Island of Misfit Toys: Illinois lawmakers head for the exits

Island of Misfit Toys: Illinois lawmakers head for the exits

Thirty-three state representatives and senators will not be returning in the next General Assembly in 2019.

Thirty-three state lawmakers in the 100th General Assembly will not be holding their seats in the 101st General Assembly. And that’s not even counting those who might be ousted at the ballot box in 2018.

Lawmaker exodus_chart_12.21

The exodus is unlike anything Springfield insiders have ever seen.

National polling data have long shown Illinoisans at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to trust in their state government. Has that sentiment finally seeped into the Statehouse? Have the distant grumblings become an unbearable scream?

Take a look at the breakdown of who’s leaving, and why.

In the House, 25 lawmakers will not return to their seats in the 101st General Assembly. That’s a whopping 21 percent of the chamber. The situation is less severe in the Senate, where eight members are certain not to return.

Of the 33 total members of the General Assembly who will not hold on to their seats, five have resigned. Twenty are not running for re-election. Two are House members running for Senate seats. And the remaining six are running for office outside the General Assembly: two for governor, two for lieutenant governor, one for attorney general, and one for a seat on Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

Such a heavy outflow of lawmakers before voters even head to the polls demands an explanation. What’s driving it?

Some have pointed to pensions. That certainly could make sense for a few lawmakers heading out the door. At least six lawmakers who are not running for re-election will be able to draw a maximum pension worth 85 percent of their final salary, according to numbers from the General Assembly Retirement System.

But another likely driver is obvious: the rage of constituents.

Social media has given residents more real-time information about what their lawmakers are doing, as well as better access to the tools to contact them directly – and often. Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin cited social media as one factor with a “major impact” on the phenomenon of lawmakers leaving en masse.

The Illinois Policy Institute, which spoke out consistently against the tax hike, boasts the most active online community of any advocacy organization in the state. More than 300,000 Illinoisans follow Illinois Policy’s Facebook page. And in an eight-day window this summer – June 29 to July 6 – Illinoisans sent 35,000 emails through the Institute’s “contact your lawmaker” tool.

So while the tax hike may have passed, it did not come without political cost.

Nine of the 13 House Republicans on their way out cast at least one vote for that tax hike. And 11 of the 12 House Democrats vacating their seats voted for it as well (one resigned prior to the vote). Many, if not most, of those Republicans were likely to face primary opponents from members of their own party who were furious over the tax hike.

Again, this fallout is all without Illinoisans casting a single vote against an incumbent. They’ve struck fear in the hearts of their elected officials. Their voices are growing louder.

In a state where residents have been burned far too often, that’s reason to hope for a more accountable Springfield.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!