Subscribe for 99¢

For my neighbors in Illinois, the next big election — the 2018 primary — is 16 months away.

Really? Everyone’s exhausted from 2016 campaigning and now I want to talk about 2018?

Well, just a little.

Tuesday held no big surprises statewide. It’s very red geographically but reliably blue in vote totals that favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump for president about 55 percent to 39 percent. She can thank the northeastern corner, where two-thirds of the people live, and a few pockets that include St. Clair County — but not Madison — and the college areas of Carbondale and Champaign.

As expected, Democrat Tammy Duckworth unseated U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, who was seeking a second full term. The GOP’s Kirk, slowed by a stroke, went down in a 2-1 result that sustained the wisdom of the predictions.

The enduring power of Democrats was reflected by the election of Susana Mendoza, the Chicago city clerk, to be state comptroller. She ousted Republican Leslie Munger, a cosmetics executive appointed after Judy Baar Topinka died a month after being elected to a second term in 2014.

But there are signs, especially down our way, that a rightward political shift continues.

Southern Illinois remains without a Democrat in Congress, after C.J. Baricevic’s failure to topple first-term Republican Mike Bost for the seat previously held by Democrats for 70 years. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, easily won re-election, and Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, didn’t even have an opponent.

Those were predictable, but several other developments were not.

Baricevic’s father, John Baricevic, one of the most powerful Democrats in St. Clair County for 36 years as state’s attorney, county board chairman and circuit judge, was dumped from office.

Obviously wary of danger at the polls, Baricevic and two other Democratic judges resigned and filed for election to the same jobs in a trick that survived a legal challenge. Instead of requiring 60 percent approval in a yes-no retention vote, they merely needed more votes than a Republican opponent.

Baricevic narrowly lost to Ron Duebbert, an outcome that for decades would have been unthinkable. Baricevic’s home support could not overcome the other four less-populous but quite red counties in the 20th Circuit. (He lost 61 percent to 33 percent in Monroe County, for example, and 53 percent to 38 percent in Randolph County.)

St. Clair County Circuit Clerk Kahalah Clay, a Democrat, defeated challenger Dallas Cook, a Republican who is Belleville city clerk and went to court trying to block Baricevic’s retention avoidance.

Clay was one of two Democrats seeking county office — the other being Angela L. Grossmann-Roewe, running for the Board of Review — who ran behind Republicans in the bulk of St. Clair County but were saved by the ballots counted separately in East St. Louis.

Clay and Grossmann-Roewe received 45 percent and 46 percent respectively of the county-counted votes but 81 and 80 percent of the votes from East St. Louis. 

Score those as a sign of a strengthening St. Clair County GOP.

Now let’s pop up to Madison County, where Democrat Alan Dunstan has been on the county board for three decades, and chairman for 14 years.

It was an especially bitter pill for him to lose to Republican Kurt Prenzler, the county treasurer. Prenzler, elected after a Democratic treasurer went to prison for fixing delinquent tax sales, had embarked on a reform agenda that produced almost continual partisan sniping.

Voters also provided Prenzler with a smoother road, shifting the board’s 18-10 Democratic majority to a 15-13 GOP advantage.

Score two big ones for the Metro East Republicans.

Yet in all those cases, the effect on any particular resident is minuscule.

The real action, or inaction, in Illinois is in Springfield, where state officials face seemingly insurmountable financial problems.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is midway through his first term as governor, and Democrats maintain a strong legislative majority. They did lose four seats in the House, dropping their advantage to 67-51 — short of the former three-fifths that could override a veto. They also lost two state Senate seats but remained veto-proof there.

Democrat Michael Madigan won re-election in his Chicago House district, of course, ensuring two more years as iron-fisted speaker of that chamber after already serving 31 of the past 33 years in that role.

I fear more gridlock on state spending that is billions of dollars out of balance, with perhaps $9 billion in unpaid bills and well beyond $100 billion in pension under-funding. Rauner will continue to block any escape route (tax increase) that does not include pro-business reforms; Madigan will continue to block such provisions as anti-labor.

My big question for 2018 is whether Rauner, a very rich businessman and not a politician, will want to stick around. This mess cannot be fun for a guy who certainly can afford happier diversions.

It reminds me a bit of Peter Fitzgerald, another rich Republican who in 1999 put his money behind winning what is now to be Duckworth’s Senate seat. He alienated a lot of Republicans, seemed to bore of his prize and just walked away at the end of his term.

And hey, Fitzgerald didn’t need smoke and mirrors to keep the statehouse lights on, or have to wake up every morning and face Madigan.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this column mistakenly reported that St. Clair County Circuit Clerk Kahalah Clay had lost her bid for re-election.

Pat Gauen is a former assistant metro editor, public safety, for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.