At Least 2 State Legislators Lose Their Seats in Primary Election. A Look at the General Assembly Results

Illinois State Capitol. (WTTW News)Illinois State Capitol. (WTTW News)

At least two sitting members of the Illinois state legislature – including the longest-serving member of the General Assembly – won’t be returning to Springfield next year after losing their primary races Tuesday.

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One, South Side Democratic state Rep. Mary Flowers, has been a member of the House for four decades and ran a shoestring campaign.

The other, state Sen. Natalie Toro of Chicago’s Northwest Side, was propped up with more than $2 million in her first bid for election, after she was appointed to the 20th District seat over the summer.

Flowers was first elected to the Illinois House in 1984 as an ally of Mayor Harold Washington and went on to establish herself as an outspoken and sometimes unconventional advocate for Black causes, including issues impacting children, criminal justice and health care. She lost to political newcomer Michael Crawford, an administrator at The Chicago School, a private university.

Her route to defeat was unconventional.

As a means of imbuing mutual loyalty, it’s the custom in Springfield for incumbents to be protected come campaign time by their well-financed legislative leaders.

Instead, Illinois’ first Black House speaker, Emanuel “Chris” Welch, spent thousands of dollars boosting Flowers’ opponent.

Campaign records show that Crawford had more than $1.6 million in his campaign account thanks to contributions from Welch and his allies, including various unions and the abortion rights Personal PAC, compared with the $180,000 in Flowers’ campaign coffers.

In May, Welch ousted Flowers from her leadership post and she was banned from attending House Democrats’ private caucus meetings.

In a letter posted by the political blog Capitol Fax from Welch to Flowers, the speaker wrote that Flowers had dismissed concerns of legislative staff who felt bullied by her and that she used “language widely recognized as a slur intended to divide people.”

Flowers told WTTW News on Thursday that the letter was “based on a lie.”

“Just because he said it, just because he wrote it, does not make it true,” she said.

Flowers said she believes the situation was connected to a conversation she had with Welch in which she stood up for young members of House Democratic staff.

“I only wanted to speak for the people,” she said. “I did what I naturally do, advocate.”

Two days after her primary loss, Flowers said she wishes that the money plowed into the effort to unseat her had instead been used to restore non-emergency ambulance services in her district, an issue she said she will continue to advocate for during her remaining roughly nine months as a state representative.

“I wish the speaker was as aggressive about helping my constituents to restore those services as he was trying to get defeat me,” Flowers said.

With an estimated 82% of votes counted on Wednesday afternoon, Crawford had 69% of the vote to Flowers’ almost 31%.

Toro, a former Chicago Public Schools teacher of Puerto Rican descent, has been in office since she was appointed by local party leaders in July to fill the remainder of then-Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, who resigned to become a top deputy to Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson.

Senate President Don Harmon and other Democratic state senators on his leadership team, combined with various unions and the Gun Violence Prevention PAC, assisted Toro with more than $2 million used to blanket broadcast airwaves and constituents’ mailboxes.

She lost to Graciela Guzmán, who had the support of the Democrat’s progressive wing including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the Chicago Teachers Union, which records show was the top contributor to her roughly $560,000 campaign.

“While I’m deeply disappointed by this outcome, I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported this campaign with your votes, your voices, and your hard work. I wish the next senator nothing but the best and look forward to a seamless transition,” Toro said in a concession statement.

On Wednesday, with an estimated 80% of votes counted, Guzmán led with almost 50%, followed by Toro with 30% and then Dave Nayak with 15.5% and Geary Yonker with 4%.

Video: WTTW News reporter Amanda Vinicky breaks down election results on “Chicago Tonight: Latino Voices” on March 21, 2024. (Produced by Sean Keenehan)

When Pacione-Zayas’ was a senator, Guzmán was her chief of staff.

Guzmán’s campaign website said her policy-making will be based on the core values of co-governance, racial, economic and gender justice and lifting the public sector after the “wealthiest 1% have systemically defunded schools and public services for decades.”

“We will not settle for anything less than real, bold progressive leadership, and no amount of money can deter us,” she said in a statement Tuesday night. “Our collective vision is one that centers solidarity and dignity, protects workers, and addresses the root causes of homelessness, poverty, and violence in our communities. We see healthcare as a human right, we will always defend reproductive rights, we will join together to lift up immigrants and asylum seekers, and we will never stop fighting for fully-funded schools in our neighborhoods.”

Both districts are expected to stay in Democrats’ control following the November general election, during which the party is expected to maintain its super-majority status in both chambers of the legislature.

Senate Primary Results

A third of Illinois Senate districts are on the 2024 ballot. As of Wednesday afternoon, there are no contests too close to call.

—19th District: Samantha Gasca is the likely winner of a two-way GOP primary, and is set to take on Sen. Mike Hastings, D-Frankfort, who had no opponent. Hastings narrowly won in the 2022 general election.

—37th District: Former Dixon Mayor Liandro Arellano has 48% of the vote, above two GOP opponents who had vied for the seat Republican state Sen. Win Stoller holds representing all or parts of Bureau, DeKalb, Henry and LaSalle counties.

—40th District: Democratic Sen. Kevin Patrick Joyce easily bested Kimberly Earling, and in November is set to take on Republican Philip Nagel, who had no primary opposition.

—53rd District: Grundy County Board Chairman Chris Balkema claimed victory in four-way race. No Democrat has filed for the seat now held by retiring GOP Sen. Tom Bennett.

—58th District: With nearly 70% of voters’ support, state Sen. Terry Bryant, R-Murphysboro, beat back a challenge from Wesley Kash, and currently has no Democratic opposition to keep her seat.

