'I've been called a RINO. That's fine': Durkin leaves parting criticism of his party as he exits state House

SPRINGFIELD - Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin left his legislative seat Tuesday with more critical words for his own party.

"When you're in Springfield, numbers matter, and this is a game of addition. And unfortunately, we've been playing the game of subtraction on a statewide level," he said during a final news conference in his Statehouse office. "And that's not going to help this party."

After a bruising 2022 election cycle in which House Republicans lost five seats, Durkin did not seek another term as leader of the caucus. Then on Sunday he announced he was resigning from the seat he's held since 2006, in his second tenure in the state House.

He's finishing that tenure in the past week as the only Republican in the House to vote in favor of a ban on high-powered weapons.

"I've been called a RINO (Republican in Name Only). That's fine. I wear that as a badge of honor. It's kind of funny," he said. "But if they really looked at my voting record, it doesn't reflect that."

Durkin said that as his party became more conservative, it also became more intransigent and less willing to compromise on key issues, even to the point of punishing members who did not measure up to what he called a "purity test" imposed by conservatives.

"Again, this purity test that some of the people in this party demand, it's just … it's nonsense,' he said. "It's absurd. And it's going to further damage the Republican brand."

The split between Durkin and the conservative wing of the party was evident during the 2022 election cycle when Durkin refused to endorse state Sen. Darren Bailey's campaign for governor. During the primary, he endorsed Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, but Bailey ended up winning the nomination, only to lose to incumbent Democrat J.B. Pritzker by 12.5 percentage points.

But the split was also evident in his public criticisms of former President Donald Trump, whom Durkin blamed for much of the party's losses in 2022.

"You know, he had an opportunity to do good things, but he turned into a bully," Durkin said. "And he doesn't understand that there's a Constitution which requires a peaceful transition of the office. He just can't get over it. But he is a person that still gets into the minds of so many people throughout the country, and it's wrong."

Durkin said he plans to return to his private law practice in the Chicago area, but he also plans to continue giving speeches and offering his opinions on issues he thinks are important.

As for the future of the Illinois Republican Party, Durkin said he sees plenty of young talent within the House GOP caucus, including some who are leaving office.

He pointed specifically to people that were part of his leadership team - outgoing Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon, who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer; outgoing Rep. Avery Bourne of Morrisonville, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor; Rep. Ryan Spain of Peoria; and his successor in the leader's office, Rep. Tony McCombie of Savanna.

"What's really important for me has been to develop young talent," he said. "It didn't work out for Tom or Avery, but I still consider them the future of the party. They're young. They brought a lot to the table. They were well-liked, well-spoken and respected. And I still hope that those two and Ryan and Tony all have something to offer the state on a larger scale."

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