Special election ‘muscled’ through

Senate and House Democrats used their legislative majorities to advance legislation (House Bill 4576) establishing a 2016 special election for the unexpired term of the late Judy Baar Topinka, despite objections of Senate Republicans.

The legislation was introduced following the death of Topinka, who was recently re-elected to serve as Comptroller. Though the Illinois Constitution designates Governor-elect Rauner is responsible for appointing a replacement to serve the entire four-year term of office, the Democrat-controlled Senate and House moved legislation Jan. 8 setting up a 2016 special election in time for out-going Governor Pat Quinn to sign the measure into law before he leaves office.

Senate Republican lawmakers labeled House Bill 4576 an unfortunate power grab by Democrats seeking an opportunity to snag the office in 2016. Not only does the legislation contradict the Illinois Constitution, Senate Republicans pointed out the Democrats’ proposal is contrary to the intent of the 1970 Constitutional Convention. The Constitutional Convention sought to ensure that the election of statewide executive branch officers is to be held in non-Presidential years in order to maintain focus on state issues.

House Bill 4576 lays out the special election process going forward if other vacancies are created in the offices of Illinois Attorney General, Secretary of State, Comptroller and Treasurer. The legislation deals with unexpired terms that have more than 28 months left in them. If an unexpired term is less than 28 months in duration, then the vacancy would be subject to the traditional gubernatorial appointment process laid out in the Illinois Constitution.

However, Senate Republicans argued that because the Illinois Constitution is clear that Executive officers hold their office for four-year terms, a special election cannot be established by simply passing a bill. Instead, it should be done the right way—by changing the state Constitution. Legislation (Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 22) had been introduced that would allow the voters to decide whether or not to implement a special election for unexpired terms by modifying the Illinois Constitution; however, Democrats did not allow it to advance.

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