Process for filling state lawmaker vacancies changes for more transparency

(The Center Square) – Not all state lawmakers are elected by the people, some are selected by political party officials to fill a vacancy when a lawmaker steps down early, but that process in Illinois has changed.

Last month, state Rep. John D’Amico, D-Chicago, announced he was stepping down from office before the end of the current two-year term.

He told media outlets in a statement Nov. 5 he wanted to spend more time with his wife and children, but hasn’t ruled out seeking another elected office. He’s been a state Representative since winning election in 2004.

On Tuesday, state Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, announced he’s resigning his seat effective Wednesday.

“I must thank the citizens of the 99th District for trusting and allowing me to serve as your State Representative,” Murphy said in a statement. “This has been the best experience of my life and I sincerely thank you for this opportunity.”

Murphy was elected to the seat in 2018. He was selected earlier this month to lead the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. Local party officials are tasked by state law to fill such vacancies in the House.

One recent high-profile example played out when former state Rep. Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, stepped down earlier this year after losing a bid for another historic term as House Speaker. He selected one replacement who abruptly resigned with another replacement chosen days later.

House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, is bucking that trend by announcing he’s not seeking another term, but is staying on through the end of the existing one.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said that ensures voters pick who will replace Harris in that Chicago district.

“This is ideal,” Cassidy said. “But in that less than ideal circumstance, where people for any number of reasons, lives change and I respect that, have to leave midterm, I think we need a better way.”

Cassidy said she noticed something a decade ago when she was appointed to the House after enduring an eight-hour competitive public selection process.

“At the same time, somebody else in that group that came in that same week as me, they literally got a call the night before that said ‘go to Springfield, you’re the new state rep,’” Cassidy said.

For years, she and others have pushed for a more uniform, transparent process in filling vacancies. The election bill enacted last summer provides for some of that.

“The appointment has to be made within 30 days,” Cassidy said. “There has to be publicly available applications, there has to be a public meeting where the candidates can make their presentations and the selection is made.”

The first uniform process under the new provisions played out with Democrat party officials in Chicago replacing D’Amico with Michael Kelly.

“We owed it to the people of the 15th Legislative District to make sure public input informed this appointment,” state Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, said in a statement as the committeeperson for the 39th Ward. “As a result, we had seven applicants up for consideration who we heard from today for close to four hours and all of the respective elected committeepersons voted for an applicant that represents the values of the 15th Legislative District and the priorities expressed by our communities during the last few weeks.”

The next uniform process will have Republicans in the Springfield area picking Murphy’s replacement.

But, the new process isn’t perfect.

“Under the current law, there’s nothing preventing the committeemen from getting together separately prior to this forum and making their decision either,” Cassidy said.

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