State Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez (D-Cicero) is the new leader of the Illinois State Democratic Party. On Saturday the Democratic State Central Committee unanimously elected Hernandez, the Democratic State Central Committeewoman from the 4th Congressional District, to succeed Congresswoman Robin Kelly as the chairperson of the central committee. Hernandez is the first Latina to lead the state Democratic Party.
Hernandez’s state representative district includes a small slice of the southern part of Riverside, the Hollywood neighborhood and much of Brookfield.
Although the vote to elect Hernandez was unanimous on Saturday the race to lead the Democratic Central Committee was contentious. Last year Kelly was selected, over the opposition of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, to succeed Mike Madigan, who led the party for many years. Madigan resigned as party leader after he resigned from the General Assembly as he was facing a federal investigation that eventually saw him indicted on corruption charges.
Kelly, who had the strong support of Sen. Richard Durbin, had wanted a full four-year term as party leader but dropped out of the race less than 24 hours before the vote after realizing that Hernandez, who was supported by Pritzker and current House Speaker Chris Welch, had the votes to win. Kelly’s withdrawal came soon after Cong. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the 4th District state central committeeman who had supported Kelly last year, and three other Latino committee members announced that they would support Hernandez. Each congressional district in Illinois elects a committeeman and committeewoman in the primary election. In the June primary Pritzker financed and backed some candidates for the central committee who ousted members that had supported Kelly last year.
In an attempt to promote unity and heal wounds Hernandez issued a generous statement after her selection.
“I have deep respect and admiration for Cong. Robin Kelly and appreciate everything she has done to support Illinois Democrats,” Hernandez’s statement said. “I’ve spoken with Cong. Kelly and we are both ready to move forward in a united fashion. The Democratic Party of Illinois is a big tent rife with opportunity and I am excited and energized to take the helm. Over the coming weeks, I plan to sit down with every member of the State Central Committee, our executive branch candidates, Democratic caucus leaders, committees for the two Democratic Supreme Court candidates, members of DPI staff, and other stakeholders to ensure their vision for our party is incorporated into the apparatus we will build to hold Republicans accountable and win in November. It is the honor of my life to lead this party and I will not let Illinois down.”
Hernandez was first elected to the General Assembly in 2006. She has been a low-key legislator who has been a loyal lieutenant to both Madigan and Welch. She serves as an assistant majority leader in the Illinois House of Representatives and recently chaired the chamber’s all important redistricting committee. Her husband Charles served as the Cicero Township Democratic Committeeman from 1998 until 2018 when he was defeated in a bid for another term. He is a long time Metra employee. Hernandez has a progressive voting record and has maintained good ties with progressive Democrats.
As a member of Congress Kelly was constrained by federal laws in the fund raising that she could do for the state Democratic Party. That was a main reason why Pritzker and others didn’t think that she was the right person to lead the party. As a state legislator Hernandez is not encumbered by those federal fundraising restrictions. Leading the state Democratic Party is mostly a fundraising and symbolic position although Hernandez now will have significant power to dictate which candidates get party funds.