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New House GOP leader calls leading ‘super-minority’ a ‘big job’

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 4, 2013 6:10AM

Presented with a “super-minority,” of members, anemic fund-raising and a pile of pressing fiscal issues, state Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) knows he has his work cut out for him in the face of new campaigns next year.

Durkin said he’s ready to lead.

The 52-year-old, 14-year state lawmaker was unanimously selected by his colleagues last week as the next minority leader in the Illinois House.

In an interview with the Sun-Times, Durkin said he’s prepared to lead the 47 Republican members of the chamber into a new day.

“It’s a big job,” Durkin said Friday. “We’ve got huge policy issues we need to deal with, campaign issues, fund-raising issues.”

Nominating petitions are to go out in a matter of weeks as members face election in 2014. As Republicans work again to up their numbers, Durkin is sure to hear the same warning again and again: the last time Republicans tried to campaign against the powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan with their “fire Madigan” campaign, it blew up in their faces.

Madigan snatched even more seats giving the Democrats a super majority in the chamber made up of 118 members.

Last session, the House Republican Organization, a fund-raising arm for members, closed out with a paltry $21,000. Though now there’s fund-raising hope with the Reform PAC that’s called on big-name donors, including gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, to pump money into Republicans running for the Illinois House. There’s $100,000 and counting since the PAC’s Monday filing. Durkin officially takes the helm on Sept. 20.

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, an attorney, is the brother of U.S. District Judge Tom Durkin in Chicago. Durkin has served a total of 14 years in the chamber. He made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in 2002 and took a few years off before returning to the statehouse.

Durkin named the top three policy issues as pensions, Medicaid and overall budget deficit.

Asked about a push for a graduated income tax, Durkin told the Sun-Times it faces steep Republican opposition.

“I personally have opposed a graduated tax and will continue to oppose it,” said Durkin. “I still to this date do, and I know my colleagues, all 47 of us, feel the same way.”

Then there’s the emotionally-charged and divisive issue of same-sex marriage with legislation still brewing after it wasn’t called for a vote in the last session.

Illinois Family Action flagged the issue in urging against Durkin’s election to head the Republican caucus. The group, a not-for-profit that is advocating against legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois, said naming Durkin meant that two pro-gay marriage Republican lawmakers would end up in leadership – Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) and Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein).

“This is completely unacceptable. Both of these lawmakers are lobbying for him for this position. Both of these lawmakers are co-sponsors of SB 10,” the group wrote on its website.

Durkin said he has not yet made decisions on leadership but would be sure that they were demographically and geographically well represented.

In an interview, Sandack said the group was off base and that he hadn’t been approached. Sandack though endorsed Durkin and said he would offer sensible, calm leadership.

And as for gay marriage — Durkin would vote against it, he said.

“I’m not supporting it. I think every member knows how they’re going to vote. There will be a vote taken and then we’ll move onto the next issue,” he said. We still need to remember that we’re Republicans and the goal in that is to win seats.”

He added: “I won’t let any one issue to divide this caucus.”


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