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Illinois lawmakers resigning as parties pick replacements

Last updated on February 13, 2021

Illinois is one of only a handful of states where political leaders pick replacements for state lawmakers should they leave their post. On one hand, it’s saving taxpayers money on a special election that many other states conduct. On the other, it’s become so common that residents are calling it an abuse of political clout.

Two Illinois state senators were replaced by appointment Saturday. Springfield Ald. Doris Turner replaced Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat who took a position with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration. On the same day, Michael Simmons, a former political aid to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and others, replaced Illinois Sen. Heather Steans, a northside Chicago Democrat who resigned five days after being re-elected. Steans said she decided to care for her mother who is ailing from Alzheimer’s disease.

Due to Stean’s timing, a Chicago-based chapter of Indivisible Illinois has spoken out about the abuse of the appointment process, saying they haven’t seen a regular Senate election in thier district in decades because their senators keep resigning midterm.

“The process conveniently places their hand-selected replacements into office, which allows them to run as the incumbent in the next election – an advantage that ensures their re-election,” they say in an online petition asking for transparency. “That’s how the Chicago Machine works. It’s a particular problem in the 48th and 49th Wards. 1977 was the last regular election for State Senate here without a machine-approved incumbent stacking the deck against grassroots candidates.”

In addition to Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington and Rep. Andre Thapedi, D-Chicago, four lawmakers resigned after the election but before they were to begin work on the 102nd General Assembly.

“It’s very hard to say that it’s anything other than a contempt for voters,” said Professor Brian J.Gaines at the University of Illinois’ Department of Political Science. “It’s an affront to ordinary democracy when someone who’s just been re-elected and at the beginning of their first term, days or weeks in, steps down. It’s clear that it was a maneuver, that they didn’t intend to stay in office.”

Prior to the 1970 Constitutional Convention, Gaines said vacancies weren’t filled, rather staffers were paid to maintain constituency services until the next election.

Illinois is one of only five states where lawmakers are replaced by an appointment controlled by the local political machines, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most other states who have an appointment process allow either a commission or governor to replace them.

This article was originally posted on Illinois lawmakers resigning as parties pick replacements

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