House Primary Results

All Illinois House district seats are on the ballot every two years. Some could be close in November, in others, a single candidate is assured victory. Districts 36, 76 and 79 were particularly competitive in Tuesday. A day after the primary with mail-in votes still being counted, these are results for House primary competitions:

—4th District: State Rep. Lilian Jimenez, D-Chicago, an immigration attorney, secured 82% of the vote to Kirk Ortiz’s 18%.

—5th District: The Associated Press called the Democratic primary for first-term state. Rep. Kimberly Neely du Buclet of Chicago, a former vice president of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, over Andre Smith. Republican Al Rasho has no competition in the GOP primary.

—6th District: State Rep. Sonya Harper of Englewood won her Democratic race against Joseph Williams. Republican Sean Dwyer had no competition in the GOP primary.

—21st District: Rep. Abdelnasser Rashid, who took office in 2023 as the first Palestinian-American to serve in the Illinois House, claimed 66% of the vote to challenger Vidal Vasquez’s 33% in the district that includes sections of Berwyn, Summit and Bridgeview.

—22nd District: Rep. Angie Guerrero-Cuellar, who in 2021 filled the seat long occupied by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, bested two candidates in the Democratic primary. “I want to thank the voters and supporters in the 22nd Illinois House District who have trusted me to be their voice and fight for their interests in Springfield. I am honored to continue serving as state representative and will continue to fight for workers, safe streets, strong schools and women’s rights,” she said in a victory statement.

—23rd District: Little Village State Rep. Edgar Gonzalez Jr., an ally of Congressman Jesus “Chuy” García, has almost 80% of the vote compared with Democrat Joseph Mercado’s 20%.

—24th District: Democratic Rep. Theresa Mah, who in 2016 was the first Asian American elected to the General Assembly, beat Lai Ching Ng in a district that includes Chinatown.

—27th District: Incumbent Rep. Justin Slaughter, a Democrat who has carried significant criminal justice bills, won against Tawana Robinson in the South Side and south suburban district.

—29th District: State Rep. Thaddeus Jones, a Democrat who also serves as mayor of Calumet City, won against Gloria White.

—35th District: The AP called the Democratic primary for state Rep. Mary Gill, who was appointed to represent Beverly, Mt. Greenwood, Palos Heights, Palos Park, Orland Park, Worth, and Alsip upon former Rep. Fran Hurley’s retirement a year ago.

—36th District: Evergreen Park Mayor Kelly Burke’s decision to not run again made for a tight race between Evergreen Park attorney Rick Ryan and cancer survivor and Arab American Democratic Club co-founder Sonia Anne Khalil of Palos Heights. The AP called the race for Ryan with 57% of the vote to Khalil’s 43%.

“Over the last four months, I’ve had the honor of traveling the district and speaking with thousands of voters about issues affecting their everyday lives,” Khalil said in a statement. “While we came up short today, I’m proud of this campaign and the message we sent that our community will not be taken for granted.”

Republican Christine Shanahan McGovern ran unopposed.

—49th District: State Rep. Maura Hirshaurer, a Democrat who helped found the Kane and Kendall County chapter of the gun control group Moms Demand Action, will face Hannah Billingsley, who won a two-way GOP race.

—76th District: There’s an open contest to fill the seat retiring Democratic Rep. Lance Yednock of Ottawa is vacating. Voters were split in a three-way primary in which each Democrat claimed more than 30% of the vote, but Amy Briel of Ottawa was the top vote-getter at 36%, over the mayor of DeKalb and a DeKalb City Council alderwoman. On the GOP side, Liz Bishop easily beat Crystal Loughran.

—79th District: Monee Township trustee William Morgan emerged on top in a four-way contest to be the Democratic nominee, and is set to attempt to win the seat held by Republican Rep. Jackie Haas of Bourbonnais, who had no opposition in the GOP primary.

—83rd District: The AP called a two-way contest for Democratic State Rep. Matt Hanson, a former Kane County Commissioner who in December pleaded guilty to a DUI, over Arad Boxenbaum.

—88th District: Self-proclaimed conservative Regan Deering defeated Chuck Erickson, and is likely to fill the seat held by retiring state Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur.

—99th District: Former Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore won the GOP primary against Eric Snellgrove, and is likely to take the seat Republican Rep. Randy Frese is leaving after five terms.

—102nd District: In a rarity, there were no candidates on the ballot from either party, after the bipartisan state elections board knocked off Rep. Adam Niemerg, a Republican from Effingham County, because of problems with his petitions. Niemerg is running a write-in campaign. So is school administrator Jim Acklin.

—105th District: Rep. Dennis Tipsword, who is also a chief deputy of the Woodford County Sheriff’s Office, bested Donald Rients for the GOP nomination, making it near certain he will retain his elected position

—107th District: Rep. Brad Halbrook, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, claimed 68% of the vote to Republican competitor Marsha Webb, who campaigned on Halbrook’s breaking a term limits pledge.

—110th District: Outspoken Illinois Freedom Caucus member and farmer Rep. Blaine Wilhour turned away a challenge from Matthew Hall, who was supported by the Illinois Education Association’s campaign arm.

—116th District: Incumbent Rep. Dave Severin, a Republican, is likely to keep his seat after fending off a challenge by Angela Evans, who had the backing of the Freedom Caucus.

Primary victors will go on to the Nov. 5 general election, with a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump at the top of the ballot.

Note: This article was updated March 21, 2024, to include comment from state Rep. Mary Flowers.

Contact Amanda Vinicky: @AmandaVinicky | [email protected]

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