Democrats gave speedy approval Thursday to a measure that would require a special election to fill part of the term left vacant after the death of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, as Republicans railed against the move as a power grab aimed at undermining Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner as he prepares to take office. The move foreshadowed what could be a combative relationship between Rauner and Democrats who run the legislature as Republicans assume control of the governor’s office for the first time in 12 years. The legislation, which was pushed through during a special session called by Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, would effectively limit Rauner’s comptroller pick to two years in office instead of four before facing voters. Departing Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn indicated he would sign the bill before leaving office Monday.
Under the measure, if a statewide constitutional office becomes vacant with more than 28 months remaining in the term, a special election to fill the spot would be held during the next statewide election. In this case, voters would get to pick a new comptroller during the 2016 election — a presidential election year in which Democrats in Illinois typically perform well at the polls.
That political realty wasn’t lost on Republicans, who accused Democrats of a last-minute power grab before Rauner is sworn in. “It sets this new day in Springfield off on a disappointing foot and poisons the well,” said Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine.
Cullerton said the proposal was “not meant to be a partisan issue” but to clear up confusion about the state’s succession rules that were raised after Topinka’s death so close to the start of what was to be her second term.