By Jamey Dunn
The General Assembly is guaranteed to have some new faces next year after a handful of incumbents were knocked out in their primary races yesterday.
Chicago Democratic Rep. Antonia “Toni” Berrios spent more than $520,000 in her failed bid to retain her seat in the 39th district, according to spending projections compiled by Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the university of Illinois Springfield. Redfield tracks campaign spending for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. Will Guzzardi, who beat out Berrios to be the Democratic candidate for the seat, narrowly lost to her in the primary when he challenged her in the last election cycle. Guzzardi spent about $320,000, but he was also boosted by another almost $100,000 in independent spending, mostly from union groups.
The race was the second most expensive House primary. The bulk of Berrios’ funds came from Democratic Party organizations and House Speaker Michael Madigan. Berrios is the daughter of Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, and while local politics came heavily into play in the race, it can also be chalked up as a loss to Madigan, who was unable to protect a member of his caucus. In 2012, Guzzardi, who is a community organizer in Logan Square and a former writer for The Huffington Post, lost by less than 200 votes. Yesterday, he won with a margin of more than 1,000.
Glen Ellyn Republican Rep. Sandra Pihos was defeated by Lombard Village Trustee Peter Breen. Pihos spent almost $400,000. Her funding came from Republican Party organizations, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin and organized labor. Breen, who is a lawyer with the conservative nonprofit legal firm the Thomas More Society, only spent a little more than $120,000. But Liberty Principles PAC, a political action committee chaired by conservative talk radio host Dan Proft, made more than $100,000 in independent expenditures supporting Breen in the campaign. Proft also backed Keith Matune against incumbent Rep. Ron Sandack, who is from Downers Grove. Sandack won that race by less than 200 votes, but as of writing this, Matune had yet to concede.
With its incumbent-targeted independent expenditures, Proft’s PAC was able to make the already-tight-on-cash House Republican leadership spend big in the primary. Liberty Principles Pac spent more than $1.5 million, almost all of which came from Lake Forest businessman Richard Uihlein, who runs the Uline packing supply company. His great-grandfather was a co-founder of Milwaukee's Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. Uihlein has emerged in recent years as one of the topic conservative political contributors in the state. Four years ago, he moved Uline’s headquarters from Waukeegan two miles over the state line into Wisconsin after the company received millions in state and local tax incentives to make the move. (For more on Uihlein, see this very interesting Crain’s Chicago Business story, which looks at his recent uptick in political spending.)
Chicago Democratic Rep. Derrick Smith lost to attorney Pamela Reaves-Harris. The Generally Assembly voted to eject Smith after allegations that he took a $7,000 bribe, but he was re-elected to the seat in 2012. Elmhurst Republican Rep. Dennis Reboletti lost to Chris Nybo in the Republican primary for Sen. Kirk Dillard’s seat. Nybo is a former House member who was defeated by Dillard in the primary when he ran for the Senate in 2012. Dillard gave up his seat to run in the Republican Gubernatorial primary, but came in second to nominee Bruce Rauner.
A freshman incumbent was able to hang on to his seat in the priciest race in yesterday’s election. Chicago Democratic Rep. Christian Mitchell faced a challenge from community organizer Jay Travis. Mitchell spent nearly $770,000. He received his funding from House Democratic leadership, education reform groups and business groups. Meanwhile, Travis spent about $100,000. However union-funded groups made independent expenditures of more than $250,000 supporting her. The bulk of her campaign money also came from unions, which were presumably pushing back against Mitchell’s vote in favor of changes to public employee pension benefits. Mitchell had some high-profile supporters, including U.S. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. Despite his aggressive spending, Mitchell won by fewer than 500 votes. As of writing this, Travis had yet to concede.