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New-look General Assembly begins

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(AP photo)
Republican State Sen. Karen McConnaughay of St. Charles celebrates during swearing-in ceremonies Wednesday at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. McConnaughay now represents McHenry County in the Senate.

SPRINGFIELD – McHenry County as of Wednesday has eight faces representing it in the General Assembly, courtesy of Democratic-dominated post-census redistricting.

Whether this will magnify the county’s voice in Springfield or weaken it – Crystal Lake is divided among three House and three Senate districts – will be seen over the next two years.

The 98th General Assembly was sworn in at noon Wednesday, not even a full day after the lame-duck session of the 97th failed to come close to getting a handle on the state’s ballooning $96 billion unfunded pension liability.

And besides a bunch of new faces, the new bunch of lawmakers include three – all Chicago Democrats – who are facing criminal charges.

McHenry County’s representation is a mix of old and new faces – all of them familiar.

Returning are incumbent Republican Sens. Pam Althoff and Dan Duffy, Republican Rep. Mike Tryon and Democratic Rep. Jack Franks. Two freshmen have roots in county government, as does Tryon, a former McHenry County Board chairman.

Former County Board member Barbara Wheeler took a seat in the House, and former Kane County Board Chairwoman Karen McConnaughay was sworn into the Senate.

Republican David McSweeney, who lost a 2006 congressional race to unseat former Democratic U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, was sworn into the House, as was GOP incumbent Tim Schmitz of Batavia, whose district now includes a sliver of south central McHenry County under the new maps.

Wheeler said she is encouraged by the amount of new blood in the House and said it could mean real and lasting solutions to the state’s problems.

“What really excites me is there is such a large number of new General Assembly members coming on board, and I believe they’re just as motivated, and willing to be bold and creative,” Wheeler said.

The county’s representatives are unanimous in their desire to fix the pension system, as well as ensure that the “temporary” income-tax increase stays that way despite the state’s deepening fiscal woes. The 2011 increase – 67 percent on individuals and 46 percent on businesses – is scheduled to start phasing out in 2015.

McSweeney on his first day filed legislation to repeal the tax increase effective immediately.

“It might be a novel concept for many here in the General Assembly, but I came here to do what I said I was going to do. These tax increases have devastated hardworking families and job-creating small businesses, and I will be pushing hard for its expiration,” McSweeney said.

Both houses voted along party lines in re-electing their leaders. Democrats elected House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton. Republicans voted for House Minority Leader Tom Cross and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.

The Democratic Party, which controlled both houses and the governor’s office in the last General Assembly, has added to its gains by securing veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate, in part because of the new maps.

Democrats took advantage of their control during redistricting, which is required after every decennial U.S. Census to adjust for population shifts and ensure equal representation. They drafted state and congressional maps advantageous to their party without the need for Republican votes, and all three maps survived GOP court challenges.

Only two of the eight Springfield legislators now representing the county – Duffy and McSweeney – faced contested races in November. McConnaughay faced a challenger in the Republican primary but won the seat unopposed.

Three state lawmakers won their races but face problems with the law.

The House expelled Rep. Derrick Smith in August after he was indicted on federal bribery charges, but voters re-elected him. Federal investigators in November brought bank fraud charges against LaShawn Ford. State Sen. Donne Trotter faces a felony charge from a December incident in which he tried to board a plane at O’Hare International Airport with a gun in his luggage.

On the Net

Visit to view an interactive map of the new Illinois General Assembly districts.

On the Net

Visit to view an interactive map of the new Illinois General Assembly districts.

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