The 44th State Senate District will have a new senator by the end of the month, after Bill Brady’s resignation at the end of last year triggered an appointment process involving Republican chairs from the five counties that make up the district.
Illinois law requires vacant seats in the General Assembly be filled within 30 days by a managing committee for the Senate or House district in question. The replacement must come from the same political party as their predecessor.
Matt Dietrich with the Illinois State Board of Elections said there is only one case where appointees have to run in a special election to fill out a term.
“You can't have a managing committee appoint a replacement to serve more than a 28-month period,” said Dietrich. “The voters always get their say for the next two years.”
Special elections don’t happen often. For the most part, lawmakers resign close to the end of their terms, or leave an open seat at the end of their terms.
With 24 months left in Brady’s term, Republican party chairs from Tazewell, Sangamon, McLean, Logan and Menard counties will decide who serves the rest of that time. Each chair has a weighted vote based on how many votes Bill Brady received in their county in the last general election.
Tazewell County’s Republican Chair, Jim Rule, will have the biggest say in the process, with about 37% of the vote.
“Those people, basically, through my vote, will be voting again for the new candidate that we select,” said Rule.
Both Sangamon and McLean counties control a bit more than 20% of the vote. Logan and Menard counties hold 12% and 6%, respectively.
Applications for the seat close on Jan. 15. Rule said the committee will meet face-to-face the next day. From there, they’ll vet applications, conduct background checks, and eventually interview selected candidates.
Kent Redfield, a retired political scientist at the University of Illinois Springfield, said the outcome is uncertain.
“Sometimes, it's just a done deal who's going to be the replacement,” said Redfield. “This time, that doesn't seem to be the case.”
Redfield said the multi-county nature of the district makes the appointment process an exercise in coalition building.
Rule said there has been healthy interest in the seat from candidates.
“We're getting a lot of phone calls from them, we're getting phone calls from people that support them, and that's great,” said Rule. “I mean, that's what it's all about. That's what campaigning is, and that's what the political arena looks like.”
One announced candidate for the slot is Tazewell County Board Chair David Zimmerman.
Redfield said Zimmerman’s decision to run for the position makes the coalition math more difficult for other candidates because he lives in the county with the biggest share of the vote.
“You would assume that the county board chairman and the county party chairman were on the same page, that they were not rivals,” said Redfield. “Although, you know, that certainly can happen.”
County party chairs have not given public signals which way they are leaning.
Ultimately, Redfield said this appointment probably will not have much impact on the balance of power in Springfield.
“We're talking about getting to be one of 18 Republican senators out of a Senate that has 59 members,” said Redfield. “So you're getting to be one member of a very small minority.”
It’s important to voters in the district, however. Rule said the appointment process is an opportunity to affect the state and its politics.
“There's really a bad taste in people's mouth right now about government in Illinois, and we need to change that,” said Rule. “I mean, government has a purpose, and we need to get the right people in these jobs.”
The person who gets the appointment to the district may not represent the same constituents for very long.
Redfield said the redistricting process this year means the new senator could face a very different reality next election.
“There's no guarantee that the Senate district that you are getting yourself appointed to would exist in the same form as it did, as it would two years from now,” said Redfield.
And the Democrats who will draw the new map will have no interest in helping central Illinois Republicans stay in office.
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