Cross, Quinn and others exit next week
Former Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego will end his 22 years as a state lawmaker Wednesday, two days after a new GOP governor is sworn in.
Republicans were the legislative minority during Cross' entire time as leader. Taking over the job in 2002 from former Rep. Lee Daniels of Elmhurst, Cross became one of the party's leading suburban voices at the Capitol in Springfield.
But the timing meant he served at the tail end of former Republican Gov. George Ryan's one term and through the administrations of Democratic Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn.
Cross says he loved his role in Springfield and isn't sure what he'll do next after narrowly losing a bid in November to be Illinois treasurer. But he thinks his party has a unique opportunity with Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner being sworn in Monday.
"I would have loved to work with a Republican governor," Cross said. "But you work with what you have."
Cross says he's proud of his early efforts to push a tough look at pensions for Illinois teachers and state workers. He carried legislation several years ago that helped spark the eventual law that's now being weighed by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Cross voted against that law, saying it didn't save enough money and relied on financing schemes, but he's glad he helped put the issue on the table.
"We started a lot of discussion on pensions," Cross said. "It's an uncomfortable conversation that needed to be had."
Cross also worked on trying to push stem cell research and diabetes causes, as his daughter, Reynolds, has Type 1 diabetes. He was one of three House Republicans to vote for same-sex marriage last year, and he points to the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School on the Aurora University campus as a lasting education legacy.
He says under Rauner Republicans in the House and Senate will play a more active role, though the party is still the legislative minority, and he praised House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont.
"It's going to be a difficult job for all Republicans," Cross said.
'Pop in populism'
David Vaught of Naperville, Quinn's former budget director and longtime friend, said the governor made difficult decisions that will form his legacy but also possibly cost him his job.
Quinn drew the ire of many teachers and other government workers when he fought to cut their pension benefits to try to save the state money and he both raised state income taxes during one of the state's darkest financial times and called for the temporary hike to be extended.
"He'll be the guy who stood up and said we can't kick the can down the road," Vaught said. "That was hard to do."
"When you do that, there's a price," Vaught said. "A political price."
Vaught and Quinn met while working on Democrat Dan Walker's campaign for governor in the 1970s, and Quinn often flew in a small plane piloted by Vaught to staff meetings.
Vaught says Quinn, a political activist before he took office, had to compromise on his idealistic rabble-rousing while serving as the state's chief executive. But, as evidenced by Quinn's frantic minimum wage push, his populist roots were never far away.
Vaught said Quinn in private meetings would respond to ideas saying: "We've got to put the 'pop' back in populism."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will speak in Rolling Meadows next month.
The likely Republican presidential contender will appear with Rauner at the Northwest Suburban Republican Lincoln Day Dinner Feb. 12 at The Meadows Club.
General tickets cost $100, and more information is at www.LincolnDD.org.
The dinner has drawn big names in the past. In 2013, fellow possible presidential hopeful Rand Paul was the featured speaker.
Christie, of course, has been in the news lately for his awkward, joyous hug of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones after a touchdown, a concept he'll have to explain to Bears fans.