By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) is one of 588 candidates running in this year’s Illinois primary election. But with less than two weeks to go until ballots are cast, the well-funded 18-term legislator is nearly guaranteed to win.
The Illinois House Majority Leader — who has held office since 1979 — is running unopposed in the Democratic primary; if she’s lucky she’ll face no general election opponent either: last January, the sole Republican candidate, Juan Antonio Diaz, was kicked off the ballot for having too few signatures. The party must now slate a new candidate between the primary and June to oppose her.
“In the primary, what it means is that I do not have to spend quantities of money introducing myself to the voters through slick campaign brochures,” Currie said, adding that “I’m not likely to turn up at neighborhood bus stops and L stations certainly between now and March 18.”
“This is definitely what most analysts would call a safe Democratic seat,” Currie said.
Currie called the upcoming state budget “the most important priority” and said she is focusing this year on strengthening retirement security in the private sector and reforming the criminal justice system, including by passing a bill that would offer parole to inmates serving life who were sentenced as juveniles.
Like 26th State Representative candidate Jay Travis and incumbent Christian Mitchell, Currie supports education finance reform that reduces reliance on property taxes, although she remains on the fence about elected school boards, citing the potential for “fiefdoms that may end up with decisions that are more reflective of the politics of a particular neighborhood.”
Yet unlike her 26th District counterparts, Currie has little need for campaign cash to defend her positions from attack. Still, she has a lot of it: Her campaign’s last quarterly financial disclosure, filed on Jan. 19, revealed access to more than $215,000. This election cycle alone, Currie has raised $41,000 in donations worth $1,000 or more each.
The 31 donations have come primarily from political action committees (PACs), unions and corporations. Out of this group, Currie’s top five donors are Comcast ($4,500), the Chicagoland Operators Joint Management-Labor PAC ($4,000), Ameren Illinois ($3,500), the Chicago Teachers Union PAC ($3,500) and Illinois CPAs for Political Action ($3,000). Last November, Currie’s campaign also accepted a $1,000 donation from Altria Client Services, a subsidiary of cigarette and food manufacturer Altria Group.
Currie was unfazed by the donation.
“I have a pretty clear record, and I have consistently stood with consumers and with public health advocates against big tobacco. And if tobacco interests want to go ahead and fund my campaign — dandy,” Currie said.
Currie said campaign funds will be used on publicity, as well as getting other Democrats elected. Though her campaign has not contributed to Rep. Mitchell’s 2014 re-election, Currie — a staunch supporter — said that this fall “I would hope to be able to help a few good Democrats who are seeking seats in the Illinois House.”
In the meanwhile, Chicago Republicans are trying to make sure Currie doesn’t waltz to re-election. But if the past is any indication, Currie is likely to remain the state’s second longest-serving lawmaker and the House Majority Leader, whether or not she faces a general election opponent for the first time since 2006.
“There’s no guarantees,” said Chicago Republican Party Vice Chairman Chris Cleveland of adding a Republican candidate to the ballot, which will only be permitted once the March 18 primary is over. “Our goal is to have someone vetted and ready to go by that date.”