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Illinois House Speaker leads effort to oust longtime lawmaker in primary

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(The Center Square) – Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, led a nearly $2 million effort to oust the longest=serving lawmaker at the Illinois Statehouse.

State Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, said it was obvious the successful effort to beat her at the polls was retaliation. She told The Center Square the retaliation wasn’t warranted because if she did something unethical, there’s an ethics office to address those concerns.

“I cannot answer for Speaker Welch as to the reason why he chose to fund someone else to run against me, even though he said I ‘insulted’ him or whatever,” Flowers said.

Welch’s political campaign did not immediately respond to The Center Square’s request for comment. The speaker’s office said it does not comment on political issues.

Flowers said she didn’t leave “cheap,” and that it cost Welch and the other Democrats $2 million to oust her. She said her opponent, Michael Crawford, didn’t make any commitments to the district but that it’s clear who he’s committed to.

“I thought we were picking a fantastic leader, the first African-American for the Speaker of the House,” Flowers told The Center Square of Welch. “I was looking forward to great things to happen. It didn’t occur that way.”

Crawford’s political campaign did not immediately respond to The Center Square’s request for comment.

Top donors of Crawford, according to campaign expense tracker Reform for Illinois, were state Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, Illinois 32nd House District candidate Lisa Davis and Welch. Each Democrat donated about $70,000 to Flower’s primary opponent. Davis defeated incumbent Cyril Nichols, who unofficially withdrew from the Democratic primary for Illinois House of Representatives District 32 on March 19, 2024.

Flowers was removed from Welch’s legislative leadership team in 2023 over comments reportedly made to a House staff member.

Campaign money bought a lot of misinformation, Flowers said, that ultimately led to her defeat in the 31st House District. Flowers isn’t sure why Welch is targeting her.

“These [Democrats like Welch] are younger people and maybe they don’t like wisdom, knowledge and understanding,” said Flowers, 72.

Younger Democrats like state Reps. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, Buckner, Davis, Marcus Evan Jr., D-Chicago, and more contributed thousands of dollars to Crawford, who is a post-secondary educator and administrator.

“For the vast majority of them [younger Democrats] when they walked in the door, including Speaker Welch, I promised to do them the same way people did me when I first walked in the door. I promised to help them in any way I could and that I wouldn’t mislead them,” Flowers said. “They all have been in my office. I told them the same thing someone told me, ‘your word is your bond.’”

Prior to the 2024 primary, Flowers never lost an election in nearly 40 years. She had been reelected 19 times. Her term ends in January.