State politics in 2013: Year in review
When 2013 began, Democrats were looking at historically large majorities in Springfield. With a new year upon us, it's a good time to ask: So what happened?
The answer: A lot.
In tackling a long list of lingering issues, state lawmakers made 2014 the year that gun owners will be able to carry handguns in public, same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, some patients will have access to medical marijuana and drivers will go hands-free when it comes to their cellphones. Legislators also started down the long road toward pension reform, cutting retirement benefits for teachers and other state workers.
Drama dogged each of those issues, making the past year an interesting one for suburbanites and their state legislators.
Gunning for change
In July, Illinois became the last state in the nation to allow concealed carry. It wasn't really by choice.
The federal court had set a deadline, and Illinois had to comply.
Yet the debate, like most of the others, was bumpy -- and heated. At one point in May, Democratic state Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood responded to yelling from a Republican colleague by saying, "We don't want someone like that carrying a concealed weapon."
But lawmakers emerged from intense negotiations with a compromise, and permits will be available in 2014. The timing was ironic: The General Assembly approved legislation in the same year most of the national debate, in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, was about gun control.
It's all connected
Medical marijuana got the green light from lawmakers in 2013 after years of hesitation, and hands-free cellphone legislation proved less messy than some other headline-grabbing stories.
Same-sex marriage was another matter, one that divided Illinois Republicans.
Former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady stepped down in May, citing his wife's battle with cancer and his desire to focus on family. But his departure came after a push to oust him over his lobbying for same-sex marriage.
Republicans, Brady had argued, were on the "wrong side of history" in their opposition.
He was replaced by Rosemont Trustee Jack Dorgan.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican who was a leader in the push to remove Brady, is now running in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate. Among other issues, he's touting his successful effort this year to raise the speed limit on rural interstates to 70 mph.
End as beginning
Suburban teachers and state workers who had looked south for years to see how their retirement futures would change got an answer, kind of.
The pension cuts approved by lawmakers in December followed years of arguing over both complicated math problems and the simple idea of fairness.
"This is inherently unfair," state Sen. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat, said at the time. "This is a promise broken."
As lawmakers prepared to vote right after Thanksgiving, the lobbying efforts from all sides became intense.
"You're getting phone calls and emails literally in the thousands," said Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican. "That was a little rattling, I suspect."
Again, this issue will almost certainly be decided by courts, as union leaders plan to sue in 2014 on behalf of their members.
All those decisions give local voters some clear records on which to judge candidates in 2014, and it'll be interesting to see the outcomes.
Will Republicans recover some of the seats they lost in 2012? Will controversial votes cost any incumbents their jobs?
Whom will the GOP pick to take on Gov. Pat Quinn in November? And can the party claim the governor's mansion for the first time in more than a decade?
The one sure thing: The election is certain to dominate this column for most of next year. It should be fun to watch.
Shut it down
On the federal level, the implementation of President Barack Obama's health care law, its rickety website and the fallout from the policy changes have supplied a lot of drama over the course of the year and will provide a chief topic of debate for the major races for Congress in 2014.
The disagreement over the law led to the government shutdown earlier this year, a dramatic event that saw workers at Great Lakes Naval Station furloughed for a week, O'Hare Airport inspectors off the job and a contingent of suburban World War II veterans worried that the standoff would mean they wouldn't get to see their memorial on the Washington Mall.
The standoff eventually ended, and lawmakers approved a two-year budget at the end of the year that most locals of both parties voted for, despite objections on both sides.
In next year's congressional elections, the suburbs could have one of the most-watched races in the country as Republican Bob Dold of Kenilworth tries to win back the 10th District seat he lost to Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Deerfield a little more than a year ago.
Schneider won't be the only Democrat trying to hold onto his district. The Republican primary fields to take on Democratic Reps. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates in the 8th District and Bill Foster of Naperville in the 11th suggest those contests could be interesting, too.