Outgoing state Rep. Mike Tryon reflects on political career

Tryon wrote 70 laws, among them closing property tax loophole

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There are a lot of things that state Rep. Mike Tryon will miss when his representation of McHenry County in Springfield officially ends Wednesday.

The politics that comes with running every two years and the associated fundraising, not so much.

Tryon, 61, decided not to run for re-election to the 66th Illinois House District, capping a political career that started almost 30 years ago with his 1988 election to the McHenry County Board.

“When you leave, they say it’s not the circus you miss, it’s the clowns, and that’s 100 percent true,” Tryon said.

Tryon, a supporter of term limits, decided to limit himself to 12 years and not seek a seventh term. Republican Allen Skillicorn, an East Dundee village trustee who prevailed in a contentious four-way GOP primary to succeed Tryon, won the election and will be sworn in Wednesday with the seating of the 100th General Assembly.

“I think eight years is not long enough, but I think it’s disingenuous to support term limits and then go beyond them,” Tryon said.

After 10 years on the County Board, members elected him board chairman, a seat he held for three two-year terms until voters in 2004 elected him to the Illinois House. He represented the 64th District, which then covered most of southeastern McHenry County, until 2012, when post-census redistricting controlled by the Democratic Party shifted him to the 66th, which covers parts of southeastern McHenry and northern Kane counties. Tryon also served six years as chairman of the McHenry County Republican Party.

The hardest piece of legislation Tryon said he ever tackled happened during his first term, when he spearheaded a rewriting of the tax-cap law to address a controversy that arose in 2005 after voters in Huntley Community School District 158 approved a 55-cent property tax increase.

A loophole in the law would have allowed the district to collect more than double the increase that voters were told.

Tryon figured that he “wouldn’t be standing around very long” as a legislator if he didn’t take the lead to fix the problem.

“We saved taxpayers millions and millions of dollars, and closed a loophole that can never be used again,” Tryon said.

The loophole closing is one of 70 laws that Tryon wrote. Lawmakers passed his initiative to create an online transparency portal that lists all state government salaries, contracts and expenditures. Illinois was among the first states to create one.

Another piece of legislation Tryon said he is proud of is the creation of county veterans’ courts. The specialized courts allow returning veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or other service-related disabilities who commit nonviolent offenses to receive treatment and have charges dismissed upon successful completion of the program.

Upon being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2009, Tryon created the House Diabetes Caucus and passed a number of laws to improve the lives of diabetics, such as a law requiring schools to give assistance to students managing the disease. In some cases, Tryon said, diabetic kids who attended schools that did not have a nurse were shipped to another district school that did.

Tryon said he leaves behind a reputation of being a professional who could work across the aisle with Democrats who held the majority throughout his career.

“I passed 70 pieces of legislation as a minority member, not because I went down to Springfield and attacked. I challenged power, but did it professionally,” Tryon said.

But Tryon had a lighter side as a lawmaker – he and several other state lawmakers play guitar in Boat Drink Caucus, a Jimmy Buffett-inspired tropical music band. The band got to open for blues singer Buddy Guy and country music star Toby Keith at Gov. Bruce Rauner's inauguration. Tryon joked that the band's "by-laws" are being amended to allow former lawmakers to participate.

As for Rauner, Tryon said he would have liked to stick around to help advance his “Turnaround Agenda.” Rauner and legislative Democrats have been stuck in a budget impasse since 2015.

“I’m going to miss not being there. Rauner’s making it harder for me to leave, not easier. I love having a governor that can stop things and put his foot down,” Tryon said.

Tryon said he would like to continue to work in Springfield on issues that are near to his heart, such as mass transit, tax policy and the environment. Tryon owns two environmental testing and consulting services, and is a principal consultant for a third that provides well and septic evaluations for real estate agents and lenders.

“I’m very fortunate to have options. One is just to kind of come back and work in my business and be invested in community activities and enjoy my life as a citizen rather than policymaker. I’m good with that, and I’m good with working on policies I believe in, and I’m hopeful to be able to do public policy or public affairs work to some extent,” Tryon said.

Tryon lives in Crystal Lake with his wife, Cathy. They have a grown son and daughter, and one granddaughter.

The 66th District presently covers parts of Crystal Lake, Huntley, Lake in the Hills, Algonquin and Carpentersville.