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Illinois Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno will resign Saturday

Illinois Sen. Christine Radogno gets a hug from Sen. Kwame Raoul after announcing she was leaving the Senate. | Tina Sfondeles / Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — Seven months after jump-starting a bipartisan Senate plan to try to save the state, Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno — praised for understanding the art of compromise — announced on Thursday that she’s resigning.

The first female caucus leader in Illinois General Assembly history, Radogno, 64, will resign as leader and as a senator on Saturday, the first day of a new fiscal year, and the looming deadline for a budget deal to be reached.

“I have done everything I can do to resolve the state’s budget crisis. I will continue to do so for the coming days. But if the solution will not come on my watch, I hope and pray that the Governor, other legislative leaders, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House can find a path to solve the state’s problems,” Radogno said in a statement.

Radogno’s resignation was not a surprise. Many saw her push, along with Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, for the “grand bargain” package as a proactive way to put frustration into action in the waning days of her political career.

State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington and Sen. Karen McConnaughay of St. Charles are believed to be the front-runners for Radogno’s leadership post.

Her efforts were met with pain and disappointment when she had to march into Cullerton’s office in March to tell him he’d have no Republican votes besides her own. Cullerton accused Gov. Bruce Rauner of killing the plan. The disruption meant that Radogno, who worked tirelessly to try to get her members on board for some unpopular bills, was ultimately left alone by her caucus.

But Radogno, of Lemont, insisted Thursday the collapse of the plan wasn’t her reason for leaving: “I’m ready to focus on my personal life,” she said.

“The end of the fiscal year is here, and I’m not sure that there’s another natural break coming any time soon,” Radogno said of the budget talks, noting there are “significant policy differences” and “different personalities” among the two sides.

While the “grand bargain” fell apart at times, all measures within the package passed the Illinois Senate. In her statement, Radogno thanked Cullerton for his “friendship and working relationship.”

Cullerton, in turn, said he would miss her “camaraderie and common sense.” He credited her for this week’s legislative leaders meeting.

“But I also hope that she has a few tricks left up her sleeve before July 1 to help us finally get out of this mess,” Cullerton said.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said she “leaves with a reputation for hard work, honesty, integrity.”

“The genius of the legislative process lies in the ability to compromise, and Chris Radogno understands that,” Madigan said.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said she “always stayed above the fray in this very partisan environment.” And Rauner called her a “consummate professional and public servant.”

In discussing her departure, she also became teary-eyed while discussing the sudden death of Lisa Radogno, her daughter, in 2014. Lisa Radogno, 31, was an executive assistant for Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. She died from a blood clot in her lung about a month after she was injured in a hit-and-run accident.

“It doubled down my interest in it [politics], but it did give me the perspective that nothing is forever,” Radogno said. “And I don’t want to be squandering my life with my husband and my grandkids and my other daughters. We only all have a certain amount of time and that experience told me, that’s for sure.”

Declaring that “I even got a hug from [Illinois House Speaker] Mike Madigan, Radogno received universal praise from members on both sides of the aisle, some who watched her farewell press conference and offered hugs and words of encouragement.

Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, praised Radogno, saying she “demonstrated true willingness to negotiate in good faith,” and that she showed the “humanity” that’s needed within the next few days to end the budget impasse.

Radogno began her third term as leader in 2013. She has served in the Illinois Senate since 1997 and represents the 41st District in DuPage, Will and Cook counties.

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