Republican state legislators choose new leaders after election cements Democratic dominance in General Assembly

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Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly chose new leaders on Tuesday, a week after a poor election showing that allowed Democrats to maintain or build on supermajorities in the House and Senate.

House Republicans chose state Rep. Tony McCombie to be their new leader when the new legislature is seated early next year. She will become the first woman to hold the top legislative position for either party in the House.

The Senate GOP selected state Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove to lead its caucus. In January, he will officially replace state Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods, who has led the caucus since January of last year.

McCombie, the former mayor of Savanna in northwestern Illinois, was elected House minority leader in a 31-8 vote over state Rep. Martin McLaughlin of Barrington Hills. The tally for Curran’s victory was not made available Tuesday night.

The House GOP lost several seats to Democrats in the general election, and a day later state Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs announced he was stepping down from the minority leader position. House Democrats held a 73-to-45 advantage prior to election night. But they flipped at least four Republican seats, and will now be even better positioned to secure the three-fifths majority vote needed to pass many key pieces of legislation.

The Senate GOP gained a seat in last week’s election. But when the new General Assembly is sworn in next year, Democrats will still hold a 40-to-19 supermajority in the chamber.

McCombie abandoned an attempt to unseat Durkin after the 2020 election, when the House GOP picked up one seat. A House member since 2017, McCombie was first elected the year before by flipping a Democratic seat in the Quad Cities area. She was just elected to a fourth term.

She’s had a variety of committee assignments in nearly six years with the House, and also chaired the House Republican campaign organization.

“The House Republican Caucus is focused on helping Illinois families by offering common sense solutions to the many problems our state faces,” McCombie said in a statement Tuesday evening. “We will be a unified force that will grow our party by sticking to our core values and ending the corruption that has pervaded state government.”

Like Durkin and many other Republicans, McCombie has been critical of the sweeping criminal justice law known as the SAFE-T Act that was pushed by Democrats and signed into law by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in early 2021. While proponents of the law say it will create a more equitable criminal justice system, McCombie and other Republicans believe it weakens law enforcement.

McCombie also has joined Republicans who’ve been critical Pritzker’s management of the state’s Department of Children and Family Services. She was the House sponsor on a bipartisan bill allowing the families of DCFS workers to acquire state benefits if the workers are killed while performing their duties. The measure, which Pritzker signed into law, was prompted by the January slaying of DCFS worker Deidre Silas who was stabbed to death during a home visit in central Illinois.

McCombie also joined fellow Republicans in opposition of COVID-19 mitigations. In February, McCombie was among several GOP House members who refused to wear a mask on the House floor.

McCombie becomes the House GOP leader as several colleagues who held leadership positions under Durkin will be leaving the chamber, either because they lost their reelection bids or because they sought another office.

Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state, while Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon lost for state treasurer and Rep. Avery Bourne of Morrisonville made a failed bid for lieutenant governor in the June GOP primary.

Rep. David Welter of Morris lost to a more conservative challenger in the primary, and Rep. Keith Wheeler of Oswego was unseated in the general election. Rep. Mark Batinick of Plainfield, meanwhile, chose not to seek another term. Rep. Tim Butler of Springfield, who was reelected, said he would resign before the new legislature is seated to take a job with the Illinois Railroad Association.

Curran became a state senator in 2017 and has served on several committees, including the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, a bipartisan legislative body that approves regulations for state agencies.

A former University of Illinois football player, Curran is also a former vice chairman of the DuPage County Board, a former Cook County prosecutor, and works as a lawyer for a private firm in Chicago’s western suburbs.

Regarded as a more moderate Republican, Curran, unlike McCombie, has supported various gun control measures over the years. He was the only GOP senator in 2021 to vote with Democrats in passing a bill that overhauled the state’s firearm owner’s identification card system. That legislation was prompted by a mass shooting at an Aurora warehouse that left five people dead and several wounded, including five police officers.

In a statement Tuesday night, McConchie wished Curran well and said the Democratic leadership in Illinois has failed “miserably” at addressing the state’s systemic problems.

“In my tenure, we became a caucus unafraid of putting real solutions on the table and engaging in rhetorical battle for them. We introduced numerous bills covering a whole host of issue areas that outline our vision to once again make Illinois a state to which people flock,” said McConchie. “We weighed into the debate with vigor, fighting for that vision that we know can put us on the path to a brighter future.

“I can only presume,” he also said, “that the majority’s refusal to even allow debate on our suggestions is rooted in fear — fear that the public will embrace an alternative to the singular reality they are currently offered.

jgorner@chicagotribune.com

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November 15, 2022 at 08:37PM

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