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State House GOP selects new leader: Jim Durkin

Illinois Rep. Jim DurkR-Western Springs. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

Illinois Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs. (AP File Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: October 1, 2013 6:36AM

A veteran Republican lawmaker from the Chicago suburbs claimed the title of Illinois House minority leader on Thursday, following a formal selection by his colleagues in Springfield.

State Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs fended off a challenge by Springfield lawmaker Raymond Poe, who pulled out of contention at the last minute.

Many see it as a sign that the troubled state party that’s been plagued by infighting since the beginning of the year may be turning a new leaf; instead of a challenge, Poe instead offered up his endorsement of Durkin to his colleagues.

On Wednesday, Durkin said he had already exceeded the “magic number” of 24 votes out of 47 members.

Durkin fills an opening left after longtime House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) relinquished his post as he announced he is considering a bid for Illinois treasurer. Cross served in his position for more than a decade.

Durkin’s selection puts at rest much behind-the-scenes turmoil involving Cross’ successor that’s taken place over the last several months. It also paves the way for unity at a time when nominating petitions are soon to go out for members up for election.

“I think he has all the attributes that we need to unify our party,” state Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) said. “Today was a great example, Raymond Poe was brilliant, he ended up nominating Jim. I think Jim brings a very calm and capable leadership style that engenders teamwork ... I think he will be good with fund-raising and messaging.”

The minority leader’s job includes helping set the policy agenda, as well as working to drive up its own numbers. Right now, Republicans are in the chamber’s super-minority.

Durkin officially takes the helm on Sept. 20 when Cross’ resignation goes into effect.

Durkin first told the Sun-Times in May he was interested in making a move for minority leader. He made a mark in Springfield in 2009, helping lead the impeachment panel considering Rod Blagojevich’s ouster. Durkin’s decision to bring former U.S. Sen. Roland Burris before that panel eventually led to a criminal investigation and ethics probe into Burris, although Burris was ultimately not accused of any wrongdoing.

Durkin is a former prosecutor and current corporate litigation attorney. His brother, Tom Durkin, is a federal judge in Chicago.

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