'Naked power play' or democracy: Legislators OK '16 vote for comptroller

'Naked power play' or democracy: Legislators OK '16 vote for comptroller

SPRINGFIELD — In what likely were the last votes of the Democratic-controlled 98th General Assembly with a Democratic governor, majority lawmakers pushed through legislation requiring a special election in 2016 for the office of state comptroller.

Republicans said the maneuver was a bad omen for Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner and called it "political thievery," "a power grab," "a politically motivated power play" and "a naked power play."

Democrats, though, called it democracy.

"I submit that Democratic institutions are never weakened by increased participation of the people that they serve," said Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock. "The people should have the right to elect a comptroller at the most reasonable opportunity, the 2016 general election."

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the bill "is not meant to be partisan. It's meant to give people a chance to have an election. We don't know who's going to run. We don't know who's going to win. It's the principle and it's something I think we should do."

The issue arose with the death last month of Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who passed away after being reelected but before she could be sworn in to another full term.

Republicans argued the office should stay in GOP hands for the next four years. Republican Leslie Munger has been appointed comptroller, effective next Monday, by incoming Gov. Bruce Rauner, also a Republican.

"This is a naked power grab, trying to cover it up (by) cloaking it as giving voters a choice, just doesn't pass the smell test because voters just said they wanted Judy Baar Topinka, a Republican, for the next four years," said Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine.

He said the move forshadowed difficult times ahead, even though Democratic lawmakers have said they're looking forward to a bipartisan relationship with Rauner.

"And the first thing you do, the first partisan punch thrown this year, was by you," Murphy said to Cullerton. "Is it really worth having a shot at two years of the comptrollers office, to start off this new relationship with this tone?"

Rauner issued a statement saying he had hoped Munger's appointment would be for four years, with the comptroller and treasurer offices being merged in 2018.

"While Democrats in the General Assembly refused today to take bipartisan steps toward merging those offices and proceeded instead with a constitutionally dubious election bill," said Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf, "the governor-elect remains committed to working with members of both political parties to pass 'Judy's Amendment' and finally merge the comptroller and treasurer offices, which would be a true victory for taxpayers."

The legislation (HB 4576) approved in both Senate and House on Thursday calls for a special election for attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer or comptroller if the elected office holder is unable to complete a term and there is more than 28 months remaining in the term.

Republicans said the legislation was a power grab because 2016 is a presidential election year, when Democrats normally fare better on ballots in Illinois than in non-presidential years.

"I've heard several times that this is about people and not politics, but it's about politics and not people," said Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon.

He predicted "there will be litigation" on the legislation, which is expected to be signed by outgoing Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

Republicans also argued that delegates to the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention, including late Democratic icons Paul Simon and Dawn Clark Netsch, wanted statewide elections to be held in non-presidential years.

"The general rule is," said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, "that we elect statewide oficers every four years in non-presidential years. but the constitution clearly provided an avenue for the Legislature to call for a special election in order to prevent the appointment of a constitutional officer for an extended peiod of time by a governor of either political party."

The measure passed in the Senate 37-15 without Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, casting a vote.

Frerichs, who is to be sworn in Monday as the new state treasurer, was off the Senate floor at the time and missed the roll call.

"I thought there'd be a longer debate. I had another meeting and they didn't hold the vote for me," he said.

It likely would have been his last vote as a senator. He has submitted his resignation, effective Sunday night at midnight.

"I intended to vote for it. I was just distracted at the time," he said.

The bill passed the House 66-40 on a party-line vote.

Sections (2):News, Local
Tags (1):2014 election

Comments

News-Gazette.com embraces discussion of both community and world issues. We welcome you to contribute your ideas, opinions and comments, but we ask that you avoid personal attacks, vulgarity and hate speech. We reserve the right to remove any comment at our discretion, and we will block repeat offenders' accounts. To post comments, you must first be a registered user, and your username will appear with any comment you post. Happy posting.

Login or register to post comments

787 wrote on January 09, 2015 at 12:01 pm

This is more of the crap that the Democrat party is famous for.  

Do anything possible to keep control, or to try and gain new control.