Calling Springfield a place where "you're not supposed to think for yourself," David Harris, a nearly 20-year veteran of the Illinois House, said Tuesday evening he won't seek re-election in 2018.
"It has to do with the ability to be effective," Harris, of Arlington Heights, told the Daily Herald. That ability, he said, is "somewhat diminished" by a deep partisan divide in state government that led to a multiyear budget standoff. The impasse was resolved in July only after a number of Republicans, including Harris, broke ranks with GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner to approve a 32 percent income tax increase.
"The state is being destroyed financially," Harris angrily thundered during an overtime legislative session this summer. "We now have a $15 billion backlog of bills accumulating $800 million in interest. That's like putting $800 million in the middle of Arlington Heights Road and setting fire to it."
That vote made Harris a target by several conservative groups opposed to the tax increase, including the Taxpayers United of America, which distributed "wanted" fliers for "crimes against taxpayers" with Harris' picture on them at locations across the 53rd District, including Randhurst Village mall in Mount Prospect and Lake Arlington in Arlington Heights. Since then, Republican Katie Miller of Mount Prospect has emerged as a primary opponent backed by radio host and former candidate for governor Dan Proft, who runs a conservative political action committee.
"The Illinois Republican Party, we're fighting an internal battle," Harris said Tuesday, adding he is personally opposed to "spending $400,000 or $500,000 to get through a divisive primary."
Harris' term, which ends in November 2018, will conclude his second stint in the state legislature.
The 68-year-old Mount Prospect native first served in the House from 1983 to 1993 and was re-elected in 2010 after defeating Arlington Heights Democrat Mark Walker. In a news release, Harris reflected on his voting record as "conservatism (that) can mix with doses of realistic practicality to fashion legislation that reins in liberal policies and helps the wheels of government turn."
In addition to his time in the legislature, Harris is a former commanding general of the Illinois National Guard who served in Iraq with the U.S. Department of State. He retired from the Army as a federally recognized major general in 2003.
In Springfield, Harris serves as Republican spokesman on the Revenue and Finance Committee and on the House Appropriations Committee.
He is known for his cordiality with Democrats, trading occasional books on history with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and brushing snow off the car of Democratic state Rep. Greg Harris, who stays at the same Springfield inn.
Harris joins a host of moderates from the suburbs who won't be seeking re-election. Fellow Republican Rep. Steve Andersson of Geneva isn't running, saying there is no longer room for moderate voices in the statehouse. Northbrook Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz said in June she will be stepping down. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont left in June. Republican Reps. Patti Bellock of Hinsdale, Barb Wheeler of Crystal Lake and Bob Pritchard of Hinckley are also not running for re-election.
"My family has said, you're served, you've done what you can," Harris said. He did not elaborate on future plans.
"I'm in office until the end of next year," he said, adding "the legislature is not an easy place now."