They’re dropping like flies.
Last week, state Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, became the latest state lawmaker to announce he’s leaving the Illinois Legislature.
Kotowski, who helps oversee state budget matters, is resigning effective Oct. 5 to become president and chief executive officer of ChildServ, which provides foster care and services for children who were victims of trauma and abuse.
Kotowski’s news followed that of Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein, who says he won’t seek re-election.
Neither will Republican Rep. Mike Tryon of Crystal Lake.
Ditto state senators John Sullivan, D-Rushville, and Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington.
Then, there are Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville and Sen. Mike Noland, D-Elgin, who’s making a run for Congress.
It’s easy to pin the motive for the departures on the state’s devastating financial condition. Every day, it’s another horrible headline about billions of dollars in unpaid bills and billions more of mounting debt. Add to that a punishing, unending summer legislative session, with weekly trips to Springfield – and no movement on the state budget.
In interviews and statements, these outgoing lawmakers say they have their own specific reasons for leaving.
But make no mistake: Illinois lawmakers are in the midst of an epic, partisan battle between Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
If you’re staying in, you really gotta be all in.
Luechtefeld says his decision wasn’t about the budget and was made easier by the fact that he was redrawn out of his own district.
But he has his own frustrations about the Democrats.
“I just believe what Madigan has done is unconscionable,” Luechtefeld says. “I’m sorry, I don’t say things like that normally. I don’t know how you look people in the eyes when you’ve been in charge for 12 years, to say it’s somebody else’s fault. Right now, the things Rauner wants are doable. They simply are. Madigan is trying to teach him who really is the boss. And in the process, there are people suffering.”
There’s another side to that. Democrats say what Rauner wants isn’t doable for them, and they blame him for holding the state hostage over his non-budget demands. Rauner says his demands directly reflect the state’s economic troubles.
And around and around we go.
Which brings us back to the fact that being a state lawmaker in Illinois right now is a thankless job.
Kotowski doesn’t blame the budget mess for his departure but, rather, the allure of another opportunity. Kotowski has two kids, and his new job will be a mile and a half from his home.
Also, running for re-election isn’t cheap. Last time around, he raised $2 million. Imagine what he could raise for disadvantaged kids instead of running for re-election, he says.
“I feel very proud of my record and what I’ve been able to achieve,” says Kotowski, pointing to changes in the law he spearheaded that include allowing the campaign assets of politicians convicted of corruption to be confiscated and creating greater transparency in how the state doles out contracts.
Ed Sullivan says his reasons are personal. He has young kids, ages 6 and 7. And his being diagnosed with Type II diabetes also helped reshape his thinking about his future.
“I’ve been through all these overtime sessions before,” he says. “The ’07 session went to mid-August. There’s certainly frustrations. The frustrations of session did not enter my mind. I’m one of the people who believes the state must go through this to get true reforms.”
In 2013, Sullivan was one of two Republicans to vote in favor of a same-sex marriage law in Illinois — a vote that’s dogged him.
“At some point, my constituents need to get beyond this whole marriage equality issue,” Sullivan says, adding that he’d continue to face opposition because of his stance on that issue.
David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Institute of Politics, doesn’t see seven or eight announced departures out of 118 House members and 59 senators as anything abnormal.
“I think it is true in both the U.S .Congress and in the Illinois Legislature: It’s tough to serve these days,” Yepsen says. “It’s frustrating. You spend a lot of time away from your family and your business.”
Wouldn’t Republican lawmakers at least be emboldened by the fact that they finally have a same-party governor with deep pockets and the willingness to challenge Madigan?
“No,” says Yepsen. “I know of no one in politics that suggests there’s a realistic possibility that the Republicans will take over a chamber. Rauner has made it very clear to Republicans that he’s making the decisions. Some see his [campaign] money as a threat.”
I am departing the Sun-Times for another opportunity after having the honor of working at this great paper nearly 12 years. Thank you for your years of loyalty. Also thanks to my co-workers and editors, who work tirelessly to give readers the best each day.