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Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008 05:13 pm

Leader of the pack

Emil Jones ally survives challenge but Senate Dems still divided

Untitled Document There could be some fireworks the next time the Illinois Senate Democrats meet behind closed doors.
Two of those Democrats, Martin Sandoval and Tony Muñoz, contributed a combined $45,000 to Rep. Rich Bradley’s losing Democratic-primary campaign against Sen. Iris Martinez. That is a big political no-no. Martinez pulled off a stunning upset last week by beating Bradley by nine points. She received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Senate President Emil Jones, but Bradley’s precinct organization was supposed to be too tough to beat. In the end, though, Martinez had more of a field operation than was expected. Her clear superiority on cable TV — and the fact that she was running positive ads while Bradley could only afford to go negative on cable — was also a major factor. The fight started a year ago when Jones appointed Martinez to his Senate leadership team even though the Senate Latinos, including Martinez, had voted to promote Muñoz. Martinez was warned to reject Jones’ offer. She refused. Ever since, Muñoz and Sandoval have been voting against pretty much every major bill that Jones supported. Then, late last year, they persuaded Bradley to run against Martinez. Their crusade has obviously not ended well. Muñoz and Martinez, along with some of their allies, succeeded in tying Jones up in knots during last year’s extended legislative session. They thought they could do the same thing to him at the ballot box. They were wrong. Complicating matters further is the fact that the most strident voice in Jones’ caucus, Sen. Rickey Hendon, won by a huge margin last week. Hendon consistently argues for ever more party discipline and retribution against those who dare question Jones. Hendon fended off well-funded attacks by two opponents and still managed to garner more than 62 percent of the vote. And then there was Sen. Willie Delgado’s 60-40 win against a hard-charging, well-funded challenger. Delgado started last year allied with Sandoval and Muñoz, but he eventually switched sides and is now mostly with Jones. The thing that brings all of those wins together is the involvement of House members. Jones has been feuding with House Speaker Michael Madigan for more than a year. Madigan repeatedly manipulated Jones’ caucus members against their leader, and Jones has tried to do the same to Madigan. Their protracted battle has overshadowed almost everything else at the Statehouse. For the past few months each man believed that the other was backing primary challenges against his members. Bradley is a House incumbent, of course, but he also received cash and aid from several fellow House members, and many of the contributors who lined up with Bradley are connected to Madigan. Jones’ forces didn’t win everything last week. His former staffer Stanley Moore was absolutely trounced, 75-25, by Rep. Monique Davis. Candidates openly backed by Hendon against several of Madigan’s incumbents also came up way short.
Still, the rush from all those other victories, particularly the Martinez win, will at least temporarily silence some of Jones’ fiercest critics within his own caucus. Those critics have been grumbling about Jones’ impending “losses” for weeks. They had claimed that a Martinez loss, and any other big defeats, would reflect poorly on Jones’ leadership and his judgment. A Martinez loss could have even forced Jones to retire at the end of his term because it would have showed that the war he fought with his members was futile and counterproductive. The governor’s massive proposal to expand health insurance was just one of the bills that didn’t pass last year because of the divisions created by the Martinez war. Those Jones wins will also likely embolden those who want to take an even harder line against the internal critics and up the ante against Madigan. Unless cooler heads prevail, last year’s year-long contentious, divisive Statehouse war might get even worse this year.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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