State Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville) smiled broadly as he strode into the Tri States Public Radio studios for an interview on Friday, January 6. He's clearly at ease with his decision to step down from the Legislature after 14 years.
“It just felt right in my heart,” Sullivan said of the decision. “In the last couple years I’ve got to the place where it’s not as enjoyable as it used to be. Life’s too short and if you’re not happy, then it’s time to do something different.”
Sullivan joined the Senate in January, 2003 after defeating long-time incumbent Senator Laura Kent Donahue (R-Quincy) in the November, 2002 election. He had no political experience when he arrived at the statehouse, and said people he knew and trusted encouraged him to go slow and ask a lot of questions as he learned the ropes.
Sullivan said he fulfilled a lifelong dream by being elected to public office and he called it an honor to serve.
“I have zero regrets that I did this. I would have done a few things different if I could do it over but I’m really glad I did it,” he said.
Sullivan said he’s proud of the work he did to help pass a capital bill in 2009 to pay for construction projects around the state. And he said he especially enjoyed working on issues brought to him by constituents.
“That to me is the heart and soul of why we do the job that we do,” he said.
Sullivan is frustrated that Illinois has not had a budget for the past year-and-a-half and does not have a long-term budget plan. He said it’s been liking watching a train wreck in slow motion, though he’s optimistic that it’s not too late to get the train back on the tracks. He believes it will take a combination of spending reforms, spending cuts, and a tax increase, but cautioned the disaster has been decades in the making and the recovery won’t happen overnight.
Sullivan said he set no goals for how long he might remain in office after he was first elected– he just wanted to continue as long as he enjoyed it and felt he was effective. Sullivan said he still has a photo of his Illinois Senate colleagues from 2003 – a group that included future U.S. President Barack Obama.
“It’s mind-boggling how many of those people aren’t there anymore. There’s a tremendous amount of turnover of people who retire or get defeated (in an election) or whatever,” Sullivan said, adding he opposes term limits because voters can impose their own term limits on politicians through the ballot box. And he said voters should have the power to return to office politicians who are serving their constituents well.
“Why would you want to have somebody removed from a job when they’re doing a good job at it?” Sullivan asked. “I love to use the example of my friend and colleague (State Representative) Don Moffitt (R-Gilson). Don’s served for almost 30 years and I don’t know of a harder working legislator than Don Moffitt.”
(note: Moffitt chose to remove himself from office – like Sullivan, he will retire from the Legislature this week after deciding against running for another term)
However, Sullivan said he would support limits on how long someone can serve in leadership in the Illinois General Assembly.
Sullivan took a brief leave of absence from the Senate in 2012 when he was diagnosed with liposarcoma, which is a type of cancer that’s usually found in the fat cells of the legs. He was treated and said he currently feels great.
“I’ve been getting regular checkups every six months and hopefully after this summer we can go to a year (schedule for checkups). Everything’s been clear. I feel great. I think my health is very good.”
Once his work in Springfield is done, Sullivan will return to his family business, Sullivan Auctioneers. He ran the business with his brothers before winning election, and when he returns to the business he’ll also be joining his sons, a daughter-in-law, and other family members who have become part of the firm.
Sullivan will be replaced in the Illinois Senate by Jil Tracy (R-Quincy), who ran unopposed.