Not so long ago, Janice Anderson was a committed Republican who rose through the local political ranks to become a DuPage County Board member.
She blamed former President Donald Trump for Republican losses in 2018, including her own. Disenchanted with the GOP, Anderson is now actively working to get Democrats elected and has formed a group called Democratic Voters for Naperville.
Anderson isn’t alone in her political conversion. Another longtime Republican recently switched parties and is now running in the Democratic primary for a countywide office in DuPage. Others in the past switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican side. Anderson, however, does not plan to run again.
“I have no intentions outside of helping Democrats get elected,” she said.
Who’s flipped and why
Since the 1990s, at least 10 suburban politicians have changed parties. Former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran was first elected as a Democrat and jumped to the Republican Party in 2008. At the time, Curran said he was walking away from “that party of corruption.” Former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich had just been arrested on corruption charges.
Former state Rep. Paul Froehlich, who represented parts of Northwest suburban Cook County as a Republican, defected to the Democratic side in 2007 to be “part of the party that runs everything.”
Jim Zay, the DuPage Republican Party chairman and the longest-serving county board member, suggests switching parties is an opportunistic move. Zay remembers when Democratic candidates would lose and then run under the GOP banner. Roger Kotecki, for instance, ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat in 1988 before winning a county board seat as a Republican in 1990.
Now Democrats hold the county board majority in DuPage, a traditional GOP bastion.
“They’re taking advantage of this situation where they think, ‘The Republican Party’s done in DuPage, and so I’m going to jump on board the Democratic side here and run for office and nobody will know,’” Zay said. “And I think the voters in DuPage County are a lot smarter than that.”
Pete DiCianni, a former Elmhurst mayor and Republican county board member, said he switched parties because of Trump. DiCianni is seeking the Democratic nomination for the office of county recorder of deeds.
“It’s simple — Donald Trump and MAGA extremists took over the Party,” DiCianni said in a statement explaining his reasoning. “Republicans and Democrats — particularly in Illinois — used to work together. But now the Trump Republicans have eroded respect for bipartisanship, respect for women, respect for the LGBTQ community and respect for people of color.”
Zay said it was “no big surprise” that DiCianni left the party. After DiCianni ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for county board chair, he endorsed Democrat Deb Conroy over Republican Greg Hart in the 2022 general election.
“I don’t think his philosophy is going to change. He’s just putting a different letter next to his name,” Zay said.
The Democratic candidates for DuPage County recorder of deeds are, from left, Kathleen Carrier, Liz Chaplin and Pete DiCianni.
DiCianni’s Democratic primary opponents are Liz Chaplin, a 12-year county board member, and Kathleen Carrier, the incumbent recorder.
“I cannot speak for Pete DiCianni, as I do not know his thoughts or motivations,” Chaplin said in her own statement. “People often undergo changes in their political affiliations, and I respect his decision to switch parties.”
Terrell Barnes, chairman of the Bloomingdale Township Democratic Organization, questions DiCianni’s intentions, and he doubts DiCianni is going to capitalize on Democratic strength in DuPage because “there’s just too much history there.” DiCianni spent a decade on the county board.
“I think the Democratic voter knows who he is,” Barnes said.
Anderson describes herself as a lifelong Republican voter who left the party in part because she dislikes Trump and what she sees as a shift toward extremism.
“It does seem to me that the Trump factor is frustrating what would normally be successful Republican politics in DuPage County,” said Melissa Mouritsen, a political science professor at the College of DuPage.
However, Mouritsen said the county has a “really educated voter base” and people are “good at separating” national politics from local politics. She doesn’t think another Trump presidential nomination would be as damaging for down-ballot Republicans.
Zay, the DuPage GOP chair, said local Republicans face a different challenge.
“The biggest thing is we have a governor (Democrat J.B. Pritzker) who’s a billionaire, and they outspend us … 20 to 1,” Zay said.
Though Anderson pledges to “work hard for the Democrat Party,” she said she hasn’t been entirely welcomed.
“Many Democrats have been very supportive within the party and very welcoming, but there’s a faction of people, of Democrats, who aren’t, and they think I’m doing it for other reasons,” Anderson said. “Well, my reasons are we need to make sure we show moderation.”
Her group, Democratic Voters for Naperville, has a Facebook page with about 100 followers. One post referred to conservative former gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey as the “picture of what is wrong with the Republican Party.”
“I’m not out to poke … the Republican Party,” said Anderson, who still counts Republicans as friends and has high praise for Republican DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin.
Rather, Anderson said she wants to have a voice, encourage fresh ideas, educate voters on issues and help get out the vote.
“I have to go prove myself as a Democrat,” she said. “The first step is voting and pulling that primary ballot and working for candidates in the election.”