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Rauner Calls Special Election Bill "Constitutionally Dubious"

Comptroller website

A special election next year for the office of Illinois comptroller is almost surely on the horizon. Democratic members of the Illinois General Assembly hurried Thurs., Jan 8 to pass a measure setting it up.

It goes back to last month, when Comptroller Judy BaarTopinka suddenly died. She was about to begin a new, four-year term.

Topinka, it's worth noting, was a Republican. As is Illinois' next governor, Bruce Rauner, who is to be sworn in Monday.

He'll appoint businesswoman Leslie Munger to fill Topinka's post on Monday, shortly after his inauguration. Rauner says that appointment should stand for what would have been Topinka's full term. With this legislation, though, Munger will only be guaranteed two years in office; Democrats will get a chance to win back it back in 2016.

That setup has prompted protests from Republicans.

"But what we're doing today is pure and simple politics. We don't like the fact that we have a Republican governor that's going to be sworn in, and so at the eleventh hour - bingo. We're going to stick it to him," said Rep. Dwight Kay of Glen Carbon.

It's the first major conflict between the Democratic legislative leaders and Rauner. But Senate President John Cullerton says it's not poisoning the political well.

"We have plenty of other things to talk about to get us set off on a good foot, that not having to fight over whether his appointment has to ... can only stay for two years and then have to be subject herself to a reelection or not,"Cullerton said. "It's one person who's affected by this directly, that they would not have to go in front of the people to get the remaining two years left in the term." 

Rauner Thursday evening called the measure "constitutionally dubious." His statement said nothing about a lawsuit, though some Republicans have raised the prospect of suing.

The measure doesn't just apply to the comptroller's office next year; it puts in place a procedure to hold special elections if there is to be a long-term vacancy in most statewide offices.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the plan into law this weekend. “This legislation keeps the power to choose statewide elected officials where it belongs – with the people," he said via a statement. “The late Judy Baar Topinka was a woman of the people. She understood that government officials must be accountable and responsive to Illinois citizens. This legislation gives voters the opportunity to select someone to follow Judy’s example of public service."

Quinn had called the legislature back to Springfield for special session; critics say it's a waste of thousands of dollars, when legislators could have dealt with on a day when they were already to be in the capitol.

The legislature took no other action Thursday.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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