What does Franks' departure mean for taxes, budget stalemate?

  • State Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat from Marengo, announced Sunday he is no longer seeking re-election to the House, and instead is running for McHenry County Board chairman.

      State Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat from Marengo, announced Sunday he is no longer seeking re-election to the House, and instead is running for McHenry County Board chairman. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Michael Walkup

    Michael Walkup

 
 
Updated 10/20/2016 10:10 AM

A longtime suburban lawmaker known for breaking with his Democratic colleagues on matters of taxes, budgets and labor issues announced Sunday he wouldn't run for re-election to the Illinois House.

State Rep. Jack Franks' decision to try to lead the McHenry County Board comes at a time when House Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in the House over Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's fellow GOP lawmakers. But that historically large majority often hasn't held up for Democrats in part because of Franks' dissents.

 

"I think I can make a much bigger difference," Franks said of his decision to run for McHenry County Board chairman. "I'm working so hard to help people at home, and it's being undermined by a board that doesn't have the taxpayers' best interests in mind."

The Marengo Democrat says he'll finish his term, so he's planning to be in Springfield as the budget war between Rauner and top Democrats continues. Still, any disruption in the power struggle between Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan is likely to attract serious interest as both sides continue to spar.

Franks often votes against Democratic budget and tax plans, anyway. Democrats in the House have 71 members, enough to override a Rauner veto if they all stick together.

But they often haven't, and Franks' votes along with Democratic Reps. Scott Drury of Highwood and Ken Dunkin of Chicago have often meant Rauner's vetoes stand.

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The drama will continue to play out as a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Rauner's budget director came up with a package of budget ideas last week that includes an income tax hike. And the state hasn't approved a full state budget that's now in danger of becoming a year overdue.

"Maybe this will help break the deadlock, the gridlock. Because the fact is, I keep hearing about this mythical 71. You know, do all the tax increases. But it's not real," Franks said. "It's a mirage."

The McHenry County Democratic Party met Sunday and chose Franks as its candidate for the chairman's post. He will face Republican Michael Walkup, a county board member from Crystal Lake, in the Nov. 8 election.

"Jack Franks has been attacking the county board for the last several years," Walkup said Sunday. "If you have someone who's not able to get along with other county board members, he's not going to be able to accomplish anything, whether he's county board chair or not."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In February, Franks publicly questioned whether 18 county board members are working enough hours to receive pension benefits. He also was at the forefront of a movement -- ultimately rejected by the county board -- to cut the number of townships in McHenry County from 17 to eight.

In his announcement Sunday, Franks sharply criticized the board for rejecting consolidation, and said current leadership "relies too much on raising our taxes and too little on making the tough choices."

Walkup described McHenry County as "one of the best-run governments" in Illinois.

"Instead of staying in Springfield, where he now has some influence, and trying to fix some things there, (Franks) is putting his tail between his legs and running home," he said.

Democrats have until late August to nominate a replacement for Franks in the 63rd District race. Steven Reick, who challenged Franks unsuccessfully in 2014, is the Republican candidate for the House seat.

Franks will be trying to win a countywide race in a place known for trending Republican, even as his district kept sending the Democrat to Springfield. In 2012, for example, McHenry County voted for Republican Mitt Romney for president, even as traditional GOP stronghold DuPage County voted for Democratic President Barack Obama.

Franks has served in the state legislature since 1999, after upsetting a Republican incumbent in the 63rd House District that encompasses the northern and western portions of McHenry County. A bid for re-election would have been for his 10th term.

The county board chairman's seat has historically been filled by a county board member chosen for the post by fellow board members. Voters passed a referendum in 2014 to make it a publicly elected office.

Franks said it's legal for him to run both for re-election to the House and for the chairman's spot, but he's declining to do so.

Walkup said Franks' entry to the race is a "shot in the arm for local Republicans."

"It'll force everyone to come together and put all their differences aside and work toward a common goal," Walkup said. "I think it'll be very positive in the long run."

Last year, Republican state Rep. Mike Tryon of Crystal Lake announced he wouldn't seek re-election, so McHenry County will be largely represented in the Illinois House by two new faces starting in 2017.

"I think that the dysfunction in Springfield has really gotten to me," Franks said.

• Staff writer Lauren Rohr contributed to this report

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