Eye On Illinois: Butler’s frustration familiar to General Assembly observers

Give Tim Butler this much: he’s a good sport.

Butler, a Republican representing Illinois’ 87th House District, made waves Thursday night when, during fiery remarks expressing frustration over stalled legislation, he whipped a House calendar. Butler’s toss was on the tamer end of the broad spectrum of American political meltdowns, but the moment was made for social media. (Remember, there are no GIFs of the infamous 1856 U.S. Senate incident in which South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks wielded a cane to viciously beat Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner.)

Immediately after Butler’s late-night lob, his colleagues responded graciously. Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, tweeted the document “buzzed by my head.” Carroll, a chief-co sponsor of the bill, then signed the booklet (adding “Missed me by that much!”) and presented it to Butler. The next morning the pair posed for a photo with Carroll acting as a catcher preparing to receive a warm-up pitch.

So why all the fuss? Tensions are always a little elevated as the General Assembly nears its deadline for each chamber to advance bills for the other to consider. But Butler directed his frustration specifically at House Democrats, challenging their public proclamations that things would be different in Springfield without the dominating presence of Michael Madigan, who in January failed to secure another term as House speaker, then left the Legislature altogether.

The legislation that sparked the tinder is almost stunningly benign: House Bill 2994 would let Capital Township, completely inside Springfield, dissolve into Sangamon County, but only if county and township boards put the issue before voters in a referendum. It passed unanimously out of committee and is seemingly devoid of controversy.

In speaking to Capitol News Illinois, Butler said he may have boiled over but didn’t apologize for the passion he has to advocate for constituents.

“That’s on behalf of the people that I represent, and on behalf of an issue that I’ve worked on almost the entire time I’ve been in this General Assembly,” Butler said. “A lot of times, things get a little bit out of hand in the Legislature. They do in all these state legislatures, in Congress. But I certainly don’t regret the fact that I’m speaking up for my community and my legislation.”

The day after the calendar chucking, HB 2994 was re-referred to the Rules Committee. Progress? Some 2,638 other proposals are in the same place — 417 arrived the same day.

If nothing else, the incident illustrates challenges average folks face in following the General Assembly. Butler’s bill deserved at least a floor vote, and there’s no real reason it didn’t. House rules allowed it to languish. There must be a better system, but Democrats seem content with the one they have.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.