Eye On Illinois: Do we have enough legislative turnover in Springfield?

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What’s the value of experience versus fresh ideas? Of connections and traditions weighed against innovation and minimal entanglements?

These and other questions inform debate about legislative tenure. Term limits aren’t a current hot topic in Illinois, but the numbers remain interesting.

When a lawmaker leaves the General Assembly, chances are good John Amdor will follow with a tweet (@JohnAmdor) updating the seniority tally he’s kept since 2017. Such was the case Dec. 5 following the retirement announcement of state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington. Although the information was unfortunately outdated with the untimely death of state Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, it bears mention.

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland

Amdor partners in a lobbying and consulting firm with Elaine Nekritz, who served as a House Democrat from January 2003 through October 2017. Amdor measures tenure at the start of each General Assembly session and updates as needed. We’re nearing the end of the 102nd, with five lame duck days set for Jan. 4-Jan. 10. The 103rd begins with inauguration Jan. 11 and runs for two years.

He keeps track of median and average years served, the percentage of members with 10 or more years of service and the percentage that hasn’t reached five years. Each column heading covers four rows, one each for House and Senate Democrats and Republicans. The aggregation includes any non-consecutive terms and gives credit for time served in either chamber.

At the start of the 101st (2019-2021), 102nd and 103rd General Assemblies (data current as of Dec. 5), House Republicans with 10-plus years were at 9%, but the figure grew to 13% to start the 102nd and stands at 15% to begin the 103rd. House Democrats also have seen an increase here – 24% to 30% to 33% – even with the early 2021 retirement of longtime Speaker Michael Madigan, whose legislative career started in 1971, predating the state Lottery, among other modern advances.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have seen a slight decline in the veteran ranks, with a drop from 27% of members in 2021 to 21% starting next month. These are small statistical pools, so even one or two changes can result in an observable swing. Legislative districts change each decade. so some voters get fresh representation by default.

In January, for all 177 seats, the median years served is four, the average years served is 6.7, 29% of lawmakers have at least 10 years of experience and 54% is shy of five (meaning the other 17% has more than five but not quite a decade). In raw numbers, that’s 51 lawmakers with 10 or more years, 30 in the five to 10 range and 96 still in their first half decade.

In an ideal state, the ballot box is the ultimate term limit.

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 15, 2022 at 05:10AM

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