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Rich Miller: House will be full of newbies after 2018. Why?

 
 
updated: 10/11/2017 10:07 AM

If it seems that more legislators are announcing their retirements than in the past, you're right, at least about the House.

With last week's retirement announcement by state Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights), a total of 24 House members have either resigned or announced they aren't running for reelection.

That compares to 16 state representatives who retired or resigned during the 99th General Assembly, a two-year period which ended in January.

Seventeen House members retired or resigned during the 98th General Assembly. Sixteen retired or resigned during the 97th, and 17 resigned in the 96th. (Those who lost re-election or died are not included).

So, that's an average of 16.5 retirements/resignations every two years. And we're already at 24 after only nine months of the 100th General Assembly.

There are some caveats here. Two House members (Juliana Stratton and Litesa Wallace) are leaving to run for lieutenant governor. Another, Scott Drury, is running for attorney general, but he's clearly dissatisfied with the House.

Even so, statewide bids by House members are pretty rare, mainly because their two-year terms requires giving up their seats. House members who run statewide are usually near the end of their careers.

So, I think it's pretty safe to say that the Statehouse's toxic atmosphere and the political exhaustion it has caused are the main reasons why we've seen so many House retirements.

But that hasn't necessarily been the case in the Senate, which has so far seen seven retirements/resignations since January. Nine senators retired or resigned during the 99th General Assembly. Just one retired during the 98th. Twelve left during the 97th, while only six did so during the 96th GA. Unlike the House, the Senate's retirement rate has been all over the place.

The House has twice as many members as the Senate, but more than three times as many House members have resigned or retired so far. What gives? Senators have longer, staggered terms, so that may be part of it.

The one Senator we know for sure who quit because of the dysfunction was Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno. Radogno sparred with the governor's campaign apparatus during the 2016 campaign season and then was undercut by the governor and his team during her ultimately unsuccessful "grand bargain" negotiations with Senate Democrats.

Just one Senate Republican, Dale Righter, voted for the income tax hike, and he is in the middle of a four-year term. But 15 House Republicans voted for that bill, although some didn't vote for the veto override.

All of those Republicans were immediately denounced as Speaker Madigan-supporting traitors by the Illinois Republican Party. Gov. Rauner has since said that support for the education funding reform bill would cause him to forget the tax hike vote, but the damage was done. The blowback from back home was horrific.

Nine of the 11 House Republicans who've so far said they're not running again voted for the income tax hike.

Gov. Rauner has been focused like a laser on defeating as many of Speaker Madigan's House Democrats as possible. But he's also said publicly that he doesn't really care if the Senate Democrats retain their majority as long as he can topple Madigan.

Twelve House Democrats so far have either quit or said they aren't running again. Several of those faced tough general election races next year if they ran again. Others said they'd just had enough of the war and wanted the heck out.

I'm an agnostic when it comes to term limits. I can see the good and the bad. Fresh ideas and a clean slate would be welcome. But some fresh ideas can also be stupid ideas. And term limits on legislators make governors more powerful -- which may not be a good thing when you look at Illinois' history of gubernatorial elections.

But this sort of turnover (on top of any electoral losses next year) means that a higher percentage of House members will be newbies.

So, remaining legislators with more experience (along with lobbyists and staff) will gain even more influence and power, unless those who are elected next year take much more independent stances -- and that doesn't seem all that likely to me.