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COLUMN: Windy City guides Illinois politics

Politicians in rural Illinois don't hurt themselves by chastising Chicago.

If I got a nickel for every time a state lawmaker south of Interstate 80 badmouthed Chicago, I'm not sure how much money I'd have. But I'd surely upset the cashier at McDonald's with all the accumulated nickels paying for a Big Mac meal.

We've heard the accusations plenty of times: The Windy City is taking more than its share of state money. Chicagoans are trying to impose their gun restrictions on the rest of us. Cook County corruption is killing the state.

Given such rhetoric, one would assume local politicians would chart their own course, independent of their big-city counterparts. But that's not what happens. They often follow the direction of Chicagoland politicians.

In the local state representative election in 2016, both parties paved the way for their preferred candidates.

After longtime Rep. Frank Mautino resigned in late 2015 to become state auditor general, the state Democratic Party — led by House Speaker Michael Madigan — vetted candidates before deciding on La Salle County's circuit clerk, Andy Skoog. Other potential candidates politely stepped aside. Skoog was the establishment's man.

On the GOP side, Jerry Long, R-Streator, joined state GOP operatives at Ottawa's Shakers Lounge trying to convince his lone primary opponent, Jacob Bramel, to withdraw, promising Bramel a bright future in the party if he did so. In what became known as the "Shakedown at Shakers," Bramel rejected the offer and, soon after, told The Times about the meeting. Long was the establishment's man.

To be sure, no candidate in his right mind will portray himself as the pawn of party brokers. Indeed, most candidates get into politics with good intentions. They want to remain independent, letting their conscience guide them.

Unfortunately, a candidate rarely gets far in politics without money. So gaining party establishment support is a big leg up. In last year's election, more than $3 million poured into Long's and Skoog's coffers — much of which came from their party organizations. The result: Stacks of largely deceptive attack mailers from both parties.

This year, the party establishments have chosen their candidates for governor. The Republican Party, largely funded by multimillionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner, is unofficially backing his re-election bid. When you visit the state GOP's website's homepage, you see a photo of a smiling Rauner in his working man costume smiling with a man in hard hat. No such photo of his GOP opponent, state Rep. Jeanne Ives.

On the Democratic side, the establishment has anointed billionaire J.B. Pritzker as its candidate. He has received dozens of union endorsements, as well as the backing of the Cook County Democratic Party. And just a few days ago, both of the state's Democratic U.S. senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, announced their support. Speaker Madigan himself rarely openly endorses candidates, but political observers say he is squarely behind Pritzker. (The other candidates are Chris Kennedy, Daniel Biss, Bob Daiber, Tio Hardiman, Robert Marshall and Terry Getz.)

Next year's governor's election is shaping up as a battle between the Republican rich guy versus the Democratic rich guy. At least that's what the politicians and pundits want you to believe. All that needs to happen is for voters to go along, following the direction of the party establishments, which are largely based in — where? — Chicagoland.

Funny how that works.

David Giuliani is a reporter for The Times. His weekly column "As It Is" expands upon regular news coverage by adding his insight and ideas. He can be reached at 815-431-4041 or Follow him on Twitter at @tt_dgiuliani.

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