CHICAGO – After a decade of leading Illinois House Republicans, state Rep. Tom Cross announced Wednesday that he's stepping down from the leadership post and is considering a bid for state treasurer.
Talk of Cross leaving the position – including jockeying to replace him – has been circulating for months. The Oswego Republican had been interested in running for attorney general, but after Attorney General Lisa Madigan decided not to seek a 2014 gubernatorial bid and seek re-election, he changed course.
Cross, 55, informed House Republicans of his future plans in a closed-to-reporters call on Wednesday. He asked Republicans to come up with a succession plan for him to be able to step down in early October and said his official campaign announcement would follow two weeks later. He'll continue to serve out his latest term as a state representative, which ends January 2015.
"Serving as House Republican Leader has been an immense privilege and a humbling honor and I will forever cherish the friendships, the successes and yes, even the battles," Cross said in a statement.
He is stepping aside at a difficult time for the Illinois GOP and as he's faced criticism for his leadership. The House lost seven Republican seats in November and both chambers now have veto-proof Democratic majorities. The party has acknowledged it must do more to recruit new candidates and reach out to minorities and women, but has faltered in how to push forward.
The Illinois GOP's chairman stepped down earlier this year in the wake of comments he made about supporting gay marriage and the process to replace him turned ugly at times: Protests erupted at a committee meeting and police were dispatched.
But those interested in replacing Cross say they expect things to turn around in the 2014 midterm elections. For one, there won't be President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket drawing in more Democratic voters.
Still, the process to replace Cross is expected to get tense.
The nitty-gritty details haven't been finalized yet, but the idea is that any interested House Republicans can throw their names in and members will vote.
Among those ready to jump in are Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs. The former prosecutor was a chairman of U.S. Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in Illinois and unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in 2002.
"It will be an internal scrum within the House Republican caucus for the next leader," he said. "I'm prepared to present my name and make the best argument to my colleagues."
Other names floated as possibilities are state Reps. Raymond Poe of Springfield and Dwight Kay of Glen Carbon.
Cross first became a state lawmaker in 1993, winning the legislative district once held by former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Considered a moderate Republican, he's fought against the income tax increase and pension reform proposals that would make suburban and downstate school districts pick up their pension costs.
"Tom's work helped advance the discussion and make pension reform the priority it needs to be," Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Lemont Republican, said in a statement.
Campaign finance reports filed last month showed Cross raised more than $322,000 in the last quarter with more than $350,000 cash on hand.
His campaign themes are likely to focus on fiscal responsibility and lower taxes.
"He's been focused on economic reform issues, balanced budget, lower taxes, and he feels that he can affect a lot of change at a higher office," said Cross' political director Kevin Artl.
Cross would enter a wide-open race for treasurer.
Treasurer Dan Rutherford has announced intentions to seek the GOP nomination in the 2014 race for governor. Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Schillerstrom has said he's running for treasurer. Among Democrats, state Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign has announced plans to run.
Republicans informed of Cross' plan said he's ready to campaign for the office. State Sen. Darin LaHood of Dunlap, who once considered a bid for treasurer, is now backing Cross.
"He will be a steady hand at the wheel of the treasurer's office," he said.