Why Democrats fought to increase majority on Cook County Board
While Democrats not surprisingly campaigned hard and spent heavily to win back the Illinois governor's office and a majority in the U.S. House, why were they similarly motivated to bounce the few Republicans on the Cook County Board when they already held a dominant majority?
"We saw an opportunity to strike while the iron was hot," said Jacob Kaplan, executive director of the Cook County Democratic Party, which is chaired by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Kaplan said results from the 2016 presidential election showed voters in the county board's suburban districts strongly supported Hillary Clinton. And the 2018 political environment appeared to be even worse for suburban Republicans, he added.
Their efforts paid off, as longtime Republican incumbents Tim Schneider of Bartlett and Gregg Goslin of Glenview were ousted last week, by newcomer Kevin Morrison of Elk Grove Village and longtime Glenview Trustee Scott Britton, respectively.
Sean M. Morrison, the chairman of the Cook County Republican Party, narrowly survived a challenge for his 17th District seat. Fellow GOP Commissioner Pete Silvestri also retained his seat in the 9th District, though Democrats poured fewer resources into defeating him.
Sean Morrison has a different explanation for why Democrats spent more than a quarter-million dollars backing candidates in his, Schneider and Goslin's traditionally Republican districts.
"I think it was a case of sour grapes on President Preckwinkle's part," he said. "We led the movement to repeal the soda tax. President Preckwinkle wanted to repeal us."
Morrison said Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker's campaign also likely set some precedent for the amount of Democratic money spent. He believes it certainly contributed to the voter turnout in his 17th District -- the highest since 1982. Among 360,000 total residents, 128,000 ballots were cast.
"That's almost a mathematical outlier," Morrison said. "I'm astounded by that number. That would be high even for total eligibility."
Kaplan and Morrison agree the combined voices of the four Republicans on the county board have had a bigger impact than just their votes.
With nine votes are needed to pass anything, four Republicans persuading five Democratic commissioners to vote their way was much more realistic than two persuading seven will be during the coming term.
"Pragmatically, there's very few roadblocks we can put in other than to act as a sounding board," Morrison said. "All we can do is try to be the voice of reason."
Kaplan said it will be easier for commissioners to push for issues more aligned with Democratic values, such as a minimum wage hike, mandatory paid sick leave and gun control.
But the repealed soda tax -- the unpopularity of which was clearly demonstrated -- won't be back as far as he's concerned.
Kaplan added that the county board will benefit from the new voices and viewpoints of Kevin Morrison and Britton. Kevin Morrison is the first member of the LGBTQ community on the panel.
Sean Morrison said longtime, single-party control of the government isn't good for anyone, even if it were Republican. He added that he would tell young members of his party that it's time to roll up their sleeves and get more involved with government at the local level.
"The thing about politics is it's a pendulum, and it's probably a good thing," he said.
Kaplan agreed that it's better to have two viable parties, but added that Republicans lately seem able to nominate only their most conservative and extreme representatives.
He suggested that a way Democrats can avoid the pitfalls Republicans experienced in 2018 is to articulate their own positions and vision rather than just being the Trump-opposition party.