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Election gives big wins to Mike Madigan, John Cullerton

Illinois Gov. PQuinn delivers State Budget Address josessiGeneral Assembly House chambers Wednesday Feb. 22 2012 Springfield Ill. Behind Quinn are

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn delivers the State of the Budget Address to a join session of the General Assembly in the House chambers Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 in Springfield, Ill. Behind Quinn are Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, left, and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, right. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: December 9, 2012 7:53PM



The way Republicans got their clocks cleaned by House Speaker Michael Madigan Tuesday, it’s safe to say the GOP’s nose-thumbing “Fire Madigan” mantra of the fall campaigns didn’t work out so well.

Not only did the House speaker and chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois pick up seven seats in the House, his counterpart — Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) — used a legislative map they both approved to pluck five seats from Republicans.

The result is historic new clout for Democrats at the Illinois Statehouse, where power tilted more heavily toward Cullerton and Madigan, making a Republican Party that still hasn’t regained its stride since before former Gov. George Ryan’s era ever more irrelevant.

“I think the Republican brand seems to have a problem here in Illinois,” House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) told the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday.

“Three things happened,” Cross continued, explaining the how an expected tough night for the GOP at the Statehouse turned unexpectedly nightmarish. “The presidential race was incredibly powerful in how it played out … in a negative way for congressional seats. You couple that with a pretty diabolical map, and a huge fund-raising advantage for Democrats, and it all came together in a prefect storm,” Cross said.

In the Senate, the gains marked the first time in memory that either party has held 40 seats, and Tuesday’s results means DuPage County will send a Democratic senator — Villa Park Village President Tom Cullerton, a third cousin to the Senate president — to Springfield for the first time in history.

“I helped a lot of the folks who won yesterday, and I’m very happy they won,” Gov. Pat Quinn told reporters Wednesday. “I think we have an opportunity to have a progressive majority in Illinois, to make reforms that are necessary and overdue and really strengthen the people. The role of government is to strengthen the people.”

But Quinn has to be wary of his party’s big gains. With super majorities in each legislative chamber, Cullerton and Madigan can render any Quinn veto meaningless during the next two years.

Asked if he somehow got his wings clipped by the Democratic landslide, the governor balked: “Not at all. I don’t know where that [suggestion] ever came from.”

But Cross said the super majorities mean only one thing: Cullerton and Madigan got stronger at the expense of everyone else.

“I think it certainly gives more power to Madigan and Cullerton, but how they handle it remains to be seen,” Cross said.

The numbers also raise the possibility that Mayor Rahm Emanuel could go around Quinn on an array of issues — from a city casino to pensions to a change in state law changing the face of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, with whom the mayor and governor tangled last week — by cutting his own deals with Madigan and Cullerton.

Madigan’s campaign, however, downplayed the idea of the gains making the Southwest Side Democrat even more powerful.

“I’m not sure what that terms means,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Wednesday. “[The gains] mean he has more people to work with, which means they’ll have ideas about what’s important for their districts. It means he’ll have more responsibilities to help mentor new members, either himself directly or with staff. Those bring more responsibilities. How that manifests itself in terms of so-called power, I don’t know.

Brown also downplayed the influence of the new legislative map that Democrats drew to bludgeon Republicans on Tuesday’s wins.

“It happened through good old-fashioned, on-the-ground campaigning, and people explaining their records when there were an absence of ideas offered by their opponents,” Brown said.

Regardless of the cause, one top GOP strategist characterized the losses suffered by Republicans at the Statehouse as a “bloodbath.”

Whether that means Cross, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) or state Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady get ousted won’t be known until Tuesday’s bad news for Republicans sinks in more.

“I’ve been making calls all day, and they’ve all been going very, very well,” Cross said, when asked if he foresees a challenge to his leadership post.

And Brady, an architect of the “Fire Madigan” strategy, said he is prepared to step aside if “the central committee or [U.S. Sen.] Mark Kirk expressed it was best for the party for me not to be here, I’d be the first one to step aside.”

Like Cross, Brady said Republicans need to recalibrate their message in a major way as the task now turns toward bouncing back with any kind of respectable move toward relevancy in the 2014 governor’s race, which now begins in earnest.

“We need to change the way we approach this. I don’t know what that change will look like,” he said, “but it can’t be what happened [Tuesday] night.”



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