Rep. Lisa Hernandez becomes Illinois Democratic Party’s first Latino woman chair.


The vote for the state Representative Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez as the Illinois Democratic Party‘ the first Latino leader on Saturday morning was unanimous and uneventful — the drama had unfolded in a power struggle by some of the state’s most prominent Democrats in the days prior.

Hernandez was supported by Governor JB Pritzker and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch. She served with Welch in 2020 on a special investigative committee of House Speaker Michael Madigan, who chose not to take action against the speaker over his alleged role in a year-long bribery scheme with a public utility. A few months later, Madigan was charged.

The new DPI chairman continued to play a prominent role in the redistribution process in last year’s General Assembly, chairing the House of Representatives‘ redistribution committee and frequently blocking requests as to what data was used to draw new maps. Ultimately, the Democrats passed the new maps on a partisan line.

The 34 members of the Central Committee of the Democratic State — one man and one woman for each of the state’s 17 congressional districts — voted them over the outgoing chairman robin kelly, supported by US Senator Dick Durbin.

Kelly withdraws from the contest for the state presidency

Kelly, a congresswoman from the suburb of Matteson, withdrew from the race less than 24 hours earlier after it was revealed Hernandez had received the required number of votes to replace her.

Kelly was elected chair just over 16 months ago in an equally close and contentious race between her and Pritzker’s chosen nominee, Chicago Ald. Michelle Harris. She has continued to receive strong support from some members of the state Central Committee this year and has received high praise from state members.

Hernandez praised Kelly in a statement, and the couple briefly hugged before the meeting began. But the fact that neither Kelly nor Hernandez answered questions from the media underscored the fact that battle wounds may still be fresh.

“I have deep respect and admiration for Congresswoman Robin Kelly and appreciate everything she has done to support the Illinois Democrats. I’ve spoken to Congresswoman Kelly and we’re both ready to move forward together,” Hernandez said, reading aloud from a prepared written statement before leaving without answering media questions.

Kelly also read from a prepared statement as she chaired her final meeting as DPI chair.

“When I was elected to this position last year, one of the first things I did was get in my car and drive south for a listening tour,” she said. “I heard a lot on that first listening tour, but what struck me the most was how many people would come up to me and say things that said, ‘I’ve never seen anyone from the state party here, let alone the chair. ‘ People got so excited just to feel like their party saw them, heard them and cared enough to show up for them.

Kelly took over after former Speaker Madigan, who ran the party from 1998 until February last year. Madigan has often been criticized for the party’s lack of outreach and for using the party primarily to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives. He resigned after failing to win re-election as Speaker in January 2021.

Some of the committee members who serve upstate congressional districts said Friday that when Kelly became chairman, it was the first time they felt involved with the party.

Peter Janko, McHenry County committee member in the 11thth Congressional District said Kelly’s leadership was “like a brand new day.” Terry Redman of DeWitt County in the 15thth congressional district, had similar feelings.

“Finally, Downstate Illinois has gotten some attention, and it’s all because of you,” he said as he thanked Kelly for her efforts as chair. “And I very much hope that this will continue.”

After the meeting, Redman said he spoke to Hernandez, who told him she was determined to continue paying attention to the Downstate.

“Let’s put it this way, the area is too big to write off,” Redman said. “So I think we’ll do well under the new leadership.”

State Assemblyman Will Davis, a Hazel Crest Democrat and a member of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, said he didn’t like how the race was played out on a racial basis and how the governor worked so hard to bolster support for the ouster of Kelly, who Party to win first black women’s chair.

“Obviously I’m still concerned about where the party is going and I’ve shared this with the new chairmen that there are still some racial issues that need to be addressed and she needs to work hard and figure out how to fix those fences.” , he said.

Pritzker’s camp maintained throughout the race that his opposition to Kelly’s re-election centered on the fact that she was a federal officer, which meant she was not legally permitted to raise funds to directly support state candidates.

“Look, what we’re trying to achieve, I think all of us who care about the Democratic Party, is making sure we have representatives from all the different constituencies and making sure we have a leadership that can achieve those goals, we want to beat the Republicans and make sure the party does what it needs to do,” Pritzker said at a news conference Friday morning.

Davis accused the governor of “twisting their arms” and said while “money and politics reared their ugly head,” Democrats must now work to unite to support the November nominees.

It’s something Hernandez promised in her brief statement.

Hernandez promises to seek unity

“I plan to sit down with each member of the state central committee, our executive nominees, the leaders of the Democratic faction, the committees for the two nominees for the Democratic Supreme Court, members of the DPI staff and other stakeholders to make sure “That her vision for our party will be considered in the apparatus we will build to hold Republicans accountable and win in November,” she said.

State Senator Cristina Castro, an Elgin Democrat and the committeewoman who nominated Hernandez for chairman at Saturday’s party meeting, likened the fight to a contentious primary.

She and three other members of the Latino Central Committee pledged their support to Hernandez Friday afternoon, in what seemed to seal Hernandez’s race at the time.

“We heard both candidates,” she said. “We looked at the vision for the party and our colleague Lisa Hernandez had the vision of the big tent for everyone. …So that’s what we went for in the end, and we didn’t take your decision lightly.”

Pritzker congratulated Hernandez in a statement Saturday afternoon and thanked Kelly for his service.

“Leader Hernandez is a woman of integrity who is passionate about fighting for working families, promoting diversity and inclusion, and helping all Illinois residents thrive,” he said. “I know she will keep our party unity, and I am confident that she can work with the state Central Committee to elect Democrats at all levels of government – both in this midterm election and beyond.”

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service that covers the state government and is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is primarily funded by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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