Serving in the Illinois General Assembly didn't turn out so well for retiring Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga.
In every one of his 10 years in the Legislature he was in the virtually powerless GOP minority. The generally conservative businessman (he did, however, oppose plans to close the Dwight prison in his district) voted "no" on most spending bills but had to watch the state's financial condition worsen practically every year he was in Springfield. And in his last election contest, he was soundly beaten in a Republican primary, 62 percent and 38 percent, by Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign.
On top of that, he's leaving office in January with a campaign debt of more than $90,000. He's already said that he'll just "eat" those personal loans that date back to 2003.
In a brief speech to the Active Senior Republicans of Champaign County last week, Cultra said he thought he was prepared for the Legislature in 2003 because he had served as chairman of the Iroquois County Board.
"I thought that would make me ready to go to Springfield. But boy, I use the analogy that I think I would have been more prepared if I had gone to Chicago at night and went down an alley and got beat up and robbed," he said. "That would have prepared me more for Springfield than the county board did."
In a word, Cultra said his 10 years have been "frustrating."
"Being a conservative Republican, knowing what I think should be done and seeing the opposite being done, has been frustrating," he said. Convicted ex-Gov. "Rod Blagojevich borrowed a lot of money, and spent money we didn't have. It's strange the way they do the budget in Springfield. In the past you tried to match revenue with expenses. Well, there were years early in the Blagojevich administration when they just spent money and there was no relationship between what we were taking in and what we were spending. There was All Kids (a state-funded health care program for children) and we had no way of paying for that. There was mismanagement to the max. And being a conservative Republican it was frustrating."
Cultra said Gov. Pat Quinn and the state are facing difficult times.
"Pat Quinn is a nice guy, he really is. He wants to do well for the state," Cultra said. "He just has a different idea of how to do it. I don't agree with him on a lot of issues. But at least I've got to give him credit for caring about veterans issues and being a nice guy. But he's got his work cut out for him, and I wish the state of Illinois luck."
His Republican colleagues in the Senate are going to need even more luck, he admitted. They're going from a current 35-24 minority to a 40-19 superminority, effective Jan. 9.
"As I look to the future through redistricting, there's only going to be 19 Republicans in the Senate," he said. Senate Democrats "won't need a Republican vote for anything. The House also has flipped big for the Democrats. So these next two years the Republicans, we won't have any say. In the past we've been able to keep them from borrowing money. And now I can guarantee you there will be some expanded gambling. They don't need to rush and get it through this lame-duck session coming up but they've got so many Democrats that they can do it any time they want."
Cultra said he's even more downcast about national politics.
"Being a conservative Republican, this past election I'm just terribly disappointed. I can't believe that someone who could be running our country into the ground like Barack Hussein Obama got re-elected. It's disappointing to me," Cultra. said "It's not the country that we used to know. We believed in self-reliance. We believed in working hard and making something of ourselves. It seems now like people are working more for the government, and I think this election shows kind of a shift. People seem to want government to be more intrusive in our lives and to take care of us. I don't look forward to the next four years."
County board squabble
Champaign County isn't the only place in central Illinois where county board members are working through intra-party disputes.
In neighboring Macon County, where Republicans thought they would gain control of the board because they received an 11-10 advantage with the November election results, two members of the GOP sided with Democrats and elected a Democratic county chairman.
At last week's Republican board members' caucus, two other members of the GOP walked out of the meeting when the two insurgents showed up, according to an account in the Decatur Herald & Review.
In Champaign County, where Democrats have a 12-10 advantage on the county board, Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz worked with two other Democrats and all the board's Republicans to build a coalition that upended the Democratic caucuses' endorsed candidate, Michael Richards.
Last week, three of Richards' allies on the board — Lloyd Carter, Rachel Schwartz and Josh Hartke — turned down top committee assignments, after accusing Kurtz of a "deceptive power grab."
Hartke said last week that "frankly we don't trust Mister Kurtz" and that "our goal is to make sure that when something does happen, untoward or unprofessional, incorrect or whatever he does, that's it's made quite clear to the county that he was elected by the Republicans and by one or two Democrats, but not by our caucus."
He said the group aligned with Richards won't mechanically vote against Kurtz' appointments or initiatives.
"We'll look at everything he brings to us on an individual basis. I guarantee I won't be easy on him. Let's put it that way," Hartke said. "We're a very responsible caucus and want to move this county forward and do everything we can. The original plan we had of being a 12-member majority and trying to do some progressive things in this county that a Republican majority wouldn't do, I think we realize that that is kind of lost."
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.