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Meeks is the latest senator to not seek re-election

James Meeks

James Meeks

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Updated: December 15, 2011 9:53AM

SPRINGFIELD — Sen. James Meeks’ announcement he is retiring from the state Senate represents the latest tuck to the noticeable facelift the Illinois Legislature is undergoing leading up to next year’s elections.

The Chicago Democrat, who has been in the Senate since 2003, and his North Shore counterpart, state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), are the sixth and seventh senators to announce plans to not seek re-election.

Historically, big turnover in the House and Senate happens once a decade with the redrawing of legislative boundaries, a process that often puts incumbents in the minority party in a landscape with which they are not familiar or that may be unfriendly politically.

But this go-around, there is a sizable contingent of Democrats, who were in charge of the mapmaking, who have decided to call it quits. Some are seeking higher political office or lucrative job offers. Others have family commitments or simply have grown weary of the stress of an enduring state budget crisis that shows no signs of relenting.

Schoenberg, a senator since 2003 and a six-term House member prior to that, announced his political retirement unexpectedly last Tuesday, saying he would focus full-time on a job helping manage the philanthropic endeavors of billionaires J.B. and M.K. Pritzker.

“Different people come to these decisions based on their own circumstances, but without question it’s much less welcoming during a difficult economic period,” Schoenberg said of the seat he is giving up.

“Elective office is never meant to be permanent. We tend to look at these House and Senate seats as if we own them, but we’re really just renting,” said Schoenberg, an assistant Senate majority leader.

The moves by Schoenberg and Meeks follow announcements by state Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) and state Sen. Edward Maloney (D-Chicago) not to run again. State Sen. David Koehler (D-Peoria) also is leaving the Senate to mount a congressional bid.

“A couple of years ago, I had a bout with colon cancer, and that was a wake-up call,” said Maloney, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee. “I started doing the math. The election is a year from now. If I was successful, and I think I’d have been for another four-year term, that’s a five-year commitment that puts me at 70 years old.

“Honestly, I still like the job, but I don’t want to get to the point where I don’t. I know that’s crazy, but I’ve seen guys hang on too long, where they complain about going to Springfield or complain about having to do things in the community,” said Maloney, who came to the Senate in 2003.

On the Republican side, Sen. Larry Bomke (R-Springfield), Sen. John Millner (R-Carol Stream) and Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa) are not seeking re-election. Schmidt made her decision earlier this month as a result of embarrassing 911 tapes involving a series of heated disputes with her husband.

The 24-member Senate GOP caucus will lose two other incumbents as a result of a pair of Downstate primaries set up by Democratic cartographers.

Four sitting GOP senators — Sen. John Jones (R-Mount Vernon), Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon), Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) and Sen. Christine Johnson (R-Shabbona) — are vying against one another for two seats in far southern and northern Illinois.

On the House side, two longtime Chicago Democrats have announced plans not to seek re-election. They are state Rep. Joe Lyons (D-Chicago), who is an assistant majority leader and a House member since 1996; and state Rep. Connie Howard (D-Chicago), who represents the South Side and has been in the House since 1995.

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