Illinois House leaders will have to find a way to work together

In an interview last week, House Speaker Chris Welch called House Republican Leader Jim Durkin a “failed leader.” A Durkin spokeswoman, in turn, called Welch “unhinged.”

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Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, center left, R-Western Springs, speaks with Illinois Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, after the close of session on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield in June 2021.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, center left, talks with Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch after the close of session on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Capitol in Springfield in June 2021.

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

During a sometimes-fiery interview last week, House Speaker Chris Welch pledged to tie House Republican candidates to the far right top of their ticket and called House Republican leader Jim Durkin a “failed leader.” A Durkin spokesperson, in turn, called Welch “unhinged.”

It started when I asked Welch if he thought gun law reform would play a major role in the fall campaign, which is basically just around the corner.

“I think Democrats, particularly Democrats in Illinois, vastly differ from Republicans in Illinois on some major issue,” Welch said. “Guns is one of them. We have a guy that’s running for governor right now, who’s leading the Republican ticket [state Sen. Darren Bailey], that is probably the most pro-Second Amendment legislator the state has ever had — certainly the most pro-Second Amendment candidate for governor we’ve ever had.

“And looking at who’s won races on the Republican side, we have a lot of folks who want to keep dangerous weapons on the streets and make it more difficult to live in a lot of our communities. We have a candidate for governor who does not believe in a woman’s right to choose. He believes that even in the case of rape and said that a woman wouldn’t have a right to an abortion. These are issues that are ripe to be discussed in the fall campaign.”

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Bailey bragged often during the Republican gubernatorial primary campaign that he was the most pro-gun state legislator and candidate for governor. He also said on the campaign trail that he was against all abortion except to save the life of the mother. He’s tried to walk that back since then by saying he’s not for bans. But the damage has been done, and his public (and recorded) comments are fair game.

Told he sounded eager to pair Republican candidates with the top of their ticket, Welch said, “The top of their ticket is very much a reflection of the bottom of their ticket. A lot of right-wing extremists are their candidates for office. And these are some very important issues that voters are going to have to choose between.

“We can continue to move Illinois forward. We can be a safe haven for women when it comes to reproductive health. We can be a state that leads when it comes to common sense gun laws, or we can go back. I believe that people in the state don’t want to go back. We’re going to tell them in November, ‘We won’t go back.’”

Later in the interview, which ranged over a variety of issues, I returned to the topic about campaigns. Durkin has often demanded that Welch take specific actions, and the two have frequently sparred. So, I asked Welch, did he believe Durkin should speak out about Bailey?

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“I think the House Republican leader is very hypocritical,” Welch said. “He’s been a hypocrite, especially since I’ve become speaker. He says one thing but does another very often. He’s yet to speak out against Donald Trump. He’s yet to speak out against this extreme Supreme Court. He’s yet to speak out against Darren Bailey.

“He’s a failed leader. And I think Jim Durkin is nothing like the Jim Durkin I met 20-plus years ago. He’s a failed leader. And he should speak out against extreme, bad politicians like Donald Trump and Darren Bailey.”

I asked Durkin’s office for a response. “Speaker Welch sounds unhinged,” said Durkin spokeswoman Rachel Bold. “He would do the institution a favor by reflecting on his own behavior and telling us how he has grown in the last 20 years. His comments are rich coming from a guy who defended Public Official A’s corruption for over a decade. Speaker Welch can’t and won’t comment about the real issue - Democratic corruption - all because he is indebted to the 13th Ward.”

In case you’ve been living under a rock, “Public Official A” is a reference to former House Speaker and current 13th Ward Democratic Committeeman Michael Madigan, who was given that moniker by federal prosecutors in the indictment of four of his cohorts.

Durkin has reportedly been firming up his support within his own caucus since several unfavorable primary results caused at least one member to start calling around about a possible challenge.

But if Durkin manages to knock the House Democrats off their super-majority pedestal this November, the two leaders will have to somehow find a way to work together.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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