Tom Kacich: State Republicans facing ‘big loss’ of experience

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Six of the 51 Republicans in the Illinois House are getting out — including three members of the leadership team — and there will be more, state Rep. Bill Mitchell says.

That’s a big loss of experience, institutional memory and political smarts for a group that is already outnumbered 67 to 51 in the House.

“It’s just when you go 700 and some days without a budget, you get everybody mad at you, and it certainly was a difficult period of time. And it’s not going to get any easier after this budget. We’re going to have to, in my opinion, make more cuts, and nobody wants to do that,” said Mitchell, a Forsyth Republican who announced last week that he would not run for re-election in 2018 after 20 years in the House.

He said he knows of at least one more Republican who intends to retire, and there may be others.

The reasons are varied. Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, was the most frank when he cited the “dislike and distrust” between House Speaker Michael Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner and how that has “paralyzed government in Illinois.”

But there’s also the dreary frustration of being a virtually powerless member of the minority party.

“Being in the minority is not an easy thing, and I’ve been in the minority for my whole career,” Mitchell said. “Being in the majority, I would assume would be more enjoyable, although without a budget, it is stressful for everyone. But under the usual circumstances, I would think being in the majority would be better.”

Indeed, so far only five of the 67 Democrats are leaving the House — and three of them are running for other offices.

Mitchell said that the GOP turnover is unprecedented in his time in the House.

“I don’t recall it. Usually turnovers happen after reapportionment (census-driven changes in the legislative map). The reapportionment group was a big class, so this is unusual that you have people like Chad Hays and Barb Wheeler, both members who are relatively new — they’ve been here six years — who leave. And leave on their own,” Mitchell said. “You always like to have a good mix of people who have been there a period of time who had some institutional knowledge.

“I go back to (Danville Rep.) Bill Black. When I was a freshman, you had those people who were close by and had institutional knowledge and that was important. And then the new folks bring a new approach to government while someone like me could be getting old and tired. You always need new people and new energy and a good mix is good. But I don’t know though that 60 percent of your caucus should be relatively new.”

Among the GOP losses are Hays, who Mitchell said is “a big loss to the caucus and the General Assembly because he had life experience (as a mayor and health care executive) before he came to the General Assembly,” Mike Fortner of West Chicago, who is a nuclear physicist “and probably the smartest guy in the General Assembly,” and Patti Bellock of Westmont, “who is terrific on human services.

“Those are big losses,” Mitchell said.

School-funding formula

Rauner’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1, which was aimed at changing Illinois’ school funding formula, apparently includes a bizarre provision that would require school districts entirely within counties with property tax caps — like the Champaign, Urbana, Unit 7, Fisher and Rantoul districts — to pass a property tax increase or lose state funding.

That would seem to counter everything Rauner says he stands for. And it’s why state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, is cautioning patience until a full analysis of Rauner’s veto is completed. That’s on hold since the Illinois Department of Revenue said it found flaws in the data it submitted to the Illinois State Board of Education.

“We need the numbers from the State Board of Education because right now, everyone is trying to make a decision in a vacuum of information,” Rose said.

More importantly, Rose said, eight legislators negotiating an entirely different school funding deal — apart from S.B. 1 or the provisions in Rauner’s amendatory veto — “have the opportunity to bring us a global resolution so that we can get something that everyone can move forward with and be proud of, for a change, for K-12 funding.”

Danville march featured

Democratic candidate for governor Ameya Pawar, a Chicago alderman, has released a 2-minute digital media spot titled “Stop the Violence,” about a march against violence by Danville’s Three Kings of Peace. The group holds peace marches in troubled neighborhoods and also mentors kids at several Danville schools.

The video can be seen here.

Marron money

Mike Marron, the Fithian area farmer who intends to succeed state Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, already is building up a nice campaign fund.

Marron, who also is head of the Vermilion County Board and the county’s Republican Party, has at least $13,000 on hand, including $1,000 from himself and $1,000 from his parents.

Marron also got separate $5,000 contributions from Green Vistas LLC and Merlan Inc., two companies owned by Danville businessman Lou Mervis.

As of now, Marron is the only candidate for Hays’ 104th District seat.

Young Democrats forum

Four current or past local Democratic officeholders will participate in a panel discussion Sunday about women in politics.

Panelists include state Rep. Carol Ammons, Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, former state Rep. and County Recorder Naomi Jakobsson and former county board Chair Patricia Avery.

The discussion, hosted by WDWS Radio’s Elizabeth Hess, will be from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at the Champaign Public Library.

“By discussing the personal political experiences of the panelists, I think it will be easier for women to see themselves running for office some day,” said Adani Sanchez, treasurer of the Young Democrats.

In Champaign, five of the nine city council members, including Mayor Deb Frank Feinen, are women. Five of the seven elected Champaign school board members are women.

In Urbana, Mayor Diane Marlin and Maryalice Wu, the Ward 1 council member, are women. But the other six council members are men. Five of the seven elected Urbana school board members are women.

In Champaign County, only five of 22 county board member are women. Two countywide elected officials, Rietz and Circuit Clerk Katie Blakeman, are women.

Last year the National Conference of State Legislatures reported that 32.2 percent of the members of the Illinois General Assembly were women. Five states had a higher percentage.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at kacich@news-gazette.com.

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