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AG asks lawmakers for special election to fill comptroller job

The political squabble over Judy Baar Topinka’s successor may have reached its “definitive end.”

Or it could have just begun. It depended Monday on whom you asked.

Either way, it all revolved around Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s legal analysis of a political quandry considered unprecedented in Illinois. Topinka, 70, died last week after complications from a stroke. The Illinois comptroller was elected to another four-year term in November, but the term she was completing does not end until next month.

Madigan said Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner gets to fill the four-year vacancy that will be created when Topinka fails to take the oath of office Jan. 12. She also said outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn gets to fill the vacant office in the meantime.

That mostly mirrored Rauner’s own analysis, and he soon declared the matter “settled.” Republican leaders in the House and Senate followed suit.

But Madigan took things a step further. The attorney general said voters should get to vote for a comptroller in the next statewide election — in 2016 — calling it a “fundamental principle in a democracy that the people should elect the officers who represent them.” Another election would follow in 2018 if lawmakers follow Madigan’s proposal.

Democratic Senate President John Cullerton soon called for an “immediate” special legislative session to make that vote happen. And he said “unanswered legal questions” remain.

Still, two key players had little to say about the attorney general’s analysis. One was Quinn.

“The governor appreciates the attorney general’s counsel and is reviewing it,” spokesman Grant Klinzman said.

The other was House Speaker Mike Madigan. The Democrat encouraged Quinn and Rauner last week to work out a “sensible solution.” A spokesman stood by that comment Monday.

So it still wasn’t clear Monday whether lawmakers were headed toward a political show-down over Topinka’s successor.

Like the attorney general, Rauner’s attorneys have said Topinka’s death created two vacancies, and they said Rauner should fill the second. Spokesman Mike Schrimpf added Monday that a special election in 2016 would be problematic. The state constitution requires the governor to appoint someone to a four-year term, he said.

“That is how we plan to proceed,” Schrimpf said.

Rauner’s camp has also asked Quinn to appoint top Topinka aide Nancy Kimme to her late boss’ current term.