Political Climate Change

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- Both Democrats and Republicans can agree, the 2016 election of Donald Trump changed the course of recent politics. It split many Americans. Some became turned off by politics while others jumped into the process seemingly feet first.

Winnebago County Democratic Chairman Charlie Laskonis believes it's due to the election of our 45th president.

"We're seeing a lot more interest," he says. "We've had packed Central Committee meetings for months. We'll get email requests for our email list and it'll say flat out Donald Trump is the reason I'm getting involved... it's really motivating people to get out and participate and get out and vote."

Laskonis says it got many politicians to run for the first time. While Rockford Sixth Ward Alderman Natavias Ervins says the election of President Trump didn't directly motivate him to run, he can see how it was a driving factor for others.

"Especially those that don't agree with the President and some of his actions," says Ervins. "I would definitely say that there are people that I've witnessed that desire to get involved because they say if we don't do something now, then we're going to lose it all."

Local Republicans report seeing a similar trend.

"We've seen a steady increase in both participation in the party as well as steady volunteerism," says Winnebago County Republican Central Committee Chairman James Thompson.

He agrees President Trump is a major motivator.

"I think the election of President Trump demonstrates that he tapped into a disdain for the status quo."

Both Laskonis and Thompson also say more young people are getting involved. According to Laskonis, there's now a Young Democrats Club at Winnebago High School. And Dave Pulsfus is working to get a Young Republicans group back up and running in the area. A group Thompson says helped launch the political careers of Senator Dave Syverson and Winnebago County Board Member Eli Nicolosi.

"That's another part of our goal besides just connecting young Republicans to each other, is eventually getting them involved in local politics," says Pulsfus. "Certainly we look to the group to be our future leaders."

Rockford University Political Science professor Bob Evans says now is an interesting time for voters and for political experts.

"We've never seen this many people just turned off but that ordinarily turns to apathy and disengagement," says Evans. "People say the system isn't working to heck with it, I'll just not pay attention, but this time may be different and I think it's because of the fact that even though people are disturbed and disgusted with government, there are really really important issues that are organizing and energizing people."

According to Evans, those issues include immigration, the Dreamers, excessive force by police, sexual harassment, and gun control.

"You have people really disappointed with government and at the same time demanding government respond to these problems because the problems aren't going away. So it's an odd phenomenon... and that seems to lead to more engagement."

While this change in the political climate is fairly new, local leaders say only time will tell how long it will last.

"You're seeing similar things across the country, across the state," says Laskonis. "It's amazing, it really is."

"Our nation was founded not only people who sat on their hands and watched history as it was created," says Thompson. "They were actually involved in creating history."

Evans says the March primary will reveal a lot about the political climate locally because primaries traditionally have low voter turnout. He says nationally, there's also a noticeable increase in both minorities and women running for office and being elected.

For more information about how to get involved with the Democratic and Republican parties in Winnebago County, visit one of the links listed under "Related Links."