Eye On Illinois: Voters should choose representatives, not party insiders

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So long, Jason Barickman.

Politically I’ll remember the Bloomington Republican, who announced his retirement from the Senate Monday, for being the only member of his caucus to vote for legalizing same sex marriage in Illinois in February 2013.

“I believe that the people of Illinois want our government to give individuals freedom over their life decisions,” he said at the time, clarifying the bill’s sponsors got his vote by allowing an amendment protecting the right of religious institutions to refuse to offer such rituals.

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland

Professionally, I’ll remember him for working around his obligations to boost energy legislation in December 2016 to grant a phone interview on my timetable regarding evidence-based funding for public education.

Personally I have enjoyed communicating with his mother on social media over the years. Barickman grew up in rural Livingston County and graduated from Woodland High School in South Streator in 1993. His family had been reading the Streator Times-Press long before its merger with The Times in Ottawa and my arrival to the combined newsroom in 2007. In the ensuing 15 years they’ve been been unfailingly kind, especially Judith.

Barickman’s resignation announcement evokes a December 2010 column I wrote about state Sen. Gary Dahl, R-Granville, who quietly left the Legislature with two years on his term, opening the appointment process through which Sue Rezin, who had just won her first House election, got a promotion and since has kept her spot.

That column noted state Rep. Shane Cultra was appointed to the Senate because Pontiac’s Dan Rutherford was elected treasurer. Cultra’s vacancy in the 105th House district went to Barickman. The two met in the 2012 GOP Senate primary. Barickman won handily, roughly 62-38, and since never faced a primary or general election opponent.

Barickman could’ve announced his retirement soon enough for voters to choose his replacement. Instead, elected party leaders will pick someone to start his new term in January and that person will have the incumbent’s advantage heading into the next election cycle. Given the district’s demographics it seems clear a Republican would hold the seat regardless, but the timing here gives significant power to a select few partisans.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, executed the same playbook earlier this year. Democrats likewise are no stranger to carefully considered resignation timelines. Voters can speculate if Barickman and Butler might’ve kept their newly won seats had the rest of the votes shaken out differently, but the rules explicitly allow this maneuvering because of an apparent aversion to special elections for legislative vacancies.

Our gerrymandered maps make special elections costly and complicated, not to mention the unlikeliness of amending the state constitution to set new rules.

Voters should choose representatives whenever possible. Illinois routinely falls short of that goal.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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December 7, 2022 at 05:08AM

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