Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Timing of Link’s resignation stinks for fans of voter choice

The good news: Terry Link quit his job.

The bad news: Not fast enough.

Let’s review: On Aug. 13, federal prosecutors charged then-state Sen. Link, D-Indian Creek, with filing a false income tax return in 2016. Link had been in the senate since 1997, shortly before his 50th birthday. Five years earlier he won election as chairman of the Democratic Party of Lake County. He finished third in a 2013 mayoral primary in Waukegan, but continued to crusade for bringing a casino to the region and was chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee.

On the day the indictment dropped, Link resigned from the Legislative Ethics Commission. Soon thereafter he said he’d relinquish his county chairmanship on Sept. 15, but soon advanced that timetable once party leaders made it known they convene Aug. 31 to formally remove him.

The stated concern was clear: If Link quit the Senate after Sept. 11 but before Sept. 15, he could effectively name his replacement. Under current state law, a legislative resignation on Sept. 12 or later wouldn’t be put to voters — despite a looming election —because there are fewer than 28 months in Link’s term. That means party leaders in the district appoint a replacement, and Link held sufficient power given the 30th district is almost entirely north of Lake Cook Road.

(The 30th yin-yangs nicely with the 26th District of Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods. He and Link are practically neighbors relative to the far-flung nature of their constituents. But that’s all likely to change with the results of this year’s Census. Anyway…)

So Link left the county party earlier than originally promised. Good. But he retained his Senate seat. Bad. On Sept. 11 he formally announced he’d resign the next day. That wasn’t just a Saturday, it was the first day Link could quit without triggering a special election.

Former state Rep. Lauren Beth Gash now runs the county party. She’ll convene with state Rep. Mark Walker, also a Wheeling Township Democratic committeeman, and they’ll name Link’s replacement by Oct. 12. Gash’s GOP counterpart, Mark Shaw, released a blistering statement accusing Link and Gash of scheming, “While the rest of the nation was honoring the victims and heroes of 9/11 … to abuse Illinois State election law loopholes.”

Strictly concerning timing, Shaw is right: this stinks for anyone who supports voter choice. Link is far from the first lawmaker to employ this strategy. All House vacancies are filled by partisan appointment, because the 1970 state Constitution framers apparently abhorred special elections.

While voters await an ethics commission’s legislative recommendations, here’s hoping addressing such loopholes is on the list. Link’s public days are over, but legislators will continue to follow this sketchy playbook.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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