State of the State: Change is nothing new in the Illinois legislature

Feb 1, 2002

Aaron Chambers
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

Stanley Weaver has seen plenty over the course of a long political career.

When this Republican arrived in the General Assembly in 1969, some 400,000 young people were preparing to join Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker and Janis Joplin at a three-day concert on a farm in upstate New York. And Neil Armstrong was training to land on the moon. 

Closer to home, a new governor, Republican Richard Ogilvie, was busy devising a revolution in state finance, including Illinois’ first income tax, a Bureau of the Budget overseen by his office and annual budget-making with the legislature.

By the close of Weaver’s single term in the House, Illinoisans had adopted a new Constitution that realigned the powers of state and local governments. Municipalities like Urbana, where Weaver had served as mayor for 12 years, were given authority to make decisions outside the scope of powers enumerated in statute. Previously, those towns needed legislative approval just to change the color of the lights on their emergency vehicles.

The years following Weaver’s move to the Senate were no less dramatic. U.S. troops pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, President Richard Nixon resigned the following year and the Vietnam War ended the year after that. 

And Illinois politics changed forever. In 1976, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley died of a heart attack, bringing to a close an era of Democratic Machine control of the legislature. Four years later, the so-called “Cutback Amendment” to the state Constitution reduced the size of the House by a third, ending the careers of many independent-minded lawmakers and boosting the power of the leadership. 

“All change is not good but all change is not bad,” Weaver says. “I think the work product has improved. 

“Of course, the budget has gone way up, too. We’ve taken on more responsibility for various programs that used to be handled at the local level. We’ve provided funds to areas that years ago were probably unthinkable.”

To some, Weaver’s departure from the General Assembly after 34 years probably seems unthinkable. He’s retiring at the end of this year, along with many other seasoned legislative colleagues. In fact, 24 lawmakers are not running again for the legislature; among them are nine senators and 15 representatives.

Some will be edged out by a new legislative map, of course. But Weaver’s decision to leave was personal. “I’m 76 years old. It takes a lot of energy, and sometimes that leaves you at this age. You don’t seem to get as much accomplished in 24 hours as you used to.” 

Yet, as Senate majority leader, Weaver is decidedly at the top of his game. He’s right-hand man to Senate President James “Pate” Philip, that chamber’s GOP leader. As Philip’s eyes and ears, he chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which screens all legislation in the chamber. 

But he’ll be missed for other reasons, as well. The former mortician managed to provide a calming voice for his GOP colleagues. “Sen. Weaver is the one member who repeatedly reminds us that the state Senate should be a gentleman or gentlewoman’s chamber, and his loss could affect the overall temperament of the Senate,” says Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican.

This could be a crucial political moment for that chamber. After nearly a decade in the majority, the Senate Republicans will be fighting to retain their partisan edge. The Democrats won the right to draw the map, and they did that with an eye toward benefiting their party. The GOP faces an uncertain election year.

One thing is certain. The Senate Republican caucus will lose a good deal of experience next year. 

Besides Weaver, two other key members of Philip’s leadership team will leave the legislature, as well as the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of the chamber’s most prestigious. Sen. Walter Dudycz of Chicago and Sen. John Maitland of Bloomington, both assistant majority leaders, are retiring. Sen. Carl Hawkinson of Galesburg, the committee chair, is running for lieutenant governor.

Still, change is part of the process in the General Assembly. “The rest of us are going to have to step up to the plate a lot more in terms of those who will assume leadership posts and who will become more-senior members,” says Sen. David Sullivan, a Park Ridge Republican and one of the caucus’ rising stars. “We’re going to have to do more for the caucus.”

While they aren’t out the door yet — there’s almost a year left in their terms — these Republicans are looking forward to the future and reflecting on their time at the Capitol. Each brought expertise to the table, and developed strong relationships with particular constituent bases.

To some, Stanley Weaver's departure from the General Assembly after 34 years probably seems unthinkable. He's retiring at the end of this year, along with many other seasoned legislative colleagues.

