Senate President John Cullerton’s decision to leave the Legislature will set in motion a scramble to succeed him.
The General Assembly last week wrapped up its fall veto session, acting on one big issue (fire and police pension fund consolidation) and taking a pass on others (Chicago’s casino).
The biggest news, however, came after all the legislative drama ended, when longtime Democratic Senate President John Cullerton announced that he’s resigning his seat in January and retiring from politics.
Attributing his decision to pressure from his wife, the 70-year-old Cullerton, a scion of a Chicago political family, won high marks from his colleagues for his genial personality and willingness to pursue bipartisan problem-solving.
The unfortunate fact, however, is that Cullerton will be leaving behind huge problems that have dogged Illinois for years — public corruption on a grand scale and the state’s status of effective bankruptcy.
In that context, it matters not that Cullerton is leaving. What matters is who will take his place.
Democratic members of the Senate already are trying to line up votes to succeed Cullerton. Among the names mentioned is one downstater, Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill. The rest are Chicago-area politicians, including Sens. Tony Munoz, Kimberly Lightford, Heather Steans and Don Harmon.
It’s anyone’s guess as to how any of them would lead. But it’s hard to imagine that they all would not remain subordinate to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Cullerton was more than happy to follow the lead of the Madigan-controlled House of Representatives. His successor might not be pleased to pick up that role, but Madigan’s longstanding and well-deserved reputation as a power broker speaks for itself.
The good news for House and Senate Democrats is that, from a policy standpoint, they’re mostly on the same page and, owing to their super-majority status in both chambers, can continue, mostly, to ignore the hapless Republicans.
Working with Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, legislators should have no problems working out their differences on a variety of issues.
No one, however, should interpret that political reality as anything more than the one-party control that the majority party always enjoys.
Public corruption criminal investigations overshadow politics in this state, particular Cullerton’s Senate. Three of his colleagues — Sens. Martin Sandoval, Tom Cullerton and Terry Link — are in serious legal jeopardy. It seems a virtual certainty that more legislators will be implicated in future months.
In that respect, John Cullerton’s timing is excellent. He’s skipping town at an opportune time.
Most ominously, serious financial issues dog the state, although one would not know it by the way the General Assembly continues to spend. Pritzker hopes to bail himself out, at least partially, of that problem with tax increases that would be permitted by his proposed progressive income tax hike amendment. But that’s far from a sure thing.
So what’s the legislature to do when it returns to work in 2020 and begins to sort out the many challenges posed by passing a 2020-21 budget?
Whatever they do, it won’t be Cullerton’s problem. He’s had all his wife can stand and decided to depart from this state’s political cesspool.