Election 2018

Garcia’s fourth district win serves as milestone for Illinois immigrants

By Hannah Magnuson
Medill Reports

Democrat Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s 4th District landslide victory on Tuesday marks the first time a Mexican-American has been elected to represent Illinois in Congress.

Garcia, a Cook County commissioner, captured more than 86 percent of the vote to defeat Republican Mark Lorch, a financial analyst who lives in Riverside. He will replace long-serving Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D), who announced last November he would not seek re-election and endorsed Garcia as his successor.

A Mexican immigrant who climbed Chicago’s ranks during his 20 years as an elected official, Garcia campaigned on immigration reform and pledged to carry to Washington the concerns of a district that is 68 percent Latino. One in three of Garcia’s new constituents was born outside the country.

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Did Sean Casten run as an environmentalist? Yes. Is that why he won? Maybe.

By Aaron Dorman
Medill Reports

Sean Casten was driven to run, and eventually win, the election in Illinois’ sixth congressional district, for one simple reason: Peter Roskam wasn’t listening to his constituents about the environment.

Potentially carcinogenic air pollutants from a commercial sterilization plant in Willowbrook, declining water supplies and weather extremes causing floods due to climate change are growing concerns in the 6th district of Illinois. The district represents a diverse cross-section of affluent and struggling families across a swath of the western and northwestern suburbs between Downers Grove and Lake Zurich.

Casten said the gap between his passion for the environment, and Roskam’s obstinacy  became clear during a past business meeting about the renewal of solar tax credits.

“[Roskam] led off the meeting by telling us he was not open to new information or facts” about the economic opportunities for renewable, says Casten, who owns a renewable energy company in Westmont that helps businesses recover waste energy and turn it into electricity.  “I asked what he liked about the current status quo – and specifically what outcome he thought we would achieve if we did not ‘pick winners.’  His only response was to say that the meeting was over.”

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Midterm elections see increase in pro-choice members of Congress from Illinois

By AnnMarie Hilton
Medill Reports

Illinois provides greater access to abortion than many other Midwestern states, and the midterm election saw two pro-life congressman ousted by proponents of safe, legal abortions.

Democrat Lauren Underwood won the seat for Illinois’ fourteenth district removing Republican Randy Hultgren, who sponsored multiple pieces of pro-life legislation. The race for the sixth district paralleled that of Democrat Sean Casten winning over Republican incumbent Peter Roskam. Both districts cover  swathes of the northern, northwestern and western suburbs.

“They call us [Illinois] the abortion oasis of the Midwest,” said Mary Kate Knorr, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, an educational program. “I find that laughable.” Continue reading

Schneider wins third term in Illinois’ 10th District

By Alexis Shanes
Medill Reports

U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider clinched reelection in the north suburban 10th District Tuesday, bringing a tame campaign to an unsurprising close amid a contentious national midterm season.

The Associated Press called the race for Schneider just before 8:30 p.m. The Deerfield Democrat defeated Republican candidate Douglas Bennett handily, using his incumbency to earn 63 percent of the vote in the district, which includes parts of suburban middle- and upper-class Cook and Lake counties.
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Surge of science professionals on ballot for midterm elections

By Hannah Magnuson
Medill Reports

Scientists and STEM professionals are bidding for political office in  historic numbers this election season, with three Democratic congressional candidates in Illinois among their ranks.

Their campaigns to bring scientific expertise to Washington come in the midst of repeated attacks against science by the Trump administration, most recently on the validity of climate change research.

“The attacks on science, of course, didn’t start with the Trump administration, but it has been a catalyst to getting scientists out of the lab and into running for federal office,” Shaughnessy Naughton, the founder of 314 Action, a political action group advocating for a pro-science agenda in Washington, told the HuffPost earlier this year. “That is one bright spot.”

Naughton’s organization, which promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals running for federal and state office, is endorsing 20 candidates for U.S. Congress this season, including Illinois Democrats Sean Casten (6th District), Bill Foster (11th District) and Lauren Underwood (14th District).

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The battleground in suburbia: Illinois’s 6th Congressional District

By Valerie Nikolas
Medill Reports

The congressional race is tightening in Illinois’s 6th District as Democrats vie for control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Incumbent Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) is fighting to keep his seat against Democratic contender Sean Casten. If elected, this would be the clean energy executive’s first time holding public office.

