As we head into the first week of the Illinois General Assembly’s fall session, the biggest questions are who will be selected to lead the Senate Democrats and the Senate Republicans? Leaders of both caucuses are stepping down, opening the door for a rare change in leadership that has potential to drastically change the atmosphere in the Capitol.
See this month’s Illinois Issues magazine for information about the Democratic race for Senate president.
So far, two Senate GOP members are openly seeking the minority leadership position, while two others are mentioned as potential candidates if the caucus can’t agree. Sen. Christine Radogno of Lemont and Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale both represent suburban Chicago districts in mostly DuPage and Will counties. Both have described themselves as fiscal conservatives who can work with different factions within the Illinois Republican Party. And both say they have a good understanding of issues throughout the state.
Radogno says she’s “definitely” interested in becoming Senate minority leader. Although she says she had absolutely no intentions to become a career politician, she now fills the caucus’ No. 2 position and serves as its budget negotiator. She also ran for statewide office in 2006 but lost to Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, the current state treasurer.
Radogno didn’t agree or disagree with former Gov. Jim Edgar’s statements that the Illinois GOP needs to move toward the middle for it to revive its stature. She simply says: “I think what we need to focus on are the issues that we all agree on. And those, quite frankly, are the very ones that are on voters’ minds right now, and that is jobs, the economy and policies that allow people to succeed. That would be making sure they have job opportunities so that people can make their own way.”
Her name also has been mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2010. Radogno doesn’t rule it out. “It’s hard to never say never. Right now, my interest is clearly legislative,” she says, adding, however, that, “it may make it more challenging to run for governor if I were leader.”
Dillard also uses the word “definitely” in describing his interest in the position. “I definitely know that I am the best person to move my caucus and the state’s business forward in Springfield.” He says the principles in which he ran Edgar’s office as his chief of staff and in which he used to run the DuPage Republican Party are the blueprint for the way he would operate as a Senate leader.
Dillard sought the leadership position before, but the caucus selected outgoing Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson. Watson announced last week that he would not seek the position after having a minor stroke last month.
“Sen. Watson was my friend. And I tried to help him in any way that I could, from fundraising on down,” Dillard says, but, “no matter who the new Senate leader is in the Republican Caucus, it is imperative that we remain cordial and cohesive because when you only have 22 members, you have no room for dissention.”
Some dissention did occur when Dillard, who says he has a personal relationship with President-elect Barack Obama, appeared in a TV ad for the Democrat during the campaign season. But Dillard cites his relationship with Obama as helping to break the logjam of recent ethics legislation, in which Dillard says he was one, with Comptroller Dan Hynes’ leadership, who encouraged Obama to call Senate President Emil Jones Jr. to call the bill for a vote. Dillard also cites his legislative work with Obama to revise the state’s death penalty statute.
Dillard also won’t rule out a run for governor, but he says he won’t run in 2010. “I’m 52 years old. I have time.”
Two other names mentioned as possible compromise GOP candidates are Sen. Dave Luechtefeld of downstate Okawville and Sen. Dale Risinger of Peoria.
We’ll see if commitments to the leadership candidates solidify this week and next. Republicans have an internal caucus meeting scheduled for November 19.
The Illinois Senate will return to the Capitol on Wednesday and is scheduled to meet through Friday, although that could change. The House canceled the first week of session and won’t convene until November 19. Action during the so-called veto session could be somewhat light but significant if the General Assembly considers allocating more money to such state agencies as the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Veto session serves as a good time to review the state’s fiscal realities, including whether revenues match up to spending. They don't, according to the Illinois Department of Revenue. They're $800 million out of whack. This comes on top of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s $1.4 billion budget cuts that are causing state parks and historic sites to close this month, although the General Assembly approved ways to restore about $221 million to keep those sites open and to save some social services from closing. Blagojevich still hasn’t signed Senate Bill 1103, which would release the money. He has until December 5 to do so before it automatically becomes law.
Watch for Senate action that would take one more step toward the state’s first clean-coal power plant. Senate Bill 1987 would kick off a study to estimate the cost and design of the proposed Taylorville Energy Center, but it also would set the framework for the state’s long-term energy portfolio. Future power plants would have to use Illinois coal and advanced technology to reduce pollution, and the door would open for a system of carbon tax credits as one more way to reduce pollution. Tenaska Inc., a Nebraska-based energy company, announced today that it already purchased half of the land for the energy center.
Medical malpractice update
This Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court will consider the controversial medical malpractice law that limits the amount juries can award for pain and suffering caused by malpractice. See the background here.
I’ll be on an airplane headed for North Carolina for the annual CapitolBeat conference for Statehouse reporters Thursday, so, unfortunately, I’ll catch up with these updates next week.