Some two dozen Illinois legislators are calling it quits. Most are resigning, retiring or declining to run for re-election in 2018 because they are fed up with gridlock.
Many are moderates who have crossed the political aisle in the name of compromise. Their departures are particularly dismaying. We need more moderate voices in government, not fewer.
During the last two years of dysfunction in Springfield, we wrote a lot about how it was decimating Illinois. Now we’re seeing the political casualties. Some middle-of-the-road Democrats suggest they feel irrelevant in these hyper-partisan times. Moderate Republicans who compromised with Democrats in July on a budget deal that raised the personal income tax are getting out amid serious right-wing blowback. They were likely to be targeted by ideologues in Republican primaries.
“I think moderate legislators are getting lost and that troubles me,” State Rep. Carol Sente, a Democrat from Vernon Hills, told the Daily Herald this week. She will not seek re-election in 2018. “Those of us in the middle, frankly, are drowning.”
In the spring and summer, Sente was part of a small group of legislators who held bipartisan talks and pressured leaders to end a two-year budget impasse. A Republican she worked with, Sara Wojcicki Jimenez of downstate Leland Grove, came under fire for breaking ranks and voting for the budget passed in early July. She also joined 61 Democrats and nine other Republicans to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the income tax rate hike.
Wojcicki Jimenez announced in August she will not seek re-election.
Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Democrat from Northbrook who is respected by members of both parties, announced her resignation in June. “I don’t have the energy anymore, and I feel a lot of frustration with the impasse,” Nekritz told the Northbrook Star in early summer.
When they disagreed with powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, Nekritz and Sente let him know it. Theirs were voices of reason that will be sorely missed.
Perhaps more stunning, House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie — a liberal Democrat tight with Madigan who knows when to take half a loaf — told Sun-Times reporter Tina Sfondeles late Thursday that she will not seek reelection.
We can keep going with a list of distinguished legislators who are being run out of Springfield or are already gone, chief among them former Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Republican from southwest suburban Lemont. She made history as the state’s first female leader of a legislative caucus. Radogno was repeatedly undercut by the governor as she and Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat, pursued a “grand bargain” budget deal earlier this year.
The group of disillusioned lawmakers also includes men. Republican Reps. Chad Hays, Bob Pritchard, Bill Mitchell, Mike Fortner and Steve Andersson, all of whom voted to pass the budget and override the governor’s veto, decided to leave. Sticking around would invite hard-line conservatives wedded to ideology and big money to target them in primaries.
Hays didn’t mince words about his reason for leaving in a letter to state party leaders. “There truly are legislators who care deeply, have the courage of their convictions and the intestinal fortitude to do what must be done regardless of consequences. They are increasingly silenced and dwarfed by monied bullies. We are in serious jeopardy of independent thought being a relic in our public discourse.”
We couldn’t have said it better.
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