Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 12:01 am
Getting to know Raymond Poe
“Being around here 20 years, you know how to read the tea leaves,” Poe said.
Poe, who was first elected state representative in 1995, is one of the Springfield area’s longest-serving legislators currently active in the General Assembly. Perhaps that history is one reason Poe is entering the 2014 elections unopposed. Another reason, however, could be the already strong Republican support he holds within his district.
District 99 stretches about 10 miles west from South Sixth Street in Springfield, and reaches south to Pawnee and north past Pleasant Plains in Sangamon County. Poe claims Republicans make up about 70 percent of the district’s voters. Prior to the latest redistricting in 2011, District 99 covered more of the city.
Poe is in the special situation of representing a Republican-majority district that is also home to a Democrat-majority General Assembly. In that position, he has been an advocate for a more unified voice among the state’s Republican leaders.
Last August, Poe dropped out as a candidate for the House Republican Caucus leader position just before the election, because he “read the tea leaves” and foresaw that he would not have the votes to win it. He used the race as a chance to speak to party members about a need for Republican unity in Illinois.
“We have to have the tea party, the conservatives, we’ve got to have moderates, we have to have people that work with unions. Our tent has to be bigger, we can’t keep narrowing it,” Poe said.
Poe said he thinks party members must have different views. The legislator himself has faced criticism for not falling into a particular definition of “Republican.” When he was running for caucus leader last August, the Chicago Tribune published an editorial stating that with Poe’s union and public sector employee support, “he might as well move his desk to the Democrats’ side of the chamber.”
Poe doesn’t try to hide his union support. Around his Springfield office is memorabilia representing recognition from groups such as the Illinois Education Association and the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois.
Poe said he thinks his union support has “made some people nervous.” That doesn’t change the legislator’s stance that he is a member of the Republican Party. He approaches each issue individually. For example, he said the tea party, which supports limited government, would support him, while there are some issues on which he would disagree with tea partiers.
A look at recent issues shows how Poe’s stances have both varied and been consistent. For example, Poe has regularly opposed pension reform proposals, including the legislation that passed in December. He has argued that it is unconstitutional to revise existing employees’ pensions, which is important in a district with many state employees. State employee unions have filed suit against the state for the same reason.
Standing along party lines, Poe pointed to the latest two Illinois governors – Pat Quinn and Rod Blagojevich – as failing to solve the existing pension problem.
While Poe’s opposition to cutting employee benefits has remained steadfast, he has changed his position on the minimum wage. Gov. Quinn is proposing increasing the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10. Poe is against the proposal, citing a poor economy. He also said a higher minimum wage would result in increased costs and an influx of older people taking minimum wage jobs that young adults need.
Yet, in 2006 Poe was one of only 10 House Republicans who voted for the increased minimum wage. The legislation included phasing in the tax, increasing it in portions over four years. Because it was phased in and he felt the economy was stable, Poe said he voted for the increase then.
While Poe faces several decisions this year, one issue he is staunchly behind is seeing state jobs being brought back to the city of Springfield.
“If there’s one thing around here that I really want to see, it’s the state capital move back to Springfield,” he said.
Poe is backing Republican governor candidate Kirk Dillard, who has stated that he will “return [Springfield] as the capital.” Who will win the race for governor, however, is one prediction Poe says he hasn’t been able to read from any tea leaves.
Contact Lauren P. Duncan at email@example.com.