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Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 04:52 am

Raymond Poe keeps the peace by bowing out

Rep. Raymond Poe
After the House Republican caucus meeting last week, several members gathered at a local watering hole to toast their new leader, Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs.

Notably, several House Republicans who backed Rep. Raymond Poe’s candidacy showed up at the Springfield establishment and heartily shared in the festivities.

And so, for now at least, a leadership battle that looked to be heading down a bitterly negative path has ended with smiles all around. Durkin, it appears, has managed to pull off the impossible.

After the failed 1991 ouster attempt of House GOP Leader Lee Daniels, 11 of the 13 coup plotters fled the House within two years, either for the Senate or for other jobs. They had no choice. Retribution was in the air.

When Daniels announced 10 years later he’d be stepping aside, a months-long feud erupted between Reps. Tom Cross and Art Tenhouse, with the downstater Tenhouse coming out on the losing end. The fight got personal and emotional and lots of members were put in highly uncomfortable positions. The memories of that fight are strong with those who were around back then, and veterans on both sides have tried to help steer this battle away from the abyss.

Durkin had a reputation among some of his fellow House Republicans as being aloof and even kind of a jerk – his former Cook County prosecutor tendencies have never completely left him. That attitude worried plenty of folks before the race heated up. But Durkin patiently traveled the state for months, meeting with anybody who would sit down with him, and eventually managed to assuage those fears. As a result, he walked into the caucus meeting at a Springfield hotel with far more than the 24 votes he needed to win.

Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, gave what many members said was the speech of his life. Poe passionately argued for peace and unity, while putting Durkin’s name into nomination. Durkin was elected by acclamation.

Durkin is a member of Tom Cross’ leadership team, but he’s much better known as being policy-oriented. He’s thoughtful, capable and has the ability to work with both sides of the aisle. But he’s also politically ambitious. He lost a U.S. Senate race in 2002 to Dick Durbin and chaired both of John McCain’s Illinois presidential campaigns. Durkin was gearing up for an attorney general bid when Tom Cross blindsided him with his own desire for that office. Durkin almost immediately switched gears and focused on the leadership job, which helped box Cross out and forced him to find another job after Lisa Madigan decided to stay put as attorney general.

Durkin and his team have promised there will be no post-election retribution. There’s a desperate need for unity in that caucus and pretty much everybody gets it now. They’re in a terrible spot and have few avenues back to semi-relevance. They need to raise a ton of money, find several more candidates and get their collective act together fast if they hope to pick up enough seats to climb out of the deep hole they’re in.

Because of this, all members will reportedly be pressed much harder to pony up to the leadership campaign committee or face consequences. To put it simply, the caucus is broke. Cross, like Daniels before him, has left the caucus in a mess.  

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.
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