CHICAGO – The new year will be one of big decisions in Illinois, from whether voters give Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner a second term to whether tech giant Amazon chooses the state for its second headquarters and some 50,000 new jobs. Some high-profile court cases and a tribute to the nation’s first black president also will move forward.
Here’s a preview of what 2018 holds:
All statewide offices will be on the ballot Nov. 8, but no contest will be as fevered – or costly – as the governor’s race.
Democratic candidates including billionaire J.B. Pritzker, wealthy businessman Chris Kennedy and state Sen. Daniel Biss are seeking their party’s nomination in the March 20 primary, when Rauner also faces a GOP primary challenge from conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives. Already, the candidates are raising and spending money at a pace that could make this the most expensive governor’s race in U.S. history.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s unexpected announcement that she won’t seek a fifth term created a crowded Democratic primary for that office.
Some congressional races also will be closely watched. Several Democrats are vying for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Chicago, who’s retiring.
And Republican Congressman Peter Roskam will try to hold his seat representing suburban Chicago, a district Democrats are eyeing as one of the party’s best chances to gain a seat in the U.S. House after voters there supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.
FIGHT FOR AMAZON, JOBS
With slow job growth and a dwindling population, Illinois has joined dozens of other states in trying to lure Amazon’s new second headquarters, and the promised 50,000 jobs and at least $5 billion in construction spending.
The tech giant is expected to announce the location of its so-called HQ2 sometime in 2018, and competition is stiff, with nearly 250 proposals from the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Officials in Chicago and with the state of Illinois are working together on a bid, touting 10 potential locations in the Chicago area. That includes two in the city’s downtown core, with one offering space in the Willis Tower. Officials have declined to release details on possible tax breaks and incentives.
Separately, the state is cooperating on a pitch for Missouri, which could benefit economically depressed areas in downstate Illinois.
After years of raucous political fighting over a state budget, Illinois begins the New Year with a spending plan but very little activity. The House of Representatives has scheduled just 16 session days – and the Senate, 18 – in the first 11 weeks of 2018.
That’s because a potentially rowdier fight awaits: November’s general election, when each seat in the House is on the ballot, along with one-third of the Senate’s. The legislative election is particularly important this year because the party controlling the General Assembly and the governor’s office controls 2020’s once-a-decade redraw of the boundaries for congressional and legislative districts.
First, candidates in many districts must compete in the March primary. After that dust settles, taxpayers will expect legislators and Rauner to craft a budget. An income-tax increase last summer by Democrats who hold legislative majorities, aided by rebellious Republicans, gave Illinois its first budget since Rauner took office in 2015. But the gale-force political winds are likely to force re-entrenchment on both sides despite a continuing debt of billions of dollars.
IN THE COURTS
Among those who could go on trial in 2018 is former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock. The 36-year-old Peoria Republican’s trial on corruption charges was supposed to start Jan. 22. But a federal judge delayed it while defense lawyers ask a federal appellate court to dismiss the more than 20-count indictment.
The trial of Brendt Christensen is set for Feb. 27. The 28-year-old is charged in the kidnapping of Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old University of Illinois scholar from China whose June disappearance drew media interest nationally and from China. Investigators believe Zhang dead, though her body hasn’t been found.
Just how police reforms will be carried out in Chicago is another battle that will largely play out in federal court. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office – with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s blessing – filed a lawsuit in August calling for strict court supervision of any reform process. A separate suit seeks to force the city to engage community groups in drawing up police-reform details.
Construction is expected to start on Barack Obama’s presidential center in Chicago.
During several stops in his hometown in 2017 the former president said instead of a traditional library, the center close to where Obama began his political career and raised his family will be a hub of activity for youth and could include a recording studio, test kitchen and athletic center. Doors could open as early as 2021.
“The best things that have happened to me in my life, happened in this community,” the Democrat said at a May meeting about the center, adding it “had to be right here on the South Side of Chicago.”