With the midterm elections barely one week away, a New York Times poll from Oct. 26 shows Casten leading Roskam 45 to 44 percent, well within the margin of error. Casten’s victory is not certain, but this race is closer than any of Roskam’s previous six winning campaigns for Congress.

This race, which echoes battles in suburbs across the country, is one of the most closely watched nationwide. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take control the House for the first time since 2011.

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Obama rips Trump during Wisconsin rally

By Alexis Shanes
Medill Reports

MILWAUKEE — Former President Barack Obama attacked his successor as a liar during a rally Friday, warning voters about Republican dishonesty and hammering the GOP leadership for undermining health care guarantees as he stumped for Wisconsin Democrats.

Obama avoided referring to President Trump by name, but in an impassioned address to 3,500 people at North Division High School, he denounced the nationwide partisanship that Trump’s administration has heightened, going so far as to criticize the media, a move rare for a Democrat.

In a sprawling tirade, he likened the GOP’s narrative to the 2014 Ebola scare and the 2016 coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email habits, calling it “fearmongering.” He said it is the latest in a series of Republican attempts to “scare the heck out of people” ahead of every election.

“Until we start getting a little bit better about calling a lie a lie,” he said, “the only check we have on this behavior is you and your vote.”

Obama urged voters to support Tony Evers, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate expected to unseat two-term Gov. Scott Walker (R), and incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), who spoke at length about her support for the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

Walker’s embattled administration is a point of controversy even outside Wisconsin, his race against Evers one of the nation’s most contentious. His supporters herald the state’s slow-but-steady economic improvement — projected 2018 GDP growth is 1.6 percent — and 3 percent unemployment rate. Even some Democrats hesitate to question Walker’s economic victories, although many jobs pay little more than minimum wage.

Walker’s critics cite cuts to school budgets and the conditions of the state’s roads and bridges, while union members remain angered over his successful effort to weaken public employees’ unions.

The crowd, weary from polarized rhetoric gripping the country ahead of the Nov. 6 elections, gave Obama a fervent welcome. His magnetic personality was newly emphatic as he skewered the Trump administration, noting what he characterized as corruption within the Republican Party.

“In Washington, they have racked up enough indictments to field a football team,” he said before pausing for effect. “Nobody in my administration got indicted.

“Their promise to drain the swamp — that was not on the up and up,” he added, his voice cracking.

He honed in on health care, slamming Walker, a fierce ACA opponent who says he favors guaranteed insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions yet supports a lawsuit that would eliminate such protections. Walker is among a number of Republicans around the country who are running TV ads declaring their support for pre-existing conditions coverage while simultaneously attempting to torpedo the law.

“That is some kind of gall,” Obama said. “That is some kind of chutzpah. But let’s also call it what it is: it is a lie.”

Obama, at times sounding incredulous, drew a roar from his sea of supporters as he ripped Trump’s recent promise to enact a middle-class tax cut through the House, a policy statement that surprised lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“The president said he’d pass a tax cut bill before the next election,” he said, in a tone of disbelief. “Congress isn’t even in session.”

Obama criticized Trump’s promise to “help the little guy,” noting that Trump’s tax cuts have hardly reflected his vows. Contrary to Republican assertions, the 2017 tax bill barely reached the middle class, while 65 percent of the benefits went to the upper income quintile, according to a Tax Policy Center analysis.

Obama also denounced his successor’s tendency to take credit for Obama administration successes.

“We got the economy going again,” he said. “It’s still going, by the way. Where do you think that started?”

Audience members showed concern for a spectrum of issues extending beyond health care and Washington partisanship. For Teanna Evans, a 25-year-old sixth-grade teacher from Milwaukee, the rally was an opportunity to “hear what’s going on and what needs to change” ahead of the election.

“I think there’s a lot that needs to go on with our public schools and making sure that our schools are funded correctly,” she said amid a Wisconsin gubernatorial election where education has taken center stage. “Things like that, I’m very passionate about.”

Clarice Collins, 41, a member of the Communication Workers of America, said she is most worried about Wisconsin’s Act 10. The 2011 legislation, Walker’s signature accomplishment, wiped out collective bargaining for public employees, drawing protests and a failed attempt to recall him from office.

