Illinois GOP vows big changes with new legislative leaders: ‘We certainly have a lot to rebuild’

Hoping to revive their party in Illinois after tough Election Night losses, Republicans on Tuesday met behind closed doors to select their new legislative leaders: state Sen. John Curran of Downers Grove and state Rep. Tony McCombie of Savanna.

House Republicans voted 31-8 to select McCombie as their new leader in a binding caucus vote.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin announced last week that he wouldn’t be seeking reelection as minority leader — and the Western Springs Republican threw his support his McCombie to take the leadership baton. State Rep. Martin McLaughlin, R-Barrington Hills, secured eight votes.

Durkin is a self-described moderate who has said that "the state wants people who are more to the middle."

McCombie is considered a bit further to the right than Durkin, but she also has called for moderation, telling the Sun-Times last week that the election results showed that "those that are on the extreme" are "not what Illinois wants."

A former mayor of Savanna in northwestern Illinois, McCombie was first elected to the Illinois General Assembly in 2016. She will become the first woman to lead an Illinois House caucus.


"We certainly have a lot to rebuild, on the official and the campaign side, and we’re going to do that together as a caucus," McCombie said last week as she secured a majority of votes. "We’ll rebuild as a team, and I think that’s the most important thing we can do."

Illinois House Republicans were down to just 40 seats after last week’s elections, as Democrats added to their supermajority dominance.

McCombie said revisions to the SAFE-T Act were among the GOP caucus’ most pressing concerns.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Democrats spoke of making "clarifications" to the massive criminal justice reform package, but last week sponsors said that they expect to pass "clean up" language during the veto session that began on Tuesday, but no substantial changes to the intent of the bill.

"I hope they are not going to go back on their word because there’s certainly is clarification that is needed to make sure that people are staying in our county jails that need to be staying in there," McCombie said last week, saying she hopes "that we can address the issues for clarification for our states’ attorneys and our judges. That’s first and foremost. I will push."

McCombie said her caucus will also help to promote policies that will help economic growth in Illinois and help stop people from leaving the state.

"We’re going to have to work with members on both sides of the aisle, advocates on both sides of the aisle, to bring Illinois back," McCombie said. "We can only do that when we’re in this position in the minority through relationship building. And that’s one of my strongest assets."

A letter signed by 23 House Republicans last Friday acknowledged the caucus was experiencing "profound changes" and needed a leader with "energetic determination to rebuild the House Republican Caucus."

"Representative McCombie will lead with relentless dedication for improving Illinois and offer steadfast support for each member of our caucus," the letter to House Republicans read.

Illinois Senate Republicans on Tuesday night selected Curran to lead their caucus, replacing Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods. A letter signed by 13 Senate Republicans urged support for Curran, calling the Downers Grove Republican a "forward-thinking leader."

Curran was appointed in 2017 to replace former Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, who resigned her state Senate seat. Prior to becoming a legislator, Curran served as vice-chairman of the DuPage County Board. He was also an assistant state’s attorney in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office.

"We stand ready, with our focus directed toward the future, on developing solutions that will address the critical issues facing our state," Curran said in a statement. "We are equally dedicated to growing our ranks, which will give all Illinoisans greater representation and balance in their state government."

Democrats retained their supermajority status in the Illinois Senate last week, which has 41 Democrats and just 18 Republicans. Republicans needed to pick up six seats to break the supermajority.

Meanwhile, Republican Patrick Sheehan on Tuesday conceded to state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, who faced calls to resign amid allegations of domestic abuse from his ex-wife when they were married. Hastings, who hasn’t been charged with any crime and has denied any wrongdoing, was not in Springfield for the veto session on Tuesday.