Several African-American House members are starting to worry about potential primary opponents backed by Senate President Emil Jones and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but it's unclear right now how many will get opponents and how involved the two leaders will be. Jones and Blagojevich have engaged in open political warfare with House Speaker Michael Madigan pretty much all year, and it looks like they may be taking another big step by attempting to take out some of Madigan's people.
Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago), one of Jones' top lieutenants, is backing an opponent against Rep. Art Turner, one of Speaker Madigan's top guys who represents half of Hendon's state Senate district. Hendon claims his candidate, Dotti Walton, already has enough signatures to get on the ballot.
But Hendon is also facing a primary race. Three candidates have lined up against him, including Amy Sue Mertens, an official at the University of Illinois Chicago campus whom Hendon claims is a Madigan candidate. Mertens has recently met with some people close to Madigan, but while impressed with her they report that she has not put together much of a campaign on her own.
Sen. Hendon and others deny it, but it looks very much like Senate President Jones is behind Stanley Moore's campaign against state Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago). Moore is a former member of Jones' appropriations staff, Davis represents half of Sen. Jones' South Side district and Moore just moved into that district last December, according to Davis. It's not too difficult to connect the dots there.
Word from the Senate side is that Moore and the Senate Democrats expected Rep. Davis to announce her retirement this fall and take a job with the administration. Davis said, however, that she has no plans to retire and intends to make a fight of it. She also ridiculed Moore for opening a campaign office in the wrong district. Turns out, Moore's campaign headquarters listed on his statement of candidacy is in Rep. Kevin Joyce's neighboring district. Oops.
Rep. Davis has not only withstood challenges before when her committeemen have turned against her, but has racked up huge victory margins. The committeemen and aldermen appear divided at the moment, but Davis says she has commitments from most of them.
Meanwhile, Sen. Hendon says that Rep. Deborah Graham's Democratic primary opponent is not technically his candidate... yet. Hendon said that Phyllis Logan approached him about running and he allowed her to speak to a meeting of his organization. "Most of my people are supporting her," Hendon said, but added that he hasn't yet officially endorsed her.
Graham has the backing of most or all of her district's committeemen and they're not exactly happy about Hendon's involvement. Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) has been sending people from his township party's organization to Iowa on the weekends to help Sen. Barack Obama's campaign, but word is he will keep many of those people home to work for Graham if this develops into a full-blown war.
But, wait, there's more. Rep. Mary Flowers' Democratic primary opponent works for the Illinois Department of Corrections, which is prompting speculation that the governor is behind this one as well. Flowers is a staunch ally of Speaker Madigan.
And then there's freshman Rep. Al Riley, whose Democratic opponent, Toni Ashmore, is married to a former top official at the governor's patronage filled Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
For many of these challengers, the big question may be whether Jones, the governor and the governor's surrogates, particularly the Service Employees International Union, dump big bucks into their races. The governor's campaign fund doesn't have much money in it, but his top fundraisers are gearing up in a big way. SEIU will be making endorsements sometime in November, after the petition filing deadline ends, so we'll know more by then.
The House Democrats say they're ready for anything. But if any of these challengers can put together a credible effort, voter anger over the botched session could make for some interesting contests. And it will make the war between the state's top Democrats a whole lot more intense.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com