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Illinois Senate career of Barack Obama

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Illinois Senate career of Barack Obama

Barack Obama
Member of the Illinois Senate
from the 13th district
In office
January 8, 1997 – November 4, 2004
Preceded by Alice J. Palmer
Succeeded by Kwame Raoul
Personal details
Born (1961-08-04) August 4, 1961
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Michelle Obama (m. 1992)
Children Malia Ann (b. 1998),
Natasha ("Sasha") (b. 2001)
Residence (Kenwood), Chicago, Illinois
Alma mater Harvard Law School
Columbia University
Occidental College
Profession Attorney / Politician
Website Barack Obama—U.S. Senator for Illinois
This article is part of a series about
Barack Obama

President of the United States

First Term

Second Term

The Illinois Senate career of Barack Obama began in with the 1997 swearing in of Obama to his first term in the Illinois Senate and ended with his 2004 election to the United States Senate. During this part of his career, Obama continued teaching constitutional law part-time at the University of Chicago Law School as he had done as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996 and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996–2008.[1][2][3]

In 1994, Senator Alice Palmer announced her desire to run for the United States House of Representatives, leaving the Senate's 13th district seat open. When filing opened in 1995 for her seat, Obama entered the race. Eventually, his challengers were disqualified and he won the Democratic primary unopposed in 1996. He won re-election in 1998 and 2002. During his Senate tenure, Obama was involved with a wide range of legislation. While serving, he ran unsuccessfully for the United States House of Representatives in the 2000 elections. In the redistricting following 2000 Census, the Democrats gained control of the Illinois Senate, and Obama became more active in his legislation, which included work in areas such as health care, labor, law enforcement, campaign finance reform, welfare, and community reinvestment.

State elections

First state Senate election, 1996

On November 21, 1994, Senator Alice Palmer, a Democrat of Chicago's South Shore neighborhood announced she was launching a campaign committee to raise funds to run in 1996 for the 2nd congressional district seat of indicted U.S. Representative Mel Reynolds, and suggested that 29-year-old Jesse Jackson, Jr. run for her 13th district Illinois Senate seat in 1996 instead of running against her for Congress.[4][5]

On June 27, 1995, Palmer announced she was running for Congress and would be giving up her Senate seat instead of running for re-election in 1996.[6] The following week, newspapers reported that Palmer-supporter Barack Obama of Hyde Park—who had been announced as chairman of the $49.2 million Chicago Annenberg Challenge on June 22 and whose memoir Dreams from My Father would be published on July 18—would announce he was running for Palmer's 13th district seat,[7][8] which was then a T-shaped district that spanned Chicago South Side neighborhoods from Hyde Park-Kenwood south through South Shore and from the lakefront west through Chicago Lawn.[9]

On September 11, 1995, Governor Jim Edgar set November 28 as the date for a special primary election to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Mel Reynolds following his August 1995 conviction.[10] On September 19, Obama announced his Illinois Senate candidacy to an audience of 200 supporters at the Ramada Inn Lakeshore in Hyde Park-Kenwood.[11] Palmer introduced and endorsed Obama as her successor to supporters that included 4th Ward Alderwoman Toni Preckwinkle of Hyde Park, newly elected 5th Ward Alderwoman Barbara Holt of Hyde Park, and state Representative Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25) of Hyde Park.[11]

On November 7, 1995, Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, died of metastatic uterine cancer at the age of 52 in Honolulu.[12] Obama arrived in Hawaii the following day, remained for his mother's memorial service and returned to Chicago soon after.[12] On November 28, after finishing a distant third in the special congressional primary election won by Jesse Jackson, Jr., a disappointed Palmer announced she wouldn't seek re-election and was undecided about again challenging Jackson in the March 1996 primary.[13][14]

On December 11, 1995—the first filing day for nominating petitions—Obama filed his nominating petitions with more than 3,000 signatures; perennially unsuccessful candidate Ulmer Lynch, Jr., also filed nominating petitions.[15] On December 18—the last filing day for nominating petitions—Palmer held a press conference to announce she was running for re-election to the Senate, accepting a draft by more than 100 supporters.[16] Palmer then drove to Springfield to file her nominating petitions; also filing nominating petitions on the last filing day were first-time candidates Gha-is Askia and Marc Ewell.[16] On December 26, Obama campaign volunteer Ron Davis filed objections to the legitimacy of the nominating petitions of Senator Palmer, Askia, Ewell and Lynch.[17][18]

On January 17, 1996, Palmer announced she was withdrawing her bid for re-election because she was around 200 signatures short of the 757 needed to earn a place on the ballot after almost two-thirds of the 1,580 signatures on her nominating petitions were found to be invalid.[18][19] The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners had previously sustained an objection to the nominating petitions of Lynch because of insufficient valid signatures and subsequently also sustained objections to the nominating petitions of Askia and Ewell because of insufficient valid signatures.[18][19]

Obama therefore won the Democratic nomination unopposed.[20] On November 5, Obama won the race for the 13th Senate district, with 82 percent of the vote; perennial unsuccessful Harold Washington Party candidate David Whitehead (13%) and first-time Republican Party candidate Rosette Caldwell Peyton (5%) also ran.[21]

Second state Senate election, 1998

Obama was up for reelection in 1998; Illinois state senators serve one two-year term and two four-year terms each decade. In the March 17 primary, Obama won re-nomination unopposed, and first-time candidate Yesse Yehudah won the Republican nomination unopposed.[22] At the November 3 general election, Obama was re-elected to a four-year term as state senator for the 13th district with 89% of the vote; Yehudah received 11% of the vote.[23]

Third state Senate election, 2002

Obama won both the March 19 Democratic primary election[24] and November 5, 2002 general election[25] for the newly configured 13th district unopposed.

