PEOPLE power beats big money on primary election day
March 15 should go down in history as one of the most significant defeats for big money in American politics, as Bruce Rauner and his super-rich crowd poured millions into two key legislative races and lost them both.
The dollars still haven’t been completely totaled, but it’s likely that the wealthy corporatists spent as much as $7 million in just those two races—an amount thought to be unprecedented anywhere in the country.
In the end, though, big-bucks-backed lies couldn’t contend with the one-on-one truth-telling of small armies of union volunteers, including hundreds of AFSCME members and retirees, who made phone calls night after night and knocked on countless doors too.
In the 5th House District Democratic Primary in Chicago, youth advocate Juliana Stratton overwhelmingly defeated Rauner ally and incumbent state representative Ken Dunkin. The Rauner forces ran an all-out smear campaign against the widely respected Stratton, flooding the ultra-expensive Chicago airwaves with one lie after another about her record. It was all to no avail, as Stratton beat Dunkin by 35 points. In her victory speech, she talked about how Dunkin had failed their community and pledged to stand up for the interests of working families.
Perhaps of even more significance was the Republican Primary in the 50th Senate District that covers a swath of central Illinois from the greater Springfield area south to Alton and west through Jacksonville all the way to the Mississippi River. Here, despite a vicious ad campaign against him by Rauner and associates, Senator Sam McCann still managed to beat Bryce Benton, an opponent recruited by Rauner to punish Sam for standing with working families.
Virtually the entire labor movement came together to defend Sen. McCann, with AFSCME volunteers from all across central Illinois playing a leading role. Rauner personally campaigned with Benton, perhaps only driving voters farther away from the candidate.
Although Benton is a state trooper and member of FOP/Troopers Lodge 41, even his own union supported McCann, who has a solid record of supporting public-service workers and retirees. In his victory speech on Tuesday night, Sen. McCann reiterated that support:
“I’m honored and proud to represent all working people. I will never vote to take a working person backwards down the ladder. I’m proud to have that opportunity and proud of the votes I’ve taken.”
The election outcomes are widely recognized as a rejection of Bruce Rauner’s zero-sum politics. The Raunerites tried to save face by pointing to various legislative districts where Rauner-backed candidates had won in House and Senate races—but those were almost entirely districts where unions did not get directly involved and where Rauner was backing candidates already favored to win.
The big lesson of Primary Election Day 2016 in Illinois was this: Big money can’t sell big lies.