Have you heard the story about the man who was elected to the state senate, and was never heard from again?
Here’s a list of legislators retiring from the General Assembly this year, according to Capitol Fax:
Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago
Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston
Sen. Edward Maloney, D-Chicago
Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest
Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria
Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield
Sen. John Millner, R-Carol Stream
Sen. Suzi Schmidt, R-Lake Villa
Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora
Sen. Tom Johnson, R-West Chicago
Rep. Joe Lyons, D-Chicago
Rep. Connie Howard, D-Chicago
Rep. Karen May, D-Highland Park
Rep. Lisa Dugan, D-Bradley
Rep. Jerry Mitchell, R-Rock Falls
Rep. Dave Winters, R-Shirland
Rep. Franco Coladipietro, R-Bloomingdale
Rep. Kimberly du Buclet, D-Chicago
Rep. Dena Carli, D-Chicago
Except for Meeks, who ran for mayor this year, I doubt the average Illinoisan recognizes any of those names. I doubt their constituents recognize their names. Last year, I was interviewing a brilliant University of Chicago law professor about his relationship with Barack Obama. It was assumed, by the law faculty there, that Obama would eventually tire of his low-status job in the state senate, and become a full-time teacher.
“I don’t know who my state senator is,” the professor remarked. “Do you know who your state senator is?”
That’s how it is in Chicago. We can all name our alderman, but few us know who represents us in Springfield, 180 miles away.
That’s now how it is Downstate, though. Downstate, legislators are superstars. When I lived in Decatur, Sen. Penny Severns was the biggest celebrity in town. If you saw Penny Severns in the supermarket, you bragged about to your friends. Severns was so well-known that she had to move to an out-of-the-way neighborhood because people were visiting her Main Street house at all hours of the night. In the nearby village of Blue Mound, pop. 1,000, Rep. Duane Noland was the biggest thing that had ever happened to the town. A woman once introduced herself to me as “Duane Noland’s favorite sister.”
“It’s a better job Downstate,” a statehouse reporter once told me. “The salary goes farther, and it seems like bills from Downstate legislators are inspired by something that actually happened to someone in their district. They’re not from special interest groups.”
My guess is that all this change in Springfield will result in no change at all. Only four legislators really matter, the so-called “Four Tops”: House Speaker Michael Madigan, House Minority Leader Tom Cross, Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. The other 173 are as interchangeable as back-up singers.
(By the way, just so he’s not offended, I do know who my state senator is. Happy retirement, Jeff Schoenberg.)
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!