State legislators leaving office with the job not yet finished
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
There’s a low, flat rumbling on the horizon, and one who didn’t know better would think it was residents caravanning out of state.
This parade, though, is filing out of the Illinois Legislature.
At last count, 24 veteran statesmen were calling it quits, having had enough of the legislative business to last their political lifetimes.
Make that 25: State Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, weighed in just in time to make this month’s issue.
And, who knows, by the time you read this there could be more.
The Downstate delegation is going to be hurting in terms of bench strength. Bill Haine, the senator from Alton, is retiring, giving it up after battling with health issues this year. Dan Beiser, his longtime Alton colleague in the House, has also announced he won’t run again.
And Clayborne, the Senate majority leader, follows the recent departure of Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, the Okawville Republican who spent 21 years in the House and Senate before retiring in January.
The phenomenon is not unique to Southern Illinois. The Land of Lincoln legislative armada is sailing off to sunnier seas, apparently wise to the ways of the hurricanes hitting Springfield.
By the time of the 2018 election, some 36 percent of the House and 25 percent of the Senate will have turned over since Rauner took office in 2015, reports say. That’s an astounding number.
Lawmakers who have either resigned this year or said they won’t seek re-election represent about 15 percent of the current General Assembly. Many have cited the state’s political gridlock.
Basically, that lack of production can be placed at the feet of House Speaker Mike Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose mutually incalcitrant ways assured residents, businesses, social services and vendors a near disaster in recent years. What they arrived at this summer in the way of a compromise budget could have been reached two years ago had they not performed like two mules in a Sangamon County pasture.
But what of legislators? Where is their role in all this? Plenty. By continuously installing chamber leaders who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) get the negotiating job done, they basically abdicated the responsibilities entrusted to them.
And now, on their way out the door, they agreed to a 32-percent income tax increase to “fix” problems that are still …. not fixed. The massive public debt, now estimated conservatively at $14.5 billion, remains.
I hate to be critical of guys like Haine, Beiser, Clayborne, etc., all of them good men who have done enough for their constituents to continue getting returned to the General Assembly. But they and others should have stood firmer against the partisanship that has made this state a laughing stock. Stood up to the decade of tax-and-spend policies that gave rise to the current governor. Stood up and spoken out more.
In the 14 months that the current term has remaining, a lot of work can be done toward fixing this mess, even if it’s agreeing to a years-long approach. Short of that, the electorate is going to have to rely on the players to be named later. That’s a scary thought, and I wonder if voter-imposed term limits won’t be the next step beyond that?
Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (618) 977-6865.