Veteran lawmaker Nekritz resigning Illinois House seat

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat and 15-year veteran in the Illinois House, is stepping down and won't seek re-election in 2018.

"I've put in my time and given it everything I know how to do and think it's time to move on," said Nekritz, assistant majority leader in the House. "I don't have anything else lined up, which is kind of scary, but if I can find something to keep me connected to the legislative process, which I love, that would be nice."

She has supported Evanston state Sen. Daniel Biss' candidacy for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018.

"I would imagine becoming more engaged in that campaign," she said.

Nekritz did not specify when she is leaving, but announced her departure Friday in a letter to Democratic leaders who would appoint her replacement if she resigns before the end of her term.

A key financial policy adviser for the party and an active negotiator on budget and public pension measures, Nekritz is also known for her work on environmental issues and is considered one of the most powerful suburban lawmakers within House Speaker Michael Madigan's inner circle.

She notoriously butted heads with the powerful House leader in the past, voting "no" on House rules that give Madigan control over legislation. She sought to be named to a 10-year tern as Illinois auditor in 2015, but lawmakers instead installed Frank Mautino, then a state representative.

"After careful thought, it is time for me to step back and create an opportunity for a new leader who can take on our state's tremendous problems," Nekritz, 59, who has served in the House since 2003, wrote in her letter to local party leaders.

A standoff between the Democrat-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has left Illinois without a budget since 2015. The state is $6.2 billion in the red for the current fiscal year and has a $15.1 billion backlog of unpaid bills.

Asked if she believes the budget stalemate soon will be over, Nekritz was not optimistic.

"It doesn't feel to me like it will," she said.

Several legislators over the past few years have quit before the ends of their terms, complaining about the gridlock in Springfield and the stalemate between party leaders. Nekritz's departure is one of the most high profile.

"It should be a message to Rauner and Madigan to get this act together," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Vernon Hills Democrat. "I'm surprised a lot of House members don't leave."

Nekritz intends "to leave at the appropriate time before the end of my term," according to the letter sent Friday morning to party leaders in Wheeling, Palatine and Northfield townships as well as to Link, who is also the Lake County Democratic Party chairman.

"I know how important it is for this seat to continue to be represented by someone who shares our core goals and values," she wrote, "so I wanted to make sure you and the other members of our local Democratic Party had ample time to find the right person who will best represent our area."

If Nekritz leaves before her term is up, the process to replace her is similar to what Northwest suburban Cook County Republicans went through to fill the state Senate seat vacated by Matt Murphy last year. Township party leaders' votes for a replacement are weighted by the number of Democratic votes cast in those townships in the last primary election.

Link said there's no timeline to replace Nekritz, but he would like to see a new representative "sooner than later, so that person can understand the job a little better."

Nekritz was a key figure in the state's efforts to rework public pension laws, but that effort was ultimately overturned by the courts.

"The legislature is losing a quality person," said state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican whose district borders the one Nekritz represents. "She's one of my closest colleagues on the other side of the aisle."

Harris said the departure of Nekritz will certainly make the seat more vulnerable for a Republican takeover in the 2018 election, but he wasn't aware of a particular candidate the GOP might run in that race.

Nekritz has nine committee assignments in the House and chairs the House subcommittee on campaign finance.

Nekritz is a University of Michigan law school graduate and worked as a real estate lawyer.

"It has been an honor to serve as state representative from the 57th District since 2003," she wrote. "I have worked diligently from the day I was elected to represent the good people of this district and this state with humility and passion."

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