• Greg Hinz On Politics
  • Greg Hinz On Politics

    Race to head Illinois Senate goes down to the wire

    Neither Kim Lightford nor Don Harmon may have the votes to succeed John Cullerton as state Senate president. Someone could still emerge as ruling Democrats prepare to convene this weekend.

    Illinois state senate
    Daniel Schwen via Wikimedia Commons

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    79彩票注册网址Flip a coin.

    That’s my best sense of where the race for president of the Illinois Senate stands today, as the body’s 40 Democrats prepare to meet in Springfield Sunday to select a successor to the retiring John Cullerton.

    There are two clear favorites: Kim Lightford of Maywood, who now is majority leader, and Oak Park’s Don Harmon, an assistant majority leader and former chairman of the powerful Executive Committee that controls the flow of most legislation.

    After talking with a half-dozen senators on both sides of the fight this morning, it’s clear both contenders seem inclined to take the battle to a caucus vote rather than working out a last-second deal. Both sides claim to have a majority of the caucus on their side, presumably enough to win.

    79彩票注册网址But both sides can’t be right. And if the division is small—say 25-15—getting the loser to endorse the winner before the full Senate, including Republicans, could be difficult.

    “I think they’re both going in rather close,” said one senator who asked not to be named. “I don’t know who’s going to win.”

    Lightford, 51, has presented herself as an agent of change, noting she’d be the first woman of color and only the third African American (after Cecil Partee and Emil Jones) to head the Senate.

    79彩票注册网址Harmon, 53, is an attorney by trade, like Cullerton. He’s pitched himself as the better-positioned lawmaker to actually provide money and campaign help to get members elected.

    79彩票注册网址By tradition, the two could cut a deal in which the loser is given extensive power and becomes the winner’s top lieutenant. But there’s no guarantee that will happen. Another possibility is that the two will block each other’s way to the top, leading to the ascension of someone else, such as Chicago Sen. Heather Steans. But some insiders doubt that scenario.

    Also unclear is whether the vote will be open or by secret ballot, and exactly when Cullerton will resign if no one lines up 30 votes—the number needed to elect a president when the full Senate convenes.

    Whoever is elected will inherit control of a super-majority, but one that’s increasingly under pressure from federal investigators, with Sen. Tom Cullerton under indictment on embezzlement charges, Sen. Terry Link named in media reports as wearing a federal wire (he denies it) and Marty Sandoval having resigned as a senator after his offices were raided by federal agents.

    79彩票注册网址The winner also likely will have to lead without some of the strong-arm tactics that are common in the House but which John Cullerton was known for dropping in favor of a more conciliatory approach. And they'll have to figure out how to expand the Senate's influence instead of often following the lead of Speaker Mike Madigan's House.

    This story has been corrected to reflect that Lightford would be the third African American to be Senate president, not the second, and that the meeting is Sunday.

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