State Sen. Susan Garrett on Wednesday announced she won't seek re-election in 2012, capping a respected 14-year career in the Capitol.
Garrett, a Lake Forest Democrat representing the 29th District, said she will leave government service when her term ends in January 2013.
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"After much soul-searching, I have decided that the time is right to move on," Garrett said in a news release. "I want to thank everyone for the wonderful privilege to serve in the General Assembly. It has been an incredible honor."
In a follow-up telephone interview, Garrett said there are no hidden motives behind her decision. She simply feels it's a good time to make "a clean break."
"I have no future (political) aspirations," Garrett said. "I'm not going to be appointed to anything."
Garrett's announcement surprised some Lake County political leaders and Springfield observers.
"It's going to be a loss for Lake County, in the sense that she was supportive of so many projects," said county board Chairman David Stolman, a Buffalo Grove Republican. "She has represented us well."
Garrett's pending retirement leaves the 29th District seat open for the 2012 election. Most of the district is in eastern Lake County, but it includes a portion of Cook County. The boundaries are set to change when the state legislative districts change for the 2012 election. A map drawn up by Democratic lawmakers has been challenged by Republicans.
State Sen. Terry Link, leader of the Lake County Democrats, wouldn't speculate on possible successors.
"There will be a number of people who will surface," said Link, of Waukegan. "I think there will be a number of viable, Democratic candidates."
Link, who said he's known for "quite a while" about Garrett's plans to retire, predicted a Democratic primary election will be needed next year in the 29th District.
Two incumbent Democratic state representatives -- Karen May of Highland Park and Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook -- live within the district's proposed new boundaries, but neither wants Garrett's job.
May said she didn't want to give up the "bully pulpit" of leading two House committees. "Your seniority from the House doesn't transfer to the Senate," she said. "I feel that I can do more by staying in the House."
Nekritz said the senator's announcement didn't surprise her. "I think she's ready to move on to the next chapter in her life," Nekritz said.
Garrett ran unopposed in 2008, but Republicans will take a shot at the seat next year.
Bob Cook, leader of the Lake County GOP organization, said he had been approached by two Republicans considering running against Garrett. With Garrett out of the picture, Cook expects Republican interest in the post will increase.
"I think we'll have a strong contender," he said.
Garrett's political career began in 1998 when she was elected to the state House. She served two terms and then jumped to the Senate in 2002.
Garrett won re-election to the Senate in 2004 and 2008 and now serves as the chamber's majority caucus whip.
She also leads the Senate commerce committee and serves on the revenue, education, public health and local government committees.
Garrett said she's been thinking about retiring for a few months. She said her family is happy for her, and she doesn't have second thoughts about leaving the Senate.
"I'm not a career politician," she said. "I feel like I contributed a lot to my district."
Garrett has shown independence in the Senate. A few years ago, she clashed with party leadership under then-Senate President Emil Jones over pay raises for lawmakers.
Her stance in 2008 that officials should give up their raises sparked then-Sen. Rickey Hendon, a Chicago Democrat, to call Garrett the "esteemed senator from Richville."
Garrett also voted against gambling expansion, something Link and other party leaders strongly supported.
Link respected Garrett's independence.
"She represented her district. She didn't toe the line as a hard-core Democrat," Link said. "She showed she was not going to be told (how to vote)."
Garrett has been a vocal proponent of expanding Route 53 into Lake County, a long-proposed project that recently began gaining steam. Stolman, who sided with Garrett on the matter, praised the senator for standing out on that and other transportation issues.
"Susan saw the big picture," Stolman said.
Link recalled getting to know Garrett during her time in the House. He said, "I saw her blossom into a very fine legislator."
"She has set a high bar for anyone who tries to follow her," Link said.
Garrett expects some potential Democratic candidates for her seat to step forward within the next week.
• Daily Herald State Government Writer Mike Riopell contributed to this report.