussion? As seen in the lame duck she has no allies at the State level. I imagine this to be the same with the State’s Congressional representatives and Senators? Heck Rahm probably has more sway still.


  23. - McGuppin - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:13 pm:

    I think it’s a mistake to view this as “Durbin trying to seize DPI”. He’s supporting Robin Kelly. Robin would be a fantastic head of the party, IMO. Durbin cares about the Democratic Party and thinks she’s uniquely qualified to take the helms at this time…. that seems fair.

    I get that Michelle Harris supported JB in a primary and Robin did not. I get that Michelle Harris’ daughter works for Sen. Duckworth. But I don’t get how either of those things compel Durbin to support her over Robin Kelly, who he clealry views as the best person for the job.


  24. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:14 pm:

    ===Why would Pritzker go around===

    Again, in most normal states, governors control the state parties. When Republicans elect governors here, they also control the state parties. Durbin wants to continue the break with what is accepted just about everywhere else.


  25. - Shytown - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:15 pm:

    This is a fight that the Dems (Durbin) should not be waging. It’s a historic opportunity to make the state party everything that it should be but hasn’t. It’s going to need an infusion of dollars and those with the will to make it game ready for 2020 (that means it has to be ready in a few months). We have a Gov who is ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to help rebuild this party and stepped up immediately to tap someone who is a competent, get it done person who doesn’t make it about herself.

    It’s surprising and shocking to me that Durbin would let this turn into a public spectacle when this should be a time for unity. And it shouldn’t be about any one person, but about the future of this party heading into a mid term election when our president is a Dem - it’s going to be difficult enough as it is. And now this. It’s bullheaded.


  26. - Colin O'Scopy - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:17 pm:

    =Lori is busy firing Cantanzara now, but not sure anyone wants her backing.=

    That move would get her support. I know I support it. Bad apples are ruining the CPD and the Bad Apple in Chief is Catanzara.


  27. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:17 pm:

    ===I think it’s a mistake to view this as “Durbin trying to seize DPI”.===

    Wrong.


  28. - Nazono Sakana - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:17 pm:

    Good luck to all of them. I’m curious what anyone thinks “leading the Party” even means in 2021. Meanwhile, I’m reminded of my first and only attempt at volunteering for the DPI. It was 2004, and inspired by Howard Dean even after his defeat, I went to the DPI website to see who to email to volunteer. The website only had a P.O. Box and a fax number.


  29. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:19 pm:

    ====As opposed to the struggle for control of the Illinois GOP, which is the fight to be the captain of the wreckage of the Titanic on the seafloor. ===

    Correction: the struggle for control of the Illinois GOP, so you can be the Captain in charge of the State party circular firing squad. And off all the blindfolds and cigarettes to all the 2022 GOP Gov primary candidates.


  30. - ChicagoBars - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:19 pm:

    Circular firing squad Captain snark was me.


  31. - Nick - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:20 pm:

    I don’t see why it isn’t the case that Lori for once is content, given that both candidates are people she’s nominally already allied to.


  32. - 1st Ward - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:23 pm:

    Also, surprised that Jesus “Chuy” Garcia isn’t mentioned. How has his standing with the party changed (better/worse/same) with Madigan now out? Will he weigh in?


  33. - Shytown - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:26 pm:

    == I think it’s a mistake to view this as “Durbin trying to seize DPI”. ==

    This move was made well after it was widely and publicly known that the Gov and Duckworth were behind Harris, so…


  34. - Amalia - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:32 pm:

    Durbin has long been a major party support but behind the scenes to civilians. His support and reach was already statewide and not just for himself.


  35. - Collinsville Kevin - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:33 pm:

    JB is pretty toxic these days, not sure he should be the one in charge.


  36. - Arsenal - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:34 pm:

    ==I think it’s funny anyone would think it has anything to do with the platform or the party. It’s about power and control. Period. ==

    For a billionaire governor and a Senator Minority Whip/Judiciary Chair, the additional power of DPI’s $2 million bank account and postal discount ain’t very much.

    Durbin has long wanted a statewide organization devoted to electing Democrats without being beholden to one particular office. He almost got there with DCCA, but DPI is the natural vehicle.


