SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Republicans chose a suburban Chicago lawmaker Thursday to lead their House caucus in Springfield after his lone opponent, a longtime friend, bowed out.
Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs was elected by acclamation. The former prosecutor is known for his command for criminal law and his measured, if pointed, rebukes during debate on the House floor,
His prime challenger, Springfield Rep. Raymond Poe, stepped aside after he realized some of his votes weren't present, saying there is a need for party unity.
"I can count noses," Poe told The Associated Press before the vote. "I know I have four or five of my votes that can't be in town."
The current House Minority Leader, Rep. Tom Cross of Oswego, is stepping down to run for state treasurer. Cross held the position for a decade.
Durkin's election means that the GOP caucuses in both the House and the Senate are led by lawmakers from the same district. Durkin's senator is Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont.
Some House Republicans had argued in favor of a downstate leader to better represent the party, which has lost key suburban seats and now finds itself in "super-minority" status in both chambers, meaning Democrats have enough votes to pass any legislation without help from the other party and without fear of a gubernatorial veto.
Durkin was first elected to the House in 1994 — the same year as Poe — and served until 2002. He made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate and was re-elected to the state House in 2006.
Generally considered a conservative, Durkin is respected enough that he was co-chairman of the investigating committee that developed a case for impeachment against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2009.
According to House caucus rules, a majority of 24 Republican members' votes are needed to elect a new leader. But with a number of members on vacation and unable to travel to Springfield, some feared there wouldn't be enough present to produce a majority. In the end, Poe, a corn and soybean farmer, asked for a vote by acclamation.
While both candidates say they adhere to the party's fiscally conservative values, Poe has voted against each of the pension reform bills that came to the House floor this year. He preferred, instead, a union-backed plan passed by the Senate that never made it to the House. Durkin, by contrast, has voted for every pension reform package came to the House floor.
Durkin said his ability to raise money and work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will make him an effective leader and help Republicans out of the super-minority. Democrats currently control the House 71-47.
The full House is expected to formally confirm the caucus vote during the October veto session.