“Cost of living is really expensive, and we’re still making $7 as a minimum wage,” Collins said. “That’s a huge issue.”

Ahead of the rally, Collins stood in the rain among fellow union members, holding a CWA sign. The key, she said, is to be sure to vote. Turnout counts in a state where Clinton received 238,000 fewer votes than Obama received four years earlier. Trump’s victory margin was barely 22,000.

“I’m from the north side of Milwaukee, which is a very powerful vote in Wisconsin right now,” she said. “In the sixth grade, I was taught the Constitution and my power, the power of my vote. It’s an honor to be able to vote. No one should take that lightly.”

Milwaukee resident Dorion Higgins, 33, is a correctional officer. He said he hopes the upcoming elections will change the country’s narrative about key issues, such as health care access and tax cuts, which he said failed the middle class.

“I think it will be a check on the Republican Congress,” he said. “If we win, we can turn things around and push forward to 2020, the presidential elections.”

Higgins, who described himself as a “staunch Democrat,” said he attended the rally in search of enlightenment from the former president amid widespread, Republican-driven partisanship and national political discontent.

“Our whole way of life right now is at stake,” he said.

Obama echoed that sentiment in his final plea, even as he acknowledged that a single election will not repair the damage he perceives.

“The character of our country is on the ballot,” Obama said. “If you vote, things will get better. It will be a start.”

Photo at top: Former President Barack Obama received an enthusiastic welcome in Milwaukee — 3,500 fans packed the gymnasium at North Division High School, and an additional 600 crowded into an overflow room. (Alexis Shanes/MEDILL)

Education, voting can empower America, says labor activist Dolores Huerta


By Katie Rice
Medill Reports

Labor activist Dolores Huerta thinks America is standing at a political and social crossroads to do the right thing for workers, women and people of color — especially with the upcoming midterm elections.

“We have to support each other,” Huerta said. “We have to protect each other. And we can stop this whole thing of hating somebody else because they happen to be different.”
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Analysis: Health care policy in Illinois’ 10th District

By Alexis Shanes
Medill Reports

Rep. Brad Schneider is likely to win reelection in Illinois’ 10th District, a left-leaning mix of wealthy and working-class communities in Lake and Cook counties, adding to Democrats’ chances of controlling the House and redefining health care policy.

The Deerfield representative, who ran unopposed in the March primary, is among the most moderate of Illinois Democrats. He is a vocal supporter of the controversial Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, although he acknowledges the law’s shortcomings. Individual insurance separate from employer-based coverage, for instance, has increased in cost since most ACA reforms took effect.

“I think we should be building on its successes,” Schneider said after a town hall meeting in Highview,his 28th grassroots interaction with constituents this year. He said he would continue fighting for coverage for pre-existing conditions, a Democratic triumph that is a point of contention between parties.

“It’s not perfect,” he added. “Where there are problems, let’s fix those. We have the richest nation in the world — everyone in this country should have the quality, affordable health care they need.”

Health care is one of the top issues in this year’s midterm elections. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Thursday, it was voters’ No. 1 concern, edging out worries about President Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, amid consistent Republican-led condemnation, the ACA has commanded a high level of support among voters — 49 percent of adults approve of the law, according to KFF data updated Thursday, compared with 42 percent who disapprove.

Schneider, emphasizing a need to promote civil discourse in Washington, frequently touts his membership in the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus. Members of the working group have proposed solutions to health care, gun safety, infrastructure and immigration. His opponent, Republican Douglas Bennett, a computer consultant who has taken a business-focused approach to the suburban district, has criticized Obama-era reforms, including health care, saying they hurt marketplace competition.

Caucus members in 2017 designed a five-section plan to stabilize the health care market. Schneider cosponsored the proposal, which was introduced late in December 2017 and referred to the Subcommittee on Health in January.

The proposal would have subjected cost-sharing reduction payments — discounts for deductibles, co-payments, and coinsurance — to Congressional oversight, created funds to increase insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions, raised employer mandate requirements, repealed the medical device tax and offered new guidelines for state-level coverage.

Essentially, Schneider said, the plan was an “agreement between the insurance companies and the government to help low-income individuals afford their co-pays and their deductibles to make insurance more affordable.”

The New York Times editorial board called the plan, released just days after a failed Republican attempt to cut parts of the ACA, a “surprising if modest burst of bipartisanship.”

