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Voters handed Gov. Bruce Rauner a decisive rebuke Tuesday, turning the governor's mansion to Democrat J.B. Pritzker and giving Democrats even more power in Springfield.
Democrat J.B. Pritzker rode the wave of significantly higher turnout, with many pollsters calling the race in the billionaire Chicago Democrat’s favor minutes after the polls closed.
Pritzker's win gives Democrats firm control of all branches of state government. Party leaders, including Pritzker, want to implement a progressive income tax structure but have not given details on what the rates might be for different income levels. The Democratic party is also in a position to redraw the state's political boundaries in 2021 in a way that would further strengthen their numbers, in both the statehouse and Congress.
In addition to winning the governor’s mansion and holding onto the Attorney General’s office, Democrats also retained the statewide offices of the Comptroller, Treasurer and Secretary of State.
Public sector unions, the largest of which has been battling Rauner in the courts over a new contract and the governor’s refusal to pay back wages, also emerged as a winner Tuesday. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 now will only have to wait until late January to resume contract talks with a much more friendly governor. If they succeed in doing so, the union will have gone Rauner’s entire four-year term without having to have negotiated a contract with him. Several public unions lauded Pritzker's win Tuesday and Democrats gave credit to those groups for helping them get elected.
“Are you ready to fight for Illinois?” Pritzker asked cheering supporters at an event in Chicago. “We will become the leading protector of workers rights and civil rights in the nation.”
Pritzker becomes the first Illinois Democratic candidate for governor to win more than four counties since Rod Blagojevich in 2006.
“This election is over,” Rauner told a crowd in Chicago. But he said “that does not mean the end of the change we need.”
Rauner thanked supporters for the chance to serve them.
What turned out to be the most expensive statewide race in U.S. history, put an incumbent multi-millionaire investor against a multi-billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune. Rauner and Pritzker spent more than $284 million between them in the race.
Pritzker stands to get paid $177,412 annually as governor. Rauner had not taken a salary.
Critics labeled Rauner’s first term a failure. He began by locking horns with Democrats who control both legislative chambers in a years-long budget battle that hurt public institutions and shuttered many state-funded service providers. Rauner then alienated a core portion of his base by breaking a promise and signing legislation allowing for taxpayer funds to go toward abortions. That earned him a primary challenge from suburban Republican state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, who skyrocketed in the polls late to come within a couple percentage points of pulling off a historic upset. Rauner later faced criticism for how his administration handled outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease at a Quincy veterans home that killed 14 people and sickened dozens more. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is currently investigating the way Rauner’s office handled the publicizing of the outbreak.
On the other side, Governor-elect Pritzker’s campaign had to navigate a number of public relations crises.
He was recorded on FBI wiretaps asking Blagojevich to be appointed to a political office. And a Cook County inspector's report found that Pritzker and his wife acted in a “scheme to defraud” the county by removing the toilets from Chicago mansion neighboring his own to get property tax breaks worth more than $300,000.
On the campaign trail, Pritzker was criticized for his ambiguity about how he plans to pay for the bevy of campaign promises he’s made. His answer is that he would push for a progressive tax that lowers taxes on the middle class and makes the wealthy pay more. Fiscal watchdogs have run numbers on his proposals, hoping to divine proposed rates that Pritzker may propose. One watchdog group estimated that it would either require rates many times higher than Illinois’ existing rate or higher rates for the middle class.
Rauner will remain in the governor’s mansion until January when Pritzker’s administration will take over.
In other statewide races:
Kwame Raoul (D) won the Attorney General's office, besting Ericka Harold with about 55% of the vote.
Fellow Democrats Jesse White (Secretary of State), Suzanna Mendoza (Comptroller), and Mike Frerichs (Treasurer) all successfully defended their seats.