  37. - SpiDem - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:37 pm:

    I am a Durbin fan. But god forbid Bill Houlihan gets put in a position of statewide party influence. He lives in Sangamon County, is a central committeeman in the area, and the party can’t even recruit and field candidates for basic county board, aldermanic, and countywide office here.

    Democrats have been waiting a long time for a state party organization that is focused on the basic blocking and tackling of party building statewide that benefits all Democrats. The last one to take it seriously was Gary LaPaille, much to his political sponsor’s chagrin.


  38. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:37 pm:

    === JB is pretty toxic these days, not sure he should be the one in charge.===

    Governors own. They always do.

    Controlling the state party, either party, as a governor, isn’t a lot to ask, considering all a governor has a need to control while taking all the hits as well.


  39. - JS Mill - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:41 pm:

    =It might be a minute before things settle down I’m guessing.=

    Front runner for understatement of the year.

    =JB is pretty toxic these days=

    In the eastern bloc, population: nobody maybe.

    In the areas where people live, not so bad.

    =If Jay Bob has not been=

    And yet you probably thought the governor was a big meanie the other day. You, sir, are all class.


  40. - thisjustinagain - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:44 pm:

    Lightfoot has been quiet, because she has NO say in the matter, and NO pull with the Party generally. She’s a failed Mayor who augers in quite regularly with her own Aldermen, far less the Legislature. She’s nobody that nobody sent compared to the other players.


  41. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:46 pm:

    ===JB is pretty toxic these days===

    Mainly on Facebook. lol


  42. - Not So Innocent Bystander - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:54 pm:

    Which side does Toni Preckwinkle support?


  43. - Kayak - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 3:01 pm:

    My moneys on Harris since I can’t see my dream debate featuring Rahm, Durbin, and Pat Quinn.


  44. - Chicago - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 3:03 pm:

    At the end they need to convince the folks that vote for the new chairman. The governor, Tammy and Durbin have no vote.


  45. - "Old Timer Dem" - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 3:04 pm:

    I read quite a few of these posts which are Anti-Lightfoot, questioning her leadership and job performance etc. Yet, she continues to have high favorable opinions from the electorate. Just sayin.


  46. - K3 - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 3:06 pm:

    Pretty, um, bold of Duckworth to back JB when Durbin pretty much put her in the Senate.


  47. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 3:11 pm:

    === Yet, she continues to have high favorable opinions from the electorate.===

    Cite please.


  48. - S. Side - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 3:17 pm:

    In recent years, the governor has not controlled the state party. Maybe it’s worked well for the GOP during the Thompson and Edgar years.
    It was not the reality in the Blago or Quinn years. Now JB thinks he is entitled when Durbin has created an alternative voter turnout process that has worked well, while the House DPI was beholden to the Madigan system.
    For Pritzker to try to go forth without Durbin’s blessing demonstrates a lack of leadership — despite his billions in resources. That approach didn’t work out too well for Rauner, either.
    Big tent. No fighting.


  49. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 3:23 pm:

    === It was not the reality in the Blago===

    Blago wanted his *own* governors caucus, something mirrored by Rauner when he and Diana bought the ILGOP then tried to have that “other” PAC to peel Dems… that Dems avoided like the plague.

    Quinn? Quinn was a gadfly not about anything in party building, Quinn’s brand relied on being not part of anything towards building let alone maintaining a state party.

    Madigan saw the state party as a mail indicia for the HDem Caucus.

    To compare… Thompson, Edgar, Ryan, then Rauner to what Rod or Quinn saw to the politics of actually *being* a governor is disingenuous to what Rod tried with his own swing at a Governor’s Caucus (swing and a miss) or looking at Quinn as a normal pol and governor, and all things to the politics of both.


  50. - Veil of Ignorance - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 4:00 pm:

    Durbin’s in his last term, but that’ll last longer than Pritzker even if he wins re-election as governor. I don’t love the concentration of political power by any particular clique/individual. Didn’t our state learn what that can lead to?


  51. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 4:07 pm:

    ==And while it’s true that Pritzker’s wealth would be a boon to the party’s finances, and that in most normal states the governor is the party’s titular head (and that’s also true here with Republican governors), what happens after he leaves?==

    What happens in those other states? Chaos if you lost the governor’s office, the same old, same old if you kept it.

