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We will broadcast special coverage of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, starting with the RNC tonight at 8.

Trump, Rauner, policy wins on Illinois Democrats’ minds during State Fair’s political festivities

 Gov. JB Pritzker speaks to the crowd at Governor's Day at the Illinois State Fair.
Jerry Nowicki
/
Capitol News Illinois
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker speaks to the crowd at Governor's Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield.

Donald Trump and Bruce Rauner remained popular punching bags for Illinois Democrats as they rallied in Springfield Wednesday, while the party also touted a long list of recent policy wins.

“Illinois Democrats have done more in the last five years to push back on the wave of authoritarian, anti-democratic MAGA Republican nonsense than in any other place in the country,” Gov. JB Pritzker said at an Illinois Democratic County Chairs Association event.

The annual brunch is one of the largest gatherings of state Democrats, which takes place prior to Governor’s Day festivities at the Illinois State Fair. Republicans will have their own rally on Thursday.

Democrats highlighted that Trump is currently facing four criminal indictments, including allegations that he tried to overturn the 2020 election after he was defeated by President Joe Biden. On Monday, a grand jury in Georgia charged Trump and 18 others on racketeering counts, alleging that the effort to overturn the election in that state were part of an organized conspiracy.

“Let me make one thing clear: Everyone indicted or accused in America is entitled to a presumption of innocence and every right under the due process clause of our Constitution,” U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said at the IDCCA event. “But having said that, the charges against Donald Trump are not just another political wrinkle in the campaign – the charges against Donald Trump are the most serious charges ever made against a public official in America.”

Pritzker said Illinoisans rejected Trump and statewide candidates that associated themselves with him because Illinoisans “have a low tolerance for bulls––––,” riling up the crowd at the Bank of Springfield convention center.

“You know the old story about the emperor who had no clothes?” Pritzker said. “Well, he couldn't get 10 feet in the South Side Irish Parade or in the Bud Billiken parade or at the State Fair without someone here telling him he's naked.”

Pritzker contended that Illinois’ rejection of Trump, along with its actions to bolster unions, protect abortion rights and control guns, all contributed to Illinois being chosen as the site of the 2024 Democratic National Convention.

“We are a beacon for national success,” Pritzker said. “We are Barbie when everyone else is just Ken.”

As for Rauner, Pritzker referred to his predecessor’s administration as “co-conspirators of incompetence.” And Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, recalled “the bad old days when Gov. Rauner was here and everything was broken,” referring to a line often used by Rauner to describe state government.

Harmon and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, took the stage together, listing off Democratic policy wins, from increased education funding to balanced state budgets to energy reforms aimed at creating a carbon-free energy grid by 2045.

“You won't hear anything of substance from the Republicans tomorrow,” Welch said. “And that's because they want to take us back. But we refuse to go back.”

Still, the speeches were shorter and milder than previous iterations of the State Fair’s political days, as the next general election is 15 months away.

The IDCCA event’s featured speaker was U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada. Her narrow reelection in 2022 helped Democrats keep a majority in the U.S. Senate.

She said her constituents were motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which had for nearly 50 years protected access to abortion care nationwide. Even though Nevada codified Roe v. Wade in state law in 1990, Cortez Masto said she heard from constituents who were concerned about a potential federal ban on the procedure.

“Everywhere I went around the state – I don't care if you were Democrat or Republican, non-partisan, I don’t care if you’re from an urban area or a rural area – everyone in Nevada was concerned,” she said. “They knew this was a threat to our freedoms.”

Cortez Masto said in 2024, “Democrats need to show up and stand with working families. We need to continue to work to protect our reproductive freedoms to fight for our democracy.”

Durbin, meanwhile, said when it comes to Democratic enthusiasm for 2024, “a great deal depends on the Republican nominee.”

“If it turns out to be Trump, trust me, we’ll be fired up and ready to go.”

He later clarified that he expects enthusiasm regardless of the candidate, but he acknowledged, “Trump takes us to a different level.”

The Democrats’ fair festivities in Springfield were ongoing at the same time as the federal perjury trial of the party’s longtime executive director, Tim Mapes, who left that post in 2018 amid harassment allegations.

Mapes also served as the chief of staff to former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan for more than 25 years, and his perjury charges pertain to the alleged wrongdoing of his former boss. Madigan faces his own federal trial in April 2024 on allegations that he ran a criminal enterprise through his various positions of power, exchanging legislative wins in Springfield for benefits to his law business and his associates.

Asked about those indictments, the party’s current leadership has largely said they are looking forward, not backward, and that all bad actors should be held accountable.

“I'm not gonna deny we have our, you know – is there corruption? It’s there, but they’ve got their day in court,” Democratic Party of Illinois Chair Lisa Hernandez said in an interview. “My concentration is bringing this party to another level. It's a new chapter.”

Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias said he didn’t ever consider Madigan among his fans, and the former speaker’s name “doesn’t really come up” as his office is looking for ways to increase transparency.

“Yeah, I think people are sick and tired of scandal corruption,” he said. “So anything we can do to increase transparency and let people know exactly what happens at every level is important.”

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Jerry Nowicki is bureau chief of Capitol News Illinois and has been with the organization since its inception in 2019.