Eye On Illinois: Reflections of exiting lawmakers offer useful insight

What can we learn from those leaving public office?

That can be a loaded question in Illinois, where elected officials routinely exit under federal indictment, or schedule their “retirement” so they can appoint a successor who then gets to avoid a primary or general election. But let’s try to keep things positive today by considering two recent Capitol News Illinois interviews with state House members not seeking reelection in November.

House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, served eight terms starting in 2006. And House Minority Floor Leader Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, was his colleague for half that time.

“It just seemed like a logical time to leave and let a whole new generation of leaders take charge in the House,” Harris told CNI.

“I felt like it was time to pass the baton,” Batinick said. “I’m proud of a lot of the things that I was able to accomplish, especially from the minority side.”

Although Batinick experienced a lot over eight years, the insight from his first days is a useful reminder for any General Assembly observer: “So much of Springfield was theater,” he said of the Bruce Rauner-Michael Madigan budget stalemate that hung over lawmakers during Batinick’s early tenure. Although the legislature accomplished little, Madigan kept his soldiers busy, “acting like all these things were getting done.”

Harris’s reflections on the history of marriage equality legislation are a case study in strategy and what it sometimes takes to get a measure across the finish line. He first introduced a bill in February 2007, which died in committee. That cycle repeated until January 2013, when a bill filed jointly with state Sen. Heather Stearns passed the Senate Executive Committee, then cleared the full Senate.

But at the end of the spring session that year, Harris opted against calling for a final House floor vote. Despite deep personal belief in the legislation, he knew it wouldn’t pass and the failure would’ve represented a “catastrophic strategic mistake.” So advocates turned their focus to flipping colleagues and getting assurances from everyone the measure would pass. That November, it succeeded by one vote.

The difference, Harris said, came from motivating constituents to make their case personally to elected officials.

“We really focused on how do we find people in all those communities to go tell their representatives there are people in this community who this is really important to,” Harris said.

One call or email may not make a difference, but the aggregate weight of constituent communication can be unavoidable, one of the many reasons I consistently encourage readers to make those connections.

Harris and Batinick were never the most powerful players, but their caucuses will feel each absence. I’m thankful for their service and reflections.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at