I had the pleasure of meeting several Democratic women candidates from Lake County during the Illinois State Fair last summer. Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, was showing them around town and brought them to a reception I was attending. We chatted for a while before they went on their merry way.
“Merry” is actually an understatement. Those candidates were positively joyful. Only one had ever run for something before. The rest felt compelled to get involved after the 2016 election.
Sen. Bush brought 10 women with her to Springfield and she said four of them went on to win their respective races. Well, maybe three, but Bush is optimistic that Mary Edley-Allen will wind up defeating appointed Rep. Helene Miller Walsh, R-Mundelein. Edley-Allen is ahead by two votes as I write this, with more to count.
Joyce Mason, the only candidate who’d run for office before and who defeated Rep. Sheri Jesiel by more than 1,000 votes, was also at the event, as were two county board candidates who appear to have won, Jessica Vealitzek and Julie Simpson. The county board flipped from Republican to Democratic control for the first time and those two candidates were crucial to that effort. Two other women candidates who didn’t make the trip to Springfield both won countywide races, Robin O'Connor (clerk) and Holly Kim (treasurer).
Sen. Bush helped found an organization called the Lake County Democratic Independent Women on Oct. 30, 2017. She said she sent out some e-mails and started a Facebook page.
Women came out of the woodwork after the 2016 election and Bush wanted to help them focus their enthusiasm on actually winning races and then holding on to those seats. The group has an office and a field director and members meet once a month. A “pink wave” garden party fundraiser pulled in $15,000.
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When Bush first won her own Senate seat in 2012, her district and both of its attached House districts were held by Republicans. Now, with Rep. Jesiel’s defeat, all three legislators are Democratic.
Things are definitely changing in Lake County, but they didn’t necessarily change on their own. The House Democrats did their part by pumping in tons of money and staff over the months, but Mason was also helped by that independent women’s group. The House Democrats got into the Miller Walsh race late, but Edley-Allen had taken the group’s training and had already been walking precincts for months. “These were areas where we weren't supposed to win,” Bush said.
Bush said she doesn’t just want to help people win elections, “I want to help them be really good representatives.” She said her advice to all candidates is that they shouldn’t be thinking how their voting record in Springfield or on the county board would get them reelected. Hard work back in the district will pay greater dividends. “The harder you work, the luckier you get,” she said.
Bush said 13 women have signed up for training in the upcoming municipal elections. “I'd like to see more of these in both parties,” she said of her organization.
I couldn't agree more.