Still, few, if any caucus proposals have gained widespread traction. Conservatives have vowed to resume efforts to repeal the ACA, although they’re not likely to succeed due to a slim Republican Senate majority and increased ACA constituency, according to a Washington Post analysis. On the other side, both Democratic politicians and voters are disproportionately worried Republicans will take away coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Schneider has engaged in the health care debate since he first won office in 2012. He lost the swing district to Republican Robert Dold in 2014, one of the most dramatic House losses in recent history. Dold won by a 2.6 percent margin in the closest race for a House seat in Illinois that year. Schneider reclaimed the seat in 2016.

Roll Call rated the district as “solid Democratic,” and a FiveThirtyEight analysis gave Schneider a 99.9 percent chance of winning, estimating he will capture 66.5 percent of the vote. Schneider’s incumbency holds high name recognition and is advantageous for fundraising. However, Congress’ approval rating is 19 percent, according to a Sept. 12 Gallup report, which could make a non-incumbent candidate an inviting alternative for voters. The district voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Schneider has endorsements from 15 mayors and village presidents from the district, according to a statement released Wednesday, and won the endorsement of the Chicago Sun-Times and the suburban Daily Herald.

His opponent, first-time political candidate and independent computer consultant Douglas Bennett, barely eked out a victory in the three-way Republican primary, edging his closest competitor by fewer than 500 votes among 30,423 votes cast.

Schneider has raised $4,197,443.38 this election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data. He has significant financial backing from political action committees representing health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and medical organizations.

Although disparities in campaign funding are not always indicative of outcome, Bennett has raised only $251,298.58. He is largely a self-funded candidate, with his own contributions to his campaign totaling $130,551, according to FEC data.

Democrats are expected to gain control of the House in November, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis. They stand an 84.1 percent chance as of Friday morning, near the highest probability since election forecasting began in August.

Early voting in Illinois began Sept. 27 and will continue through Nov. 5. Election Day is Nov. 6.

Photo at top: U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider defended his health care policy stance during a debate earlier this month. (Alexis Shanes/MEDILL)

Election night dims early for State Sen. Daniel Biss

By Elizabeth Beyer
Medill Reports

The crowd of roughly 350 staffers, volunteers and supporters of State Sen. Daniel Biss (9th) shifted from joyful to somber in just two hours after the polls closed across Illinois earlier this evening.

Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker won the Democratic gubernatorial primary race with more than 45 percent of the vote, nearly matching the 50 percent vote count that Biss and Chris Kennedy captured combined.

A supporter of State Sen. Daniel Biss listens as he delivers his concession speech on election night.

Biss shot ahead shortly after polls closed with less than 1 percent of the precincts reporting, but the race quickly turned in favor of Pritzker. The State Senator lost both the gubernatorial primary and his current senate seat this evening. His senate seat was up for re-election this year and Biss was only able to enter one political contest.

But Biss, who ran as the “middle-class candidate” among the front-runners, offered hope and gratitude in his concession speech.

“In so many ways, what we did was a success. We saw a broken system here in Illinois, a system where big money and political machines have way too much power,” Biss said during his concession speech. “We knew the solution to that, more than any one policy, was to fight for our democracy.”

The crowd listens to State Sen. Daniel Biss’ concession speech following his defeat in the primary for the Illinois gubernatorial race.

Nora Handler, a 62-year-old campaign volunteer for Biss said the State Senator’s record of supporting policy issues for people with disabilities motivated her to join Get Out the Vote efforts in support of the candidate.

“I’ve seen him on the streets fighting for budget cut issues and wage issues for people who support people with disabilities, long before he ran for governor.” said Handler. The state senator and former University of Chicago math professor has held office in Illinois since 2011 .

The race heated up quickly between Biss and Pritzker, from the first televised forum when Pritzker called into question the State Senator’s voting record in support of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, to the last gubernatorial forum, where Biss called the billionaire’s campaign a fraud.

Pritzker is estimated to have spent nearly $70 million to win the primary. Wealthy businessman Chris Kennedy is the son of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

[Photo at top: Illinois State Sen. Daniel Biss (9th) and gubernatorial primary candidate pauses for the applause before delivering his concession speech on election night. He was joined on stage by his running mate State Rep. Litesa Wallace (67th), his family, and supporters.]