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Chicagoist's Top Stories of 2012: The Election

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 31, 2012 8:15PM

Video via WTTW screen grab.

What a difference two years makes, eh? The 2010 election that gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives set the stage for a bit of a course correction in 2012, at least in Illinois. Even though the midterms brought us Bob Dold, Adam Kinzinger and the loudest angry Tea Partier of all in Joe Walsh, Illinois Republicans still played the Washington Generals to the Democrats’ Harlem Globetrotters. With the 2010 Census, Illinois Democrats were in a position to redraw the legislative maps to make congressmen like Walsh, Bob Dold and Judy Biggert especially vulnerable in 2012.

All three lost their races for re-election but it was Walsh’s flameout that voters and Illinoisans took the most glee. The stories of Walsh’s unpaid child support had the congressman on the defensive when he wasn’t busy insulting everyone within earshot with his opinions on how Barack Obama was elected because he was black; how another terrorist attack was imminent; yelling at constituents at town hall meetings; how it was in Democrats’ best interests to continue entitlement programs for the poor and minorities and how congresswoman-elect Tammy Duckworth’s campaign for his House seat was nothing more than repeating “I’m a war hero” to voters.

In the end, Walsh was his own worst enemy and yet he still stood an outside chance of winning re-election until he made some dunderheaded comments on Chicago Tonight about how advancements in science and medicine made abortion to save the health or life of a woman unnecessary. (Wonder how the Joe Walsh of 1996 would have handled that question?)

All this isn’t to say the Democrats were fresh as a daisy. On the national stage Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was the subject of investigations by the House Ethics Committee and federal authorities before he took a medical leave of absence from Congress in June. Cynics then and now look at the timing of the leave of absence and the investigations and say the two were more than coincidence, even after Jackson’s camp revealed the congressman suffered from bi-polar disorder and gastrointestinal issues related to his lap 2004 band surgery. Jackson’s re-election campaign became a bit of a farce; with no credible opposition he was able to retain his seat by a wide margin despite not being in the public eye for nearly five months prior to his leave of absence. Jackson’s subsequent Nov. 21 resignation was intended to be buried during the Thanksgiving holiday; it only served to keep us from hitting the road for a few hours while we awaited updates. Jackson’s leave of absence—and that of Sen. Mark Kirk—led to calls for contingency plans to be in place for political offices in case of medical emergencies.

If Jackson’s re-election angered people, think about Rep. Derrick Smith for a moment. The West side protégé of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White was indicted before the March primary of accepting a bribe, won the primary, refused to remove himself from the general election ballot, lost his backing from White and other state Democratic power brokers, was expelled from the Illinois House and won re-election in November. Things won’t get better in the next two years, either. Illinois Democrats earned veto-proof majorities in both houses of the state Legislature, meaning they can override any veto from Gov. Pat Quinn. The one thing scarier than Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan calling the shots in state politics is Michael Madigan with an ability to override a Quinn veto. Considering some of the things Quinn has kept from becoming law prior to now that is an especially frightening proposition.