Thousands are being deported without a chance to appear before an immigration judge.
Democrats Suit Themselves
But Republican Renee Kosel of New Lenox, who replaced outgoing state Rep. Larry Wennlund earlier this year, has more than clothes in common with her Democratic opponent, Lois Mayer of Mokena.
The two women are about the same age, with similar backgrounds in their communities. At the debate, they espoused nearly identical views on education, the need to fight gangs and drugs, and economic development.
"I'm hearing a lot of interesting talk from both of you, and a lot of it is very similar," remarked one of the panelists, associate editor Myra Eder of the Star newspaper chain.
They may not all have dressed alike on the campaign trail, but the Democrats and Republicans who ran in 23 key Illinois legislative districts this fall appeared to be cut from the same cloth, The Chicago Reporter found.
Heading into Election Day, the political parties were pouring money and resources into these hotly contested races downstate and in suburban Cook County, knowing the results likely would determine control of the General Assembly in January.
Emboldened by President Bill Clinton's resurgence at the top of the ticket, and supported by educators and labor unions determined to end two years of Republican rule, Democrats were hoping to turn around their 1994 defeat, when they relinquished control of the House of Representatives and three statewide offices.
Led by two South Siders, House Minority Leader Michael J. Madigan and Senate Minority Leader Emil Jones Jr., the Democrats zeroed in on districts where the Republican victories were narrow, and where neither party has a strong hold.
The Republican defense, directed by its DuPage County leaders, House Speaker Lee Daniels of Elmhurst and Senate President James "Pate" Philip of Wood Dale, had raised $9.1 million as of Oct. 7, $3.5 million more than their Democratic counterparts, according to campaign records analyzed by the Reporter.
Since June 30, Madigan whittled down the GOP advantage, raising $1.6 million to Daniels' $1.3 million. Madigan's largest donation was $405,000 from the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. By contrast, the National Republican Congressional Committee gave Daniels $160,000 and Philip $180,000. The national Democratic Party did not contribute to Jones, who since June 30 raised just $448,315 to Philip's $1.1 million.
Republicans also enjoy the advantage of legislative redistricting. A flip of a coin gave the party a free hand to draw district boundaries after the General Assembly failed to agree on a new map after the 1990 census. The GOP's map shifted the state's political center from the city to the suburbs, where the electorate is whiter and more conservative.
To appeal to those voters, Democratic leaders lined up a field of moderate-to-conservative candidates who are sensitive to suburban concerns. Like the Democrats on the national scene, these candidates downplayed the traditional Democratic agenda, talking less of poverty programs and equal opportunity, and more about property tax relief and getting tough on crime.
"Clearly, they're "trying to Clintonize their candidates," said Mike Cys, Daniels' spokesman.
But Democrats said they were not mimicking Republicans. "Once you get beyond the headlines and the slogans and look at the individual issues, ... you get into the details, and when you do, you see the difference," said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown.
State Republicans' success in 1994 mirrored the party's astonishing congressional victory. The GOP managed to undo 12 years of Democratic control of the state House by snatching 13 seats. And the party increased its share of Senate seats by one, to 33, solidifying its 1992 majority.
But the scale of that victory belied the slim margins that produced it, particularly in suburban Cook County.
The four suburban Democratic incumbents who lost in 1994 went down by an average of 835 votes, or less than 1 percent of the ballots cast. In the southwest suburban 35th District, Democratic incumbent Terry Steczo, a legislator since 1977, lost by only 16 votes.
Most districts are solidly Republican or Democratic, so much so that of the 40 Senate districts up for grabs this year, only 17 were uncontested.
'We're very fortunate here," said Kevin McCarthy, the Democratic candidate in the south suburban 37th House District. 'There's 50 areas where a Democrat couldn't win if he was Mother Teresa, and there's 50 areas a Republican couldn't win if they had the same qualification."
Five of the eight House districts gave more than 55 percent of their votes to the Republican candidates for University of Illinois Trustee, according to a Reporter analysis of election returns. Trustee votes are a reliable index of an area's political partisanship because voters have little knowledge of the candidates and tend to vote along party lines, experts said.
Voters in all eight districts went overwhelmingly for Republican Gov. Jim Edgar in the 1994 election. Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch, a liberal Chicago Democrat, received less than 35 percent of the vote in the eight districts.
Yet in 1992, these same voters turned against Republican President George Bush, who did not receive more than 44.9 percent of the vote in any of the eight districts. Many cast ballots for independent candidate Ross Perot, who received between 16.9 percent and 22.7 percent of the vote.
Clinton won two of the districts.
Newly drawn downstate districts in Rockford, Sangamon County and western and southern Illinois also have shown little party allegiance. In 1992, Democrats held the six Downstate House districts they targeted this year. In 1994, Republicans won all six by an average margin of 1,824 votes.
The 100th House District, which covers Sangamon County and the state capital in Springfield, gave Michael Curran an 11,173-vote margin of victory in 1992. In the 1994 election, in which Curran did not run, Republican state Rep. Gwenn Klinger won the district by 1,309 votes.
Madigan, who had been House Speaker since 1983, began scouting for candidates two days after the Democrats' defeat, said Dave Fako, a Madigan aide who now works as an advisor to Mike Giglio, the Democratic candidate in the 79th House District, which includes South Holland and Ford Heights.
