Democrats plan election vote despite Rauner's opposition

Posted1/7/2015 5:30 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- The Democrat-controlled General Assembly plans to convene Thursday and vote on whether to hold a special election in two years for state comptroller, potentially handing Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner a loss even before he takes office next week.

House Speaker Michael Madigan on Wednesday threw his support behind a proposal for a 2016 special election to fill the seat of late comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, an idea pitched by outgoing Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. Rauner opposes it and intends to name a four-year replacement immediately after he is sworn in.


Republicans say the move, which could cut Rauner's appointment in half, is a purely partisan maneuver at a time the two sides have pledged mutual cooperation in addressing the state's biggest issues. But Democrats deny that, insisting it is intended only to give voters a choice in the matter.

"It only sets a frosty tone if people want to politicize it or assume that those who are for this proposal are trying to politicize it," said Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, a deputy House majority leader.

Rauner aides have questioned the motives of the special election, charging that it would be "rushed through in a last-minute special session that would look overtly political." The Republican's spokesman declined to comment Wednesday.

But Republican state Rep. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove said he considers it a slap in the face to Rauner, who he said has spent recent weeks trying to meet individually with legislators on both sides of the aisle.

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"On the heels of that graciousness and openness, to all of the sudden pivot and snub him and say, 'We have the ability to jam this down your throat,' it smacks of overt partisanship," Sandack said.

Madigan previously said he believed the matter was for the executive branch to decide. The legislation was filed by Democratic Senate President John Cullerton. Democrats have nominal veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers. The bill also would apply to other vacancies that might occur in statewide constitutional offices going forward, except the governor's office.

A special election in 2016 would give Democrats a chance to take away the seat, especially if there is a strong presidential candidate atop the ticket, political experts say.

Topinka died last month after complications from a stroke, just weeks after winning a second four-year term. Rauner has said he intends to name Lincolnshire businesswoman Leslie Munger, a Republican, as Topinka's replacement.


Rauner and Madigan have both expressed hopes of working together constructively on the state's biggest problems, including a massive budget hole. But top House Democrats said Wednesday that their aim is not to impede a working relationship with the new governor.

"I think the Legislature has been careful, taking time not to wade into too many controversial issues (since Rauner has been elected)," Assistant Majority Leader Elaine Nekritz, of Northbrook, said. "This is one where we disagree and we would like to get this (special election) done."


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