The 2017 exodus
If it seems to you that more legislators are announcing their retirements than in the past, you’re right, at least about the House.
With last week’s retirement announcement by Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights), a total of 24 House members have either resigned or announced that they weren’t running for reelection.
That compares to 16 state Representatives who retired or resigned during the 99th General Assembly, a two-year period which ended this past January.
Seventeen House members retired or resigned during the 98th General Assembly. Sixteen retired or resigned during the 97th, and 17 resigned during the 96th. Members who lost re-election races and those who died aren’t included in these figures.
So, that’s an average of 16.5 retirements/resignations every two years. And we’re already at 24 after only nine months of the 100th General Assembly.
Now, there are some caveats here. Two House members (Juliana Stratton and Litesa Wallace) are leaving to run for lieutenant governor, but that’s unusual because they’re really just beginning their legislative service. Another, Scott Drury, is running for attorney general, but he’s clearly dissatisfied with the House.
Even so, statewide bids by House members are pretty rare, mainly because their two-year terms require giving up their seats. If House members do run statewide, it’s usually because they’re nearing the end of their careers.
So, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Statehouse’s toxic atmosphere and the political exhaustion it has caused are the main reasons why we’ve seen so many House retirements.
But that hasn’t necessarily been the case in the Senate, which has so far seen seven retirements/resignations since January. Nine Senators retired or resigned during the 99th General Assembly. Then again, just one retired during the 98th. And 12 retired or resigned during the 97th, while six did so during the 96th GA. Unlike the House, the Senate’s retirement rate has been all over the place.
The House has twice as many members as the Senate, but more than three times as many House members have resigned or retired so far. What gives? Senators have longer, staggered terms, so that may be part of it.
The one Senator we know for sure who quit because of the dysfunction was also the most high-profile resignation of the year: Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno. Leader Radogno sparred with the governor’s campaign apparatus during the 2016 campaign season and then was repeatedly undercut by the governor and his team during her ultimately unsuccessful “grand bargain” negotiations with the Senate Democrats.
Just one Senate Republican, Dale Righter, voted for the income tax hike, and he is in the middle of a four-year term. But 15 House Republicans voted for that bill, although some didn’t vote for the veto override. All of those Republicans were immediately denounced as essentially being Speaker Madigan-supporting traitors by the Illinois Republican Party. Gov. Rauner has since said that support for the education funding reform bill would cause him to forget the tax hike vote, but the damage was already done. The blowback from the folks back home was horrific.
Nine of the eleven House Republicans who’ve so far said they’re not running again voted for the income tax hike.
Gov. Rauner has been focused like a laser on defeating as many of Speaker Madigan’s House Democrats as possible. But he’s also said publicly that he doesn’t really care if the Senate Democrats retain their majority as long as he can topple Madigan.
Twelve House Democrats have so far either quit or announced they aren’t running again. Several of those faced tough general election races next year if they ran again. Others said they’d just had enough of the war and wanted the heck out.
Now, I’m an agnostic when it comes to term limits. I can see the good and the bad either way. Fresh ideas and a clean slate would be welcomed in this state. But some fresh ideas can also be stupid ideas. And term limits on legislators make governors more powerful – and that may not be a good thing when you look at Illinois’ history of gubernatorial elections.
But this sort of turnover (on top of any electoral losses next year) means that a higher percentage of House members will be newbies. So, remaining legislators with more experience (along with lobbyists and staff) will gain even more influence and power, unless those who are elected next year take much more independent stances – and that doesn’t seem all that likely to me.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.