Researcher says it is uncommon for teacher unions to support downstate Republicans

Teachers unions across the country have been actively supporting Republican candidates in state legislative primary campaigns, including the race for the 102nd Illinois House seat between incumbent state Rep. Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, and primary challenger Jim Acklin. These unions have donated significant amounts of money to back their preferred candidates in an effort to influence the outcome of the election.

Acklin’s campaign has received a total of $103,500 in funding from the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois PAC for Education. Currently, the campaign has $116,000 in cash on hand, as reported by Illinois Sunshine, a campaign fund tracker.

Niemerg accused the teacher unions of finding a candidate who would do their bidding. He claimed that they were spreading falsehoods and misinformation about him, spending a significant amount of money in the process. Niemerg firmly believed that this was all part of the unions’ efforts to indoctrinate students in the classrooms. According to him, the people in southeast Illinois were tired of these tactics and were determined to put an end to it.

Niemerg’s political fund currently has $121,840 in cash on hand.

In the 2021-2022 election cycle, teachers unions’ political action committees have contributed over $4 million to Democrats, while only $24,000 has been donated to Republicans nationwide, according to data from Open Secrets. Sarah Bryner, the director of research and strategy at Open Secrets, stated that it is uncommon to witness substantial amounts of money being directed towards Republican primary races.

According to Bryner, unions generally support candidates who they believe are sympathetic to their causes. He explains that unions are more likely to get involved in Democratic primaries because that’s where most of the political action takes place. Once the general election arrives, Democrats are usually already the front-runners, so unions tend to focus their support on the Democratic candidates.

Acklin, the superintendent of Chrisman Schools, ran against Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, in the 2016 election for the 110th Illinois House District. Wilhour’s primary opponent in this year’s election, Matthew Hall, also received $35,000 from the Illinois Federation of Teachers and $65,861 from IPACE.

Wihour’s campaign fund currently holds $147,384 in cash, while Hall’s fund boasts a larger sum of $210,461.

Acklin and Hall did not respond to requests for comment when The Center Square reached out to them.

In the 102nd House District, voters will not find any candidate listed on the ballot. Instead, they will have the opportunity to write in their preferred candidate, with Niemerg and Acklin being the potential choices. However, as of now, there is no Democratic challenger for this district.

According to Niemerg, he believes that even if the Democrats were to nominate a candidate to run against him, it would not make a difference. He feels that there is already a Democrat running against him in the primary.

Reform for Illinois, a non-profit organization that advocates for a more ethical Illinois government, has observed a notable absence of competition in the 2024 primary. Alisa Kaplan, the Executive Director, suggests that the growing polarization among political candidates may play a role in this phenomenon.

According to Kaplan, individuals and political parties have firmly entrenched themselves in certain positions, leaving little room for a diverse range of ideas and perspectives on various issues.

Kaplan mentioned that her organization, Illinois Sunshine, has observed funds from the Chicago Teachers Union being directed towards the Illinois 20th Senate District race in order to back Graciela Guzman, a kindergarten teacher. The campaign, known as Gente for Graciela Guzman, has amassed a total of $583,155. Notably, Guzman has recently garnered the endorsement of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont.

Guzman has received some financial support, although not as much as the significant funding that was allocated for Mayor Brandon Johnson’s campaign. However, they face a formidable opponent in Senate President Don Harmon, who has invested over $1.5 million into the campaign of incumbent state Sen. Natalie Toro.

Toro, D-Chicago, has a campaign fund of $2 million, with a significant contribution of $1.7 million coming from the Illinois Senate Democrats Fund.

According to Kaplan, the difficulty in running for office could be a contributing factor to the lack of competition. She emphasized that running for office, especially in Illinois, requires a significant amount of funding. Additionally, Kaplan noted that the Democratic party often has substantial financial resources to support their preferred candidate.

In the upcoming primary election, there are only two contested state senate seats held by Democrats.

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