Known as a fierce legislative ally for Gov. Bruce Rauner but also a Republican with whom Democrats can shake hands after a feisty debate, Sen. Matt Murphy will leave a big void in the Illinois Senate and on Rauner’s side when he resigns next month, legislators say.
The Palatine legislator’s announcement Friday that he’ll step down Sept. 15 to take a lobbying job marks the second time in less than three weeks Rauner has been “surprised” by the resignation of a top legislative ally, though the Republican governor downplayed the impact of this latest high-level departure.
Last month, Republican Rep. Ron Sandack, another vocal supporter of Rauner, abruptly resigned from the state House.
Murphy, 46, a lawyer specializing in personal injury and workers’ compensation cases who’s been seen as a rising star in Republican politics in Illinois, is joining Mac Strategies. He said he’ll be running “the lobbying side” of the Chicago firm’s practice.
The married father of four — two of them in college, one in high school — said the decision was based on his family’s financial future and not the continued loggerheads in Springfield.
“I’m not leaving because I’m burned out,” Murphy said. “I’m not leaving because I’m turned off by this process in any way, shape or form. I still love doing this, and this is strictly a personal, family decision.
“I’m going to miss it,” he said. “But, in life, you have responsibilities to people. And my wife and kids have put up with a lot from me doing this over the years. It’s time for me to really put them first.”
Murphy was first elected in 2006. He served on the committee that set up the impeachment protocols to oust former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, an experience he termed “surreal,” and was appointed the Senate’s Republican deputy leader in January 2013.
Speaking Friday in Springfield at the Illinois State Fair, Rauner said he hadn’t spoken with Murphy about his resignation.
“I was surprised by it,” Rauner said. “Disappointed. I think he’s been a great legislator. He will be missed, no question.
“That said, we have strong advocates in the General Assembly for what we are recommending for reform,” the governor said.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the governor is losing a key ally — a respected legislator and floor leader who “would make a lot of Democrats kind of cringe because he was very articulate.
“We didn’t agree with him, but you could tell he was able to come up with the kind of saying that you knew was going to be quoted. I think there was respect for that even though folks didn’t necessary agree with him. They respected his ability to make points.
“I’m sure that whomever they replace will be just as supportive of Gov. Rauner as Matt Murphy was,” Cullerton said. “But the problem is that maybe the governor doesn’t appreciate the experience Matt Murphy brings to the Legislature. And that’s going to be lost.
“That’s what I would have said if I was the governor and somebody from my party left, rather than: We’ll just be fine without him.”
Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said Murphy was an effective floor spokesman. But, like Rauner, she said others will “step up to the plate.”
“He was very talented at expressing some of the complex issues in understandable and a very clear way,” Radogno said. “So we will miss that, for sure. But I think what will happen is that you’ll see other members, newer and younger members, step up to the plate, and we will see other people develop.”
When Sandack resigned last month, it was after reporting an “internet scam” in Downers Grove that neither he nor police in the suburb have said much about.
“They are completely and utterly different,” Radogno said of the departures of the two key Rauner allies from Springfield.
Cullerton agreed, calling their exits “individual decisions.”
“I don’t think you can read anything major,” he said. “They’re not leaving because of Rauner.”
Murphy, who said he plans to see Rauner in the coming week in Springfield, said he took no offense at the governor’s remarks.
“His people have been very gracious to me,” he said. “He is in a very difficult situation, and I respect his resolve. And, you know, I wish I could have stayed to help him a little longer.”