Early Senate career

On January 8, 1997, Obama was sworn in as senator.[26] Early in his first term, the just-retired U.S. Senator Paul Simon contacted longtime Obama mentor, judge and former congressman Abner Mikva suggesting that Mikva recommend Obama to Emil Jones, Jr., the powerful Democratic leader of the state Senate. "Say, our friend Barack Obama has a chance to push this campaign finance bill through," Simon said in a telephone conversation, as recounted by Mikva in a 2008 interview, "Why don’t you call your friend Emil Jones and tell him how good he is." With Jones' support, Obama helped shepherd through a sweeping law that banned most gifts from lobbyists and personal use of campaign funds by state legislators.[27]

During his first years as a state senator, Obama was a co-sponsor of a bill that re-structured the Illinois welfare program into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. He also helped get various pieces of legislation that established a $100 million Earned Income Tax Credit for working families, increased child care subsidies for low-income families, and required advance notice before mass layoffs and plant closings passed.[28]

Campaign for Bobby Rush's congressional seat

In September 1999, Obama and fellow Senator Donne Trotter (neither faced re-election that year) both announced their candidacies for the March 2000 Democratic primary election for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by four-term incumbent candidate Bobby Rush. Rush had been badly defeated in the February 1999 Chicago mayoral election by Richard M. Daley—who won 45 percent of the African-American vote and even won Rush's own ward—and was thought to be vulnerable.[29] The support of some veteran Democratic fundraisers who saw Obama as a rising star, along with support of African-American entrepreneurs, helped him keep pace with Rush's fundraising in the district's most expensive race ever.[30]

During the campaign, Rush charged that Obama was not sufficiently rooted in Chicago's black neighborhoods to represent constituents' concerns, and also benefitted from an outpouring of sympathy when his son was shot to death shortly before the election.[29] Obama said Rush was a part of "a politics that is rooted in the past" and said he himself could build bridges with whites to get things done. But while Obama did well in his own Hyde Park base, he didn't get enough support from the surrounding black neighborhoods.[27] Starting with just 10 percent name recognition, Obama went on to get only 31 percent of the votes, losing by a more than 2-to-1 margin despite winning among white voters.[31][32][33][34]

Later Senate career

After losing the primary for U.S. Congress to Bobby Rush, Obama worked to repair relations with black politicians and clergy members, telling them he bore no grudges against the victor. He also became more responsive to requests for state funding, getting money for churches and community groups in his district. Senator Trotter, then the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in 2008 that he knew Obama was responding more to funding requests "because the community groups in his district stopped coming to me".[27]

In September 2001, Democrats won a lottery to redraw legislative districts that had been drawn ten years earlier by Republicans and had helped ensure ten uninterrupted years of Republican control of the Illinois Senate.[35] At the November 2002 election, the Democratic remap helped them win control of the Illinois Senate and expand their majority in the Illinois House to work with the first Democratic Illinois governor in 26 years.[36][37] In January 2003, Obama became chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, after six years on the committee and four years as its minority spokesman. The new Democratic majority allowed Obama to write and help pass more legislation than in previous years. He sponsored successful efforts to expand children's health care, create a plan to provide equal health care access for all Illinois residents, and create a "Hospital Report Card" system, and worker's rights laws that protected whistleblowers, domestic violence victims, equal pay for women, and overtime pay.[28] His most public accomplishment was a bill requiring police to videotape interrogations and confessions in potential death penalty cases. Obama was willing to listen to Republicans and police organizations and negotiate compromises to get the law passed.[38] That helped him develop a reputation as a pragmatist able to work with various sides of an issue.[27] Obama also led the passage of a law to monitor racial profiling by requiring police to record the race of drivers they stopped.[39][40]

In 2002, Obama introduced SB 1789 which would have adopted instant runoff voting (IRV) for congressional and state primary elections in Illinois and authorized IRV for local elections, although it did not ultimately pass.

He resigned from the Illinois Senate in November 2004 following his election to the U.S. Senate.[41]


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  9. ^ State Senate district 13 = legislative districts 25 and 26.
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  31. ^ Federal Election Commission, 2000 U.S. House of Representatives Results
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External links

  • Chicago Tribune candidate coverage and biography (includes several stories about his time in state senate)
Illinois Senate
Preceded by
Alice J. Palmer
Illinois Senator from 13th district
January 8, 1997 - November 4, 2004
Succeeded by
Kwame Raoul
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