House Minority Leader-elect Tony McCombie says she wants to ‘bring balance to Illinois’

House Minority Leader-elect Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, speaks at a news conference in her soon-to-be office once she officially assumes the GOP leadership title in the 103rd General Assembly in January. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Peter Hancock)

MORRIS – While Republicans may be outnumbered in the Illinois General Assembly, GOP lawmakers may be able to find some common ground with Democrats when it comes to financial issues such as property taxes, House Minority Leader-elect Tony McCombie said.

Before a brief appearance at the Morris City Council last week, McCombie spoke to the Morris Herald-News about her plans for when she takes over leading Illinois House Republicans in the legislature’s next session. In taking on her new role, McCombie said her focus will be to “bring balance to Illinois” by eventually increasing the number of Republicans in Illinois government.

“It is extremely unhealthy for us to have this big of a spread between Republicans and Democrats. It’s not good for Democrats and it’s not good for Republicans,” McCombie said.

Republicans are out of power at the state level. In the Nov. 8 election, Democrats maintained control of all statewide constitutional offices and held onto supermajorities in both the Illinois House and Senate while winning 14 of 17 U.S. House races.

Looking forward, one issue both parties can agree on, McCombie said, is that “everybody is feeling this financial crunch.”

“Whether it’s a higher rent, it’s a more expensive grocery bill, higher energy bills, these are issues all of us are facing. So, those will still continue to be a priority,” she said. “Right now, we need to focus on the issues that really hurt us individually, financially. Not only does that include groceries, but that includes property tax and that is where I think we will have an opportunity with the Democrats in Illinois because they’re also paying the same property tax bills.”

McCombie, the former mayor of Savanna who has been a state representative since 2016, will be taking over for outgoing Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) duties leading the House GOP caucus. Durkin had served in that role since 2013 but ultimately decided to seek another term as minority leader after the general election.

Despite Republican electoral losses, McCombie said GOP issues had support among voters.

“Obviously our issues polled very well this election cycle,” McCombie said. “The kitchen table issues everybody talks about inflation, cost, crime. Although, crime didn’t – if you hadn’t been affected by crime it didn’t poll, as well.”

McCombie criticized national media outlets for Illinois voters not trusting Republican Party candidates.

“The media has a big place in that across the nation more so outside. Not necessarily our local newspapers. But, when you are looking especially at the federal side, a large percent of media stories were left-leaning,” McCombie said. “There is a lot of divide between parties and we do have a Democratic president, so often you protect the president that is in place. I think with the extreme messages that have been pushed through media, through social media – I think that’s what scares especially single women. I think that’s what scares them.”

Illinois 71st District State Representative Tony McCombie.

McCombie, who has opposed the implementation of the SAFE-T Act, which will eliminate cash bail from the state’s criminal justice system on Jan. 1, wants to repeal it.

“I wish we would have repealed it. There are things in that bill concerning victims’ compensation, and families of victims that were not contesting – those are things we are not worried about. What we are worried about is one – the language, the hardships it’s going to add, and the liabilities it may add to law enforcement. There were so many sheriffs that retired this year. So many judges that retired this year, if you looked at it around the state and that’s because of the SAFE-T Act coming,” she said.

The law also requires all police officers to wear body cameras by 2025, and citizens will no longer be required to sign sworn affidavits when filing complaints against officers. Police also will be required to intervene if they see another officer using excessive or unauthorized force, and the law also created a standard use of force training for all law enforcement officers.

McCombie said Illinois should be “following the data” of previous states that have eliminated cash bail.

“We should be learning from their mistakes, but we are trying to do something similar that just won’t work,” McCombie said. “So, I know the Democrats do believe that. But, this election wasn’t about crime, it was about Republicans not having the trust of the voters.”

Illinois lawmakers return to Springfield next week and are expected to make some changes to the SAFE-T Act, although a repeal of the legislation seems unlikely.

Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, the deputy majority leader from Peoria, has said changes are likely but did not say which issues lawmakers would target.

“There were some red herring issues that were interjected into the campaign space. Many of those things were not true,” Gordon-Booth said. “But there are some pieces that we need to add an additional strengthening and clarifying language of the original intent of the bill.”

McCombie, who serves as a member of the Elementary & Secondary Education: School Curriculum & Policies Committee, also said Illinois has seen some success in education, but there is more work to be done.

“We have seen on the report card, a higher rate of graduation for Black and brown students in Illinois, But, when you are looking third to eighth grade, you see a loss upon reading, math, science on almost everything over the last couple years. Those are the folks who are really hurting,” she said.

McCombie said one of the major problems in education is standardized testing requirements.

“We need teachers to teach, rather than teaching to the test,” she said. “The state of Illinois continues to pass mandate after mandate taking away their actual teaching time. I mean just last session, we passed 30 minutes of mandated play. That’s not going to help the overall report card in Illinois.”

McCombie was in Morris to meet the City Council and to thank her constituents. She expressed gratitude for her new role and thanked the community for welcoming her.

“It’s been an interesting start-up two weeks,” she said. “I look forward to serving Illinois in this new capacity. I’ll tell you it’s been drinking from a firehouse that has acid coming out and not just water, but I just wanted to say thank you for having me. I love your community.”

McCombie said she works on both sides of the aisle and will continue to fight for the families of Illinois.

“I have to believe that we are all there for the best intentions and that we are all there to serve all of those people. But, I’m not going to let them close the door,” she said. “I’m going to have a seat at the table and I think it’ll be interesting to see how leadership deals with somebody who’s going to keep knocking until they let us in.”

Maribeth M. Wilson

Maribeth M. Wilson has been a reporter with Shaw Media for two years, one of those as news editor at the Morris Herald-News. She became a part of the NewsTribune staff in 2023.