Illinois governor eyes legislative allies after reelection

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that his reelection a day earlier indicates that voters want Illinois “to be a beacon of hope and opportunity and caring” and declared his desire to serve the state as governor while dismissing the idea that he is eyeing the White House in two years.

In bright, spirited remarks that differed starkly from his arm-yourselves-for-the-fight election night diatribe against Republican extremism, Pritzker said his defeat of conservative GOP challenger Darren Bailey produced multiple victors beside him. With Democrats’ legislative wins stacking up Wednesday, Pritzker was getting even more allies to focus on tax cuts, clean energy and jobs.

“Working families won. Children won. Those who have been left out and left behind won. Our economy won,” Pritzker said at a Chicago news conference. “Democracy won — and I can’t wait to get back to work.”

Pritzker should find readily cooperative teammates in the General Assembly. Democrats, who have maintained supermajority control of both House and Senate since 2015, had a virtual lock on continued control of 3/5th of the vote in each chamber, meaning Democrats can theoretically approve any legislation without Republican support.

According to vote tabulations by The Associated Press, by Wednesday afternoon, House Democrats had picked up one seat, matching their 2021-22 total of 74 votes, a record for one-party control of the House since a constitutional amendment reduced its size beginning in 1983. Senate Democrats had 36, the minimum for a supermajority, and appeared on their way to matching their current record of 40 seats.

Pritzker appeared more gubernatorial than the previous night, when he seemed to be speaking to a much broader audience than just Prairie State residents in denouncing what he sees as the dogmatism of former President Donald Trump. He sounded like a potential rival to Trump, who many expect will seek the presidency again in 2024.

Pritzker insisted he is focused not on a national convention’s nomination, but on the job at hand. “It’s really the most important thing to me as we have a lot of challenges that Illinois needs to overcome,” he said.

As for his fiery rhetoric the night before, he said he was addressing “the values of the two parties.”

“I tried to make clear throughout the last year and in my reelection bid what it is that we Democrats stand for, and also to point out what the Republicans really stand for,” Pritzker said. “They are a party that is run by Donald Trump, that my opponent was a Donald Trump disciple.”

Pritzker, the first elected Illinois governor to be reelected since Rod Blagojevich in 2006, will find Springfield welcoming. Every seat in the General Assembly was on a ballot Tuesday because new legislative boundaries required after the decennial Census to reflect population shifts were drawn — by Democrats.

The makeup of the outgoing House — a new session begins in January — is 73-45 favoring Democrats. With 10 House races not yet called by the AP Wednesday afternoon, Republicans had won 34 seats. Several of the uncalled contests involved Republican incumbents in tight races.

The GOP’s disappointing showing prompted House Minority Leader Jim Durkin to announce he would not seek reelection to lead his caucus next spring. The 61-year-old former prosecutor from Western Springs said the leadership post was the “honor of a lifetime” but that the party needed a new boost.

“It’s time for the Illinois Republican Party to rebuild with new leaders who can bring independents back to the party that are needed to bring change to the state,” Durkin said in a statement.

Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, was celebrating a continued supermajority as early as Tuesday night. AP numbers on Wednesday showed 36 victories, the minimum for 3/5th control, compared with the 40 they currently have. Eight matchups had yet to be called.

“Illinois Senate Democrats are committed to responsible state budgets that prioritize funding for schools, health care and public safety; meaningful ethics reforms; and equality of opportunity for all Illinoisans through job creation and community investment,” Harmon said in a statement.

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