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OUR VIEW: Voters should do the vetting in primaries

THE ISSUE: Bernal: Madigan behind Yednock campaign
OUR VIEW: State parties still have too big of a role in local races
 
A primary is supposed to give voters in their respective parties the opportunity to nominate the candidates they want to run in the general election.
Illinois' power brokers, however, don't want to take any chances of giving up their hold, even within their own party.
Democratic state representative candidate Jill Bernal said state party leaders asked her to step out of the primary race when she couldn't promise support for House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Her story is only the latest example of Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner's proxy war in the 76th District.
Keep in mind, as chairman of the party, Madigan controls the money that goes out to candidates.
After her primary opponent Lance Yednock entered the race, Bernal said a Democratic state representative asked her to leave the contest. After the holidays, she received a series of calls with the same request. Her answer stayed the same.
On Jan. 15, Bernal said she met with Yednock and a high-ranking state official at a Spring Valley attorney's office. She again was asked to end her campaign.
Bernal told The Times on Thursday she would vote against Madigan for speaker.
It's been years since any Democratic representative has voted against Madigan; one abstained in 2017.
"Going door to door, I don't even have to ask people about the speaker. They overwhelmingly tell me that we need new leadership in Springfield. I don't hear about the governor. I hear about the speaker," Bernal said.
Her primary opponent Yednock has claimed endorsements from Democrat-allied unions and received nearly $200,000 in donations, mostly from organized labor. He has not answered the question of whether he would vote for Madigan, saying instead "I don’t know the speaker." Capitol Fax blogger Rich Miller also noted Madigan recently sent precinct workers to help Yednock.
A state party taking sides in a primary is nothing new to the 76th District.
In the GOP primary two years ago, Rep. Jerry Long and two state Republican officials met with Long's primary opponent, Jacob Bramel, at an Ottawa bar. They asked Bramel to leave the race in return for the possibility of job opportunities. Bramel refused and went public about the meeting, accusing Long of bowing to the "political machine." 
Long has no primary opponents this time around.
In that same 2017 race, Democrat Andy Skoog was vetted along with a number of candidates to succeed longtime representative Frank Mautino.
The race was characterized by big money spent on political mailers both local candidates denounced. The rhetoric focused on Madigan or Rauner, depending on which side was on the attack. The candidates seldom said things beyond party talking points.
This blossoming trend should concern voters in the 76th District, because it's a sign the state's power brokers are pushing their own policy, rather than letting local representation take its course.
A state representative should champion their district's views. And a primary, for that matter, should allow voters to do the vetting on their own, without parties tipping the scales.
Credit should go to Bramel previously and Bernal now for their persistence in giving voters their own choice against party wishes.
If Illinois is ever going to move on from business as usual, it will need candidates to challenge the status quo, and ultimately give voters the option to make the final call.

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