Illinois Democrats face leadership battle

As Illinois Democrats try to gain a greater role in national party affairs, an internal battle has developed for control of the state party.

State Representative Elizabeth Hernandez de Cicero has emerged as a challenger for the party presidency of U.S. Representative Robin Kelly de Matteson, who was narrowly elected in March 2021 to complete the term of former Speaker and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, besieged and now charged.

Hernandez is backed by Governor JB Pritzker, whose significant wealth has played a major role in the party’s results, while Kelly has the support of US Senator Dick Durbin.

The winner will be decided by the Democratic State’s Central Committee, made up of 17 men and 17 women elected in the June 28 primary in each of the state’s new congressional districts. The panel is due to meet in Springfield on Saturday to elect a president for a four-year term, with each member casting a weighted vote based on the number of Democratic ballots cast in their new congressional district.

The jockey on the party presidency comes as state Democrats seek to host the 2024 presidential nominating convention in Chicago and attempt to make Illinois one of the top presidential primary states in the 2024 campaign calendar. Democratic National Committee.

When Kelly was elected party president, concerns were raised that she would see her fundraising abilities severely curtailed because she holds federal office. Federal fundraising rules are more restrictive than state law on how much money can be donated and which entities can donate. Most state party fundraising activities focus on candidates for state office.

Under a plan drawn up by state party attorneys and approved by the Federal Election Commission, Kelly was isolated from state fundraising matters in favor of a newly created internal committee. Kelly was still authorized to fundraise for federal candidates.

But concerns about its limitations among Pritzker allies, who have backed Chicago Ald. Michael Harris. On the 8th, for the presidency in March 2021, linger.

Fundraising reports from April to June show the Democratic Party’s state account raised $1,727,889. But the bulk of that total, $1.5 million, came from Democratic Governor JB Pritzker’s campaign fund and paid for mailings sent by the state party on his behalf attacking Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard Irvin and the eventual GOP nominee, State Senator Darren Bailey. of Xenia.

The party’s state account, which also transferred $182,000 to its account for federal candidates, had $2.8 million available as of July 1. The party’s federal account totaled $1.4 million at the start of the month.

Former Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, who was re-elected to the state’s central committee and backed by Pritzker, said Kelly “has to recognize that we have to do something about fundraising “.

Cullerton, who raised concerns about federal limitations under Kelly when she was elected, said he might support a structure that creates a co-chair who has a more direct role in fundraising.

But Cullerton also said Pritzker, as the de facto leader of the state Democrats, should be entitled to his pick of party chairman.

Other Pritzker allies have questioned why the party hasn’t done more to prepare for the Nov. 8 election campaign as Republicans seek to raise “ballot integrity” issues at the polls, which could make it difficult to contest Democratic votes.

Kelly’s allies said their fundraising structure had proven solid and his bank account was providing the money needed for the general election. They also said that no party leader had asked the state party to dedicate funds to help candidates in the June 28 primary.

Further, they noted that as Pritzker forces sought to challenge his leadership, Kelly agreed to use the party’s greatest resource — a low-cost bulk mail franking permit — to help the governor in the primary.

Backed by Durbin, who as majority whip holds the second-highest position among Senate Democrats, Kelly last year beat Pritzker’s pick Harris by a 52%-48% margin. .

Durbin again backs Kelly in his bid for a full term as party president, while Pritzker is joined by State House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch in backing Hernandez, a member of Welch’s leadership team. .

Pritzker was active in some contests for state central committee seats in the primary, supporting five candidates who won the election while losing in four others.

Aside from the fundraising issue, Kelly has received national acclaim for modernizing the state’s party apparatus, increasing its involvement in national party affairs, and decentralizing its leadership after decades in which Madigan used the organization primarily to raise campaign funds for Democratic House candidates who would support him. as speaker.

The state party presidential contest comes at the end of an important week for Democrats in the state. Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison hosts a Monday fundraiser for the state party in Chicago, and representatives from the DNC’s site selection committee for the 2024 presidential nominating convention arrive Tuesday to review related logistics the city’s bid to host the event.

Illinois Democrats have asked the DNC to make the state the seat of an early presidential primary contest as the party revises its calendar and seeks more diversity and regional representation among the states that will launch the calendar of the presidential campaign.

Kelly, Pritzker and Durbin displayed a united front in seeking the Chicago presidential convention and making Illinois a first primary state, as well as developing a coordinated campaign strategy for candidates through the ballot in the general election. of autumn.

But a messy row over the party presidency and political stripes ahead of the DNC’s decision on two major issues could cloud the efforts of Illinois Democrats seeking to tout the actions and agenda of a big state in single party led by the Democrats on the national stage.

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