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GOP leadership won't pursue splitting Illinois into two states

By Jerry Nowicki
Capitol News Illinois
updated: 8/28/2019 10:12 AM

SPRINGFIELD -- Leading Illinois Republicans have seemed to close the door on the party pursuing a two-state solution to Illinois' fractious political division -- saying it is "not possible" to split Chicago and Cook County away from the rest of the state, and that the party won't try.

State Republican Party Chair Tim Schneider dismissed the idea of separation as official state GOP policy.

"I don't believe that's a policy of ours moving forward," he said last week at the Republican breakfast at the Springfield State Fair. "We all know that Chicago and Cook County are likely going to be part of Illinois for the foreseeable future."

Organizers of a long-shot proposal to break up Illinois have gotten some sympathy from southern Illinois residents and lawmakers, and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin allowed it was an "interesting idea." He also acknowledged that some of his party's members that have been openly feuding with GOP leadership, and said that if southern Republican legislators find that campaigning for the split up works in their districts, "good for them."

"But we know that that's not a possibility," he added.

Asked if a split would be damaging to the state, Durkin said "if there was ever a chance that it could happen," it would be damaging, but "this is just political rhetoric."

"I think they're playing the game of reelections in an area where it sounds good," he said.

Meanwhile, Schneider opened his breakfast remarks by briefly recounting the "Blue Wave" of 2016, in which Republicans lost two Illinois congressional seats to Democrats and helped Democrats reclaim the U.S. House.

"The northern half of the state didn't react very well to what was going on in the nation and we had a rough year," Schneider said. " ... That's our current reality, but it doesn't and it won't be our future."

The meeting partially filled a small room at the Wyndham Hotel in Springfield, and the vast majority of the state's 102 counties.

The unifying theme of the speakers was that the progressive tilt Illinois has taken legislatively will force the pendulum of party politics back toward the right.

Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, of Bloomington, said the Democrats' choice to invite Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to give the keynote address at their county chairs' association brunch Wednesday shows the party is "losing touch with independent and moderate voters."

"We will regain our position by reconnecting with independent and moderate voters who don't agree with the extreme nature and extreme policies of the Nancy Pelosis of the Democratic Party," Brady said.

However, Brady added that state Republicans are not focusing on their party's leader in President Donald Trump.

"He's got his work cut out for him here," Brady said. "But I think the fact that the Democratic Party is leaning so far to the left, we have an opportunity to communicate to moderates and independents, alongside of whatever the president says."

In 2018, Democrats added three seats to their state Senate supermajority while picking up seven seats in the state House to achieve a supermajority there as well. The victories have helped Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker achieve several major