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The 2017 exodus

Tuesday, Oct 10, 2017

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

If it seems to you that more legislators are announcing their retirements than in the past, you’re right, at least about the House.

With the recent retirement announcement by Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights), a total of 24 House members have either resigned or announced that they weren’t running for reelection.

That compares to 16 state representatives who retired or resigned during the 99th General Assembly, a two-year period which ended this past January.

Seventeen House members retired or resigned during the 98th General Assembly. Sixteen retired or resigned during the 97th, and 17 resigned during the 96th. Members who lost reelection races and those who died aren’t included in these figures.

So, that’s an average of 16.5 retirements/resignations every two years. And we’re already at 24 after only nine months of the 100th General Assembly.

Now, there are some caveats here. Two House members (Juliana Stratton and Litesa Wallace) are leaving to run for lieutenant governor, but that’s unusual because they’re really just beginning their legislative service. Another, Scott Drury, is running for attorney general, but he’s clearly dissatisfied with the House.

Even so, statewide bids by House members are pretty rare, mainly because their two-year terms requires giving up their seats. If House members do run statewide, it’s usually because they’re nearing the end of their careers.

So, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Statehouse’s toxic atmosphere and the political exhaustion it has caused are the main reasons why we’ve seen so many House retirements.

But that hasn’t necessarily been the case in the Senate, which has so far seen 7 retirements/resignations since January. Nine Senators retired or resigned during the 99th General Assembly. Then again, just one retired during the 98th. And 12 retired or resigned during the 97th, while 6 did so during the 96th GA. Unlike the House, the Senate’s retirement rate has been all over the place.

The House has twice as many members as the Senate, but more than three times as many House members have resigned or retired so far. What gives? Senators have longer, staggered terms, so that may be part of it.

The one Senator we know for sure who quit because of the dysfunction was also the most high-profile resignation of the year: Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno. Leader Radogno sparred with the governor’s campaign apparatus during the 2016 campaign season and then was repeatedly undercut by the governor and his team during her ultimately unsuccessful “grand bargain” negotiations with the Senate Democrats.

Just one Senate Republican, Dale Righter, voted for the income tax hike, and he is in the middle of a four-year term. But 15 House Republicans voted for that bill, although some didn’t vote for the veto override. All of those Republicans were immediately denounced as essentially being Speaker Michael Madigan-supporting traitors by the Illinois Republican Party. Gov. Bruce Rauner has since said that support for the education funding reform bill would cause him to forget the tax hike vote, but the damage was already done. The blowback from the folks back home was horrific.

Nine of the eleven House Republicans who’ve so far said they’re not running again voted for the income tax hike.

Rauner has been focused like a laser on defeating as many of Speaker Madigan’s House Democrats as possible. But he’s also said publicly that he doesn’t really care if the Senate Democrats retain their majority as long as he can topple Madigan.

Twelve House Democrats have so far either quit or announced they aren’t running again. Several of those faced tough general election races next year if they ran again. Others said they’d just had enough of the war and wanted the heck out.

Now, I’m an agnostic when it comes to term limits. I can see the good and the bad either way. Fresh ideas and a clean slate would be welcomed in this state. But some fresh ideas can also be stupid ideas. And term limits on legislators make governors more powerful — and that may not be a good thing when you look at Illinois’ history of gubernatorial elections.

But this sort of turnover (on top of any electoral losses next year) means that a higher percentage of House members will be newbies. So, remaining legislators with more experience (along with lobbyists and staff) will gain even more influence and power, unless those who are elected next year take much more independent stances — and that doesn’t seem all that likely to me.

* The list…


* Related…

* Walker to run for his former House seat: Former Democratic state Rep. Mark Walker of Arlington Heights said Monday he plans to make a bid for his old House seat that’s being vacated by Republican David Harris. The Wheeling Township Democratic committeeman says he knows the difficulty of finding candidates interested in the role, given ongoing gridlock in Springfield.

* Former state representative becomes lobbyist: Former State Rep. Brandon Phelps stepped down Sept. 1 citing health reasons, but two weeks later he registered as a lobbyist.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

10 Comments
  1. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 10, 17 @ 9:27 am:

    Interesting, IPI broke the Phelps scoop and got no credit in WSIL piece. https://www.ilnews.org/opinion/berg-lawmaker-turned-lobbyist-turns-the-tables-on-taxpayers/article_e63ae228-a9d7-11e7-8c6c-c3e5ea812732.html


  2. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 10, 17 @ 10:13 am:

    While the difficulty factor of being a legislator has escalated drastically in the past few years, there will always be a line of those wanting to jump in headfirst. Unfortunately, those that want to go for it are the type that have made it more difficult recently - taking money from Big Daddy ATMs who yearn to be recognized by the Multi-Billionaire Club. (You get invited to the retreats!). If the would be candidate says “I just want to give back” or some such nonsense, he/she is either a naive dolt or a bs-er of long standing. The latter is actually the unstated prerequisite for getting in the door. Sad.


  3. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Oct 10, 17 @ 10:36 am:

    Looking at Illinois Sunshine linked from CapFax last year, Phelps was taking money from the Intl. Union of Operating Engineers local 150 in Countryside, which is a long way from Harrisburg.

    Phelps taking money from the 150 union 350 miles away didn’t make sense, until I remembered seeing Phelps and former 150 lobbyist (now NRA lobbyist) Todd Vandermyde walking into the Stratton building together in 2013, during the concealed carry bill. Phelps and Vandermyde were basically joined at the hip through 2013 during the debates on the carry bill, and Phelps got NRA money also.


  4. - Jocko - Tuesday, Oct 10, 17 @ 10:52 am:

    I’m just hoping that the we’ve reached the limit of what partisan politics and disdain for government does for us. Can we swing back to D’s & R’s working collaboratively for the common good?


  5. - anon2 - Tuesday, Oct 10, 17 @ 11:02 am:

    Walker was recognized last year as one of the top commenters on this site. He has demonstrated both the temperment and a deep understanding of state issues to make a difference.


  6. - Ron - Tuesday, Oct 10, 17 @ 11:56 am:

    Good, now only if Mike Madigan would join the exodus.


  7. - State worker - Tuesday, Oct 10, 17 @ 12:34 pm:

    Very disappointed to hear about Phelps. That’s a slap in the face to his constituents.


  8. - walker - Tuesday, Oct 10, 17 @ 6:47 pm:

    Boy I’m gonna miss this place, and the great commenters here.

    Some have become my heroes and heroines from a distance.You have kept us involved and informed for the last many years.

    Even if I tried my best to be fair and true, it would do Rich’s saloon no good to have ongoing commentary from someone currently running for office.

    Happy trails my friends, Mark Walker


  9. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 10, 17 @ 7:00 pm:

    - walker -

    Godspeed. All the best, good luck.

    Oswego Willy


  10. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Oct 11, 17 @ 1:26 am:

    State- I really can’t see anyone who knows Phelps’ track record hiring him.

    Phelps tried to pose as the struggling downstate good old boy who would bring concealed carry to Illinois, then he let the police unions write the concealed carry bill and load it up with everything they wanted. His carry bill put every gun owner in the state in more danger from police and police impersonators than they would be without a license, all the while intoning the name of Otis McDonald. He wouldn’t get much lobbying business if the average NRA member didn’t have the I.Q. of a turnip.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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