    ==- Shytown - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 2:15 pm:==

    A public spectacle that few outside of those commenting and reading this blog care about.


  52. - Downstate - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 4:12 pm:

    God forbid in the year of our Lord 2021 we give two black women their due and judge the race on each of their qualifications to run a statewide party rather than the two white guys who happen to have endorsed each


  53. - Last Bull Moose - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 4:14 pm:

    Is this a prelude to a primary challenge to JB From a Durbin all? Otherwise, why bother?


  54. - Ducky LaMoore - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 4:25 pm:

    I think this is great. An Illinois governor and senator battling out for control of the party. Two major office holders, both with some bona fides. There is no wacko trying to insert themselves, there is no greasy sideshow (I won’t name exactly who I am think of). Very cool. I don’t really care who wins. In fact, I hope there isn’t a real winner or loser.


  55. - Phineas Gurley - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 5:11 pm:

    I understand that other states defer to governors, and the national parties defer to presidents, but it boggles my mind that this is driven by state statute (10 ILCS 5/7-8).

    I suspect Durbin’s a bit closer to the vote counting on this, but I am puzzled this came to a head w/ the Governor.

    I’d love for someone looking into reforming the legislator vacancy appointment language to take this one on as well — and to get rid of the archaic binary gender rules for committeemen and women while _they_ are at it.


  56. - JP Altgeld - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 5:32 pm:

    ===Pritzker hasn’t been to good at picking and choosing which places to jump in and cast a shadow. The Lightford debacle, and choosing sides in a state rep seat===

    He won that state rep race, fyi.


  57. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 5:36 pm:

    === He won that state rep race===

    And?

    Why get involved in that race as it was construed?


  58. - JP Altgeld - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 5:39 pm:

    ==Why get involved in that race as it was construed?==

    Perhaps to be supportive of someone that he had a lot of respect for (and who supported him). That type of support and loyalty was against the political logic of the time and somewhat brave. Worked out for him, too.


  59. - Thomas Paine - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 5:42 pm:

    === Pretty, um, bold of Duckworth to back JB when Durbin pretty much put her in the Senate. ===

    “Uppity.” I think the word you were looking for was “uppity.”


  60. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 5:44 pm:

    === Perhaps to be supportive of someone that he had a lot of respect for (and who supported him).===

    It’s unusual for a sitting governor to support a challenger in a primary over a seated (albeit an appointed) member of the General Assembly,

    If you can’t recognize that…

    ===Worked out for him===

    Now do the Lightford push.

    Like I said;

    ===Pritzker hasn’t been to good at picking and choosing which places to jump in and cast a shadow. The Lightford debacle, and choosing sides in a state rep seat===

    Chose to go against the locals, even for loyalty, chose poorly to the Senate Presidency…


  61. - regular democrat - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 5:45 pm:

    Does anyone see Rahms fingerprints on this ? Not too much love between him and Durbin.


  62. - JP Altgeld - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 5:46 pm:

    ==If you can’t recognize that…===

    I, of course, recognize it. The recognition is the whole point - he did something brave and won. I wish such things happened more often. They are good for our politics.


  63. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 5:48 pm:

    === something brave and won===

    So what do you call the Senate debacle, “foolish and lost”?

    lol


  64. - Thomas Paine - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 8:04 pm:

    === Does anyone see Rahms fingerprints on this ? ===

    Rahm did not care who the state party chair was when he was mayor, why would he start now?

    The main hoopla for state chairs is the seating chart and swag for the Democratic National Convention. Democrats will never have another in-person convention if they are smart.


  65. - Ok - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 8:43 pm:

    Chair Castro sounds good


  66. - Shytown - Tuesday, Feb 23, 21 @ 10:22 pm:

    == That approach didn’t work out too well for Rauner, either.
    Big tent. ==

    Since when does Pritzker have to get Durbin’s blessing? He’s the Governor. Durbin is a decent man and a good man. However, he’s been Senator for 25 years and been unable in any real way to move the needle on Madigan. He puts his name on fundraisers. Shows up at events. Not trying to take away the fact that he is loved by many, but that hasn’t translated into real change. It’s a new day for new leadership. It’s past his time to lead this party. That is all.


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