Party leaders looked for candidates with no political "baggage," said former state Rep. John McNamara, who represented the 36th District on the Southwest Side and suburbs until 1992, when he was defeated for the Senate. Since McNamara's departure the district has been represented by Republican Maureen Murphy.
"They haven't voted on the issues," McNamara said of the new crop of Democratic candidates, "and that makes them difficult to attack."
The leadership's assistance to candidates can border on interference, said Jerry Stehlik, campaign coordinator for Democrat Richard R. Della Croce, who ran in the 19th District against state Sen. William Mahar Jr. of Orland Park.
"They wanted to control our campaign, they wanted to control our funding," Stehlik said. "They said 'we're best suited, we best know.' "
Former Democratic state Rep. John Ostenburg of Park Forest ran and lost twice before winning the south suburban 80th District in 1992. Two years later, he was beaten by Republican Flora Ciarlo by a margin of 1,228 votes. He considered running this year until House leaders told him he was too liberal.
"The Democrats made it clear they were looking for new faces this year," he said.
Ostenburg was replaced by a political novice, attorney George Scully Jr., whose campaign brochures boom: "It's no surprise that gang bangers see prison time as party time."
Prison reform became a Democratic campaign theme after polling and focus groups found voters outraged by news stories showing the antics of convicted mass murderer Richard Speck.
State Sen. Miguel del Valle, a Chicago Democrat, said local candidates shouldn't be faulted for targeting "segments of the population who respond to hot-button issues."
In the southwest suburban 24th Senate District, even campaign workers have trouble telling the candidates apart.
"They're almost identical," said Tim Guillen, an aide to Emil Jones who is working for Nancy Kenny, a former LaGrange village trustee who produces cable shows.
Her opponent, Christine Radogno, upset three-term Republican state Sen. Robert Raica in the March primary. Radogno voted in the 1988 and 1992 Democratic primaries, voter registration records shows.
And at least one Democrat-McCarthy-has previously voted Republican, voter records show.
"I know that I need the Democratic Party because of the expense in these contested races," McCarthy said. "But I also know that the Democrats need me, they need someone independent."
McCarthy's campaign literature carried no party affiliation, which allowed him to reach voters who might be turned off by the party label, he said.
Other candidates said they saw little benefit in discussing prickly subjects like affirmative action and welfare reform.
"The public perception is that [welfare reform] is a non-issue," said state Rep. Kurt Granberg of Centralia, who was campaigning for fellow Democrat Joe Bob Pierce in Southern Illinois' 107th District. "Right now we're trying to elect a Democratic House so working people have a voice in
Illinois government-that is the issue."
Republicans have their own worries. Presidential candidate Bob Dole wrote off his effort in Illinois after consistently trailing Clinton in statewide polls, a decision that may have hurt Republican candidates throughout the state.
But money has not been one of the GOP's problems. In the first six months of the year, Daniels out-raised Madigan by $920,595. Between July 1 and Oct. 7, however, the House Minority leader's campaign fund took in $1.45 million, $332,908 more than his rival.
"September has always been a good month for Madigan," Daniels said.
Six of Madigan's 10 largest contributors are labor organizations, contributing a total of $259,800. Three of Daniels' 10 largest contributors represent the health care industry and contributed $78,500.
Madigan transferred $1.35 million of his $1.45 million into his candidates' committee, the Illinois House Democratic Majority, which also raised $158,125.
In Cook County, Daniels gave $558,554 to his candidates, while Madigan pitched in $458,146. Republicans received more money from their party in all but one Cook County House race.
"The money being spent on the races is way more than any of the candidates could ever hope to raise on their own," said Paul Green, director of the Institute for Public Policy at Governors State.
The leaders' influence led to charges of "machine politics" by both sides.
"My opponent's campaign is being run by Chicago's 13th ward committeeman [Madigan]," said state Rep. John Doody Jr., the Republican incumbent in the 37th District. "We already see the troops coming in from those wards, and other Chicago wards, knocking on doors."
His opponent, Kevin McCarthy, has received $51,153 from the Democrats, records show.
But GOP leaders haven't forgotten Doody, either. He has received $69,368 in contributions from the Republican leadership, and another $10,000 from House Majority Leader Robert W. Churchill (R-Antioch).
Doody's independence was questioned during the Governors State debate. "There were specific votes in a couple of instances in which I was the only Republican" to oppose Daniels, he told the audience.
When pressed for details, Doody said he voted "present" on a bill that protected employers from lawsuits over false statements contained in references.
"I'm in favor of protecting the people giving references, but the way it was set up, literally you could blackball someone forever with an untruthful reference," Doody said.
Whoever the voters send to Springfield in January, the agenda will be determined in large part by the leadership.
"The most important vote the legislator casts is the first vote he casts for the speaker of the House or president of the Senate," said Charles Wheeler, director of the pubic affairs reporting program at the University of Illinois, Springfield, and who covered state government for the Chicago Sun-Times for 24 years.
Daniels said he had no doubt what direction the Democrats will take. "It'd be a strong Chicago agenda. Once again the people in the suburbs will be ignored as they were for the 12 years in [Madigan's] control," he said.
But del Valle said his party is better able to balance an urban and suburban agenda. "Democrats are more capable of connecting the dots between what happens in Chicago and what happens in Chicago Heights."
Contributing: Brian Rogal. Interns Matthew C. Bennett, Mary E. Guest and Juan-Jose Ricardo helped research this article.