DES PLAINES, Illinois — State Rep. Marty Moylan tells voters he's not your typical Democrat as he bikes from house to house on the campaign trail, handing out yard signs, nail files and doggie treats with his name emblazoned on the bag.
"I'm an independent running as a Democrat, that's my philosophy here," said the former Des Plaines mayor, who argues his "fiscally conservative and socially compassionate" message resonates in his district in Chicago's northwest suburbs.
His seat is one of several Democrats view as critical to maintaining their veto-proof supermajority in the Illinois House this fall. Because of that, he is getting significant help in his campaign from Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, including a campaign strategist and half of his $800,000 war chest.
Moylan's opponent, Republican Mel Thillens, of Park Ridge, received the majority of his $250,000 from the Illinois Republicans. Businessman Bruce Rauner, who is trying to unseat Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, has contributed to numerous Republican legislative candidates and donated millions of dollars to the state party in an effort to break the Democrats' veto-proof majority.
"One party rule in Illinois has resulted in the second highest property taxes in the country, record income tax hikes, the worst job growth prospects in the Midwest and rampant corruption. Bruce is committed to ending that in November," said Mike Schrimpf, a Rauner spokesman.
The Democrats secured a one-vote supermajority, 71 of House 118 seats, two years ago. While the caucus members don't always vote alike, maintaining the margin could be of even greater importance to the Democratic leadership if Rauner is successful against Quinn and able to veto legislation. Democrats in the state Senate have an even larger veto-proof supermajority, 40 of 59 seats, with far less risk of losing it.
At stake in the sessions ahead is the fate of the state's public pension overhaul if it's thrown out in court and whether to extend the state's temporary income tax hike, which is set to roll back in January. Rauner opposes both the Democrats' approved pension fix and Quinn's proposal to extend the tax hike.
Moylan's bid for a second term against Thillens, who runs an armored car company, is one of several competitive House races in the moderate, independent-voting Chicago suburbs. In the Quad Cities area, Democratic Rep. Mike Smiddy of Hillsdale is being challenged by Republican Rock Island attorney Jim Wozniak, and in Kankakee, Democratic Rep. Kate Cloonen is facing Bourbonnais Republican Glenn Nixon, a police officer.
Also in play are three open seats vacated by retiring incumbents in Chicago's collar counties and another in deep southern Illinois.
While acknowledging the speaker's typical efforts to help his caucus members, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown played down the importance of a supermajority, noting that it was not united enough last session on a number of issues. House Democrats failed to muster enough votes to pass the tax hike extension or a special tax on millionaires to fund education.
But Mike Lawrence, a former director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, argued added control of the House and state policy are important to Madigan, who has controlled the chamber for all but two of the last 30 years.
"The larger the majority, the more flexibility he has in passing bills that may be controversial," Lawrence said. "It's a matter of pride to him."
The four campaign accounts controlled by Madigan have disbursed more than $4.65 million to House candidates in the general election as of Oct. 21, records show. House Republicans have spent $3.3 million on candidates, through donations from three main campaign funds.
Records show Thillens has received a majority of his $250,000 in direct donations from the state Republican party and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. He has received at least another $200,000 of outside help from conservative supporters.
The state's financial crisis has been a backdrop for most of the campaigns. Moylan emphasizes his opposition to the tax increase extension, which he says illustrates his independence from Madigan despite the contributions. But, he acknowledges he voted for an underfunded Democratic budget that Thillens and other Republicans criticize as "irresponsible" as they try to unseat him.
"If we get just one seat away from Michael Madigan, we break the supermajority," Thillens said.