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Speaker Michael Madigan Faces Rare Primary Challenge from Jason Gonzales

By Ted Cox | March 14, 2016 7:19pm | Updated on March 15, 2016 8:27am
 House Speaker Michael Madigan faces a Democratic primary challenge from Jason Gonzales.
House Speaker Michael Madigan faces a Democratic primary challenge from Jason Gonzales.
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Scott Olson/Getty Images/jasonforillinois.com

WEST LAWN — More than 4,000 people took part in early voting in the 13th Ward, second-most of any ward in the city.

The question is, for whom were they voting?

House Speaker Michael Madigan, who's had a seat in the General Assembly since 1971, is engaged in a rare primary battle with Jason Gonzales, whom many suggest is a proxy for Gov. Bruce Rauner in his ongoing war with Madigan.

Money has flooded into what would otherwise be a small, unassuming state House race in the 22nd District — if it didn't involve Madigan.

Madigan reported $2.2 million in his Friends of Michael J. Madigan campaign fund at the start of the year, with much more available to him as head of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Gonzales' Jason for Illinois campaign fund has taken in $190,000 just this year. That includes $27,500 from Robert Hirsch, who is also a contributor to Yes for Independent Maps, an attempt to undercut the statewide district map-making ability Madigan holds as speaker of the House under what was a Democratic governor in 2010, the last census year.

Gonzales also received $2,500 from Tony Peraica, the rancorous leading Republican voice for years on the Cook County Board until he lost a re-election bid in 2010.

The Tribune also reported that attack ads against Madigan were being funded by Illinois United for Change, bankrolled by former U.S. Senate candidate Blair Hull, but also receiving money from the Illinois Opportunity Project, run by former Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Proft, now a conservative talk-radio host on WIND 560-AM.

That group has also given $800,000 to state Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago), whom Madigan has tried to unseat, with the help of President Barack Obama himself, after Dunkin sided with Rauner on a critical veto override vote. Proft's Liberty Principles Political Action Committee has also received $1.8 million from Rauner's Turnaround Illinois PAC.

Through Sunday, some 4,396 people cast votes early in the 13th Ward, second in the city behind only the 5,282 cast in the 19th Ward. The question was, however, was Madigan getting voters to the polls early, or was the money behind Gonzales having an impact?

"Generally speaking, high turnout benefits the challenger," Gonzales campaign spokesman Ben Gould said, "but Madigan's 13th Ward has come out big so far and he probably also benefits from the large votes by mail. However, if the trend in high turnout continues to election day, that could be more favorable towards us."

Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) pointedly refused to comment at all on early voting when asked about it Monday.

So voters are left on Tuesday to choose between Madigan, a 73-year-old Notre Dame alum, the head of state Democrats, a powerful tax-appeal attorney and the epitome of a career politician as a 23-term member of the General Assembly, and Gonzales, a 42-year-old Duke alum and a political novice, running while "between assignments" in his professional career, and a convicted felon for admittedly using a credit card illegally as a teen, although he received a pardon from Gov. Pat Quinn last year.

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