Chris Welch and the fight for control of Illinois Democratic Party

Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

One of the biggest unsung winners in the fight for control of the Democratic Party of Illinois is House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

The new state party chair is Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, a member of Welch’s leadership team. Hernandez handled the delicate task of overseeing the redistricting effort in her chamber last year.

She is quite popular in her caucus, including among Latino progressives, who note Hernandez has been with them on very important votes despite her background as a “regular” Cicero Democrat.

That voting record helped seal the deal when progressive U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia decided to flip from supporting U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly for party chair last year to backing Hernandez this time around, taking the other Latino state central committee members with him in the process.

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It’s no big secret that Welch has worked hard to develop close ties to Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Welch has eschewed the sort of political games Senate President Don Harmon has occasionally played with the governor.

As a result, the governor could be confident Welch wouldn’t try to pull Hernandez’s strings. And Welch helped bring votes to Hernandez’s bid, which put her over the top. Pritzker couldn’t have done this without Welch.

Kelly regularly boasted of the party’s hefty $2 million bank account, but she never mentioned the $2 million had been moved by former House Speaker Michael Madigan to the state party from the now-defunct House Democratic Majority committee shortly after he resigned as House speaker. Welch has been trying to get that $2 million released by the party ever since, to no avail.

Welch was also reportedly frustrated with the state party’s demands over the party’s postage discount rate, which could be worth as much as $3 million to the House Democrats in the upcoming fall campaign.

It also probably didn’t help matters much that the state party’s general counsel, Michael Dorf, performed some campaign legal work for Abdelnasser Rashid during his successful primary bid against sitting state Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside.

Because of Kelly’s very real federal legal limitations on her state campaign-related activities, Dorf had been listed as the state party’s chair in its official filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Needless to say, it wasn’t a good look for him to be doing legal work against a Democratic incumbent.

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Source:: Chicago Sun Times


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