For Weaver, it’s been the University of Illinois. His district encompasses the university’s main campus; he’s regarded as the school’s champion in the legislature and is credited with helping secure state funds time and again.

For Maitland, it’s been agriculture. Before he suffered a stroke two years ago, prompting a decision to retire, he was a grain farmer. He has worked for farmers in the Senate since 1979. In 1999, for example, he engineered legislation designed to put teeth into the Livestock Management Facilities Act, the state law that regulates large livestock operations. Along with the loss of Sen. Duane Noland, a Blue Mound Republican and farmer who is leaving the Senate, Maitland’s departure is measured as a huge loss for that constituency. 

“We have so few farmers in the General Assembly that I for one anyway hate to see any of them leave,” says Larry Quandt, president of the Illinois Farmers Union.

For Hawkinson, the Judiciary Committee chair, it’s been criminal and civil law. Before joining the Senate in 1987, he served as Knox County state’s attorney for four years. He continued in private practice for much of his tenure in the legislature. And while there, he spearheaded some of the more significant reforms in the law, including the Juvenile Justice Reform Act, which provides tougher sanctions and increases the role communities play in the court system. He also sponsored legislation to provide more money for death penalty trials, an effort to alleviate the disparate funding in those cases.

“He practices law and understands the very real and practical effects that our legislation has on the practice of law, for lawyers in this state and also for individuals who are part and parcel in the criminal justice system and the civil justice system on a daily basis,” says Sen. Ed Petka, a Plainfield Republican and former Will County state’s attorney. “Experience like that is very difficult to replace.”

Jim Covington, a lobbyist for the Illinois State Bar Association and a former Senate Republican lawyer who staffed the Judiciary Committee under Hawkinson, agrees. “It’s going to mean a fairly sizable difference at first because Hawkinson was a strong chairman in that he really read all the bills and the analysis for the bills before every committee hearing,” he says. “And the new chairman or chairwoman may be a little more hands off.”

Hawkinson isn’t worried about the committee, though. He says there are plenty of quality people capable of performing its work, whether the committee is led by a Republican, or a Democrat such as Sen. John Cullerton of Chicago, the committee’s minority spokesman. 

“I think the committee will continue to do the good work that it does,” Hawkinson says. “Nobody is indispensable down there.”

Dudycz’s constituency has been the state’s police officers and firefighters. The former Chicago police detective has gone to bat for them since joining the Senate in 1985, helping them at one point to win the right to bargain collectively.

Dudycz also plays a unique role as the only GOP senator from Chicago, a Democratic stronghold. At work in the legislature, he helped bridge the divide between Democrats from that city and Republicans from the suburbs and downstate. That hasn’t always been easy. “Many times I was viewed by the Republicans as one of the Chicagoans, and many times I was viewed by the Democrats as one of the Republicans. So I was in no-man’s-land,” he says. “The void will be that the city of Chicago will not have a voice in the Senate Republican caucus.”

But Dudycz says he’s tired of gruelling campaigns. He has been a constant target of Democratic contenders and always had to fight hard to keep his seat. With the new map, Dudycz would have had to decide whether to run this year against Sen. James DeLeo, a Chicago Democrat, or Sullivan, the Park Ridge Republican. And if he beat Sullivan, Dudycz would have had to move to that nearby district to run for re-election.

Meanwhile, the House Republican caucus is losing some of its veteran leadership, too. Tom Ryder of Jerseyville, who was a deputy minority leader, already has taken a position with the Illinois Community College Board. He had spent nearly 20 years developing expertise on state budgets. 

But, again, change is nothing new for the legislature, especially after a remap. The General Assembly will adjust, as will those who are leaving. 

As Dudycz, the former detective, puts it: “Many of my colleagues get into trouble when they believe that ‘representative’ or ‘senator’ has transformed them into a different person. I’ve always said that the job of legislator is a title that we all hold temporarily. Some of us hold it much longer than others, but this is something that belongs to the people.” 

 

Illinois Issues, February 2002