Springfield – Anyone who pays attention, knows we are not in normal times when it comes to serving in the state legislature. Over the last three years, the pressure on lawmakers has grown considerably, both from the groups and the public outside the Capital, and from within the parties themselves. Now, two more state representatives are calling it quits and will not seek re-election.
And while there have been some Democrats announcing their retirements, the retirements coming this year, from relatively new members of the House, are overwhelmingly Republicans
Rep Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, who was in her first full term as a representative, and relatively new member of the House, Rep Steven Anderson are each calling it quits and announcing they will not seek reelection to the House.
Both Anderson and Jimenez were among the group of Republican House members who voted to override the Governor’s veto of the state budget. Jimenez, whose district is in Springfield, was voting her district’s interests with many state employees living in her district, but it was still somewhat surprising as she had served for a year as the Chief of Staff to First Lady Diane Rauner.
Jimenez released a statement that read in part, “Every two years, members of the Illinois House must consider if they will run for another term. After thoughtful consideration and discussions with my family, I have decided that I will step aside after serving this term in the 100th General Assembly. I have been so humbled by my family, friends, staff members, and residents of the district who have supported my vision of government and believed in me to do what’s best for Illinois…. Next year, there will be an opportunity for someone else to run and eventually serve in the Illinois House of Representatives. Until then, I look forward to continuing to work with my constituents and my colleagues to make progress on many important issues until the end of my term in January 2019.”
Anderson was removed from a House Republican Leadership post after he voted for the override. This week he announced on Chicago tonight, that he would not run again and mentioned that there was pressure from the Governor’s office and from allied groups that support the governor’s agenda, to hold those Republicans who voted to override responsible.
These announcements, along with others that have already been announced, are very telling about the state of Illinois politics, especially within the Republican Party of Illinois, since Gov Rauner took office.
Gov Rauner’s brought a style of governing that is not just conservative, but often personal. Some Republicans in the legislature complain he is a Republican version of Speaker Madigan, who does not tolerate dissension, and seeks to control the party via his vast wealth. He expects those Republicans in the legislature to vote with him — or else — find themselves facing a well financed opponent.
When Republican Senator Sam McCann voted against the governor on a bill in 2015, the governor found someone to run against McCann and then poured millions into a primary fight. This is NOT the norm in Illinois Republican politics to have a governor with the mega-wealth Bruce Rauner brings to governing, to then seek to control the party and its lawmakers with a financial threat, that many Republican lawmakers say privately is a “my way or the highway” approach. Yet, despite the Governor’s effort to hold McCann accountable for crossing him on a vote, McCann won his primary.
Another Republican to announce he’s leaving is Rep Chad Hays, who wrote a resignation letter laying out the dour mood of those now serving in the House, which read in part, ““The functionality of the Illinois General Assembly today is simply untenable and counterproductive,” said Hays. “Legislators who care deeply and have the courage of their convictions and the intestinal fortitude to do what is right regardless of consequences are increasingly silenced. I believe we are in serious jeopardy of independent thought being a relic in our public discourse.”
While not referring directly to the governor, Hays did mention in his retirement letter that lawmakers are “increasingly silenced and dwarfed by monied bullies.”
There is no question the very confrontational style of politics that has swept state government over the last several years, has frustrated lawmakers in both the House and the Senate, who spent three years waiting for a budget to be approved, only to now still be in session on a regular basis this summer, fighting over funding K-12 education.
Even the Republican Senate Leader, Christine Radogno, announced her resignation in early July, as the new fiscal year was starting. She did not attack the governor in her resignation address, but many in the Capitol knew she was very frustrated with Gov Rauner’s inability to get a budget passed, and then his interfering with her leadership of Senate Republicans. After she had given her commitment to Senate Democratic John Cullerton to put Republican votes on bills that were part of a so-called “Grand Bargain” budget agreement, Gov Rauner called up the Republican senators and told them not to vote for it.
When the expected Republican votes were not forthcoming, Cullerton stopped the process of bringing more of the legislative package to the floor.
At this point, no one who works in and around the lawmakers in Springfield would be surprised if there are more retirement announcements forthcoming. The only surprise may be in who is announcing.
But one thing is for sure… right now many lawmakers are only too happy to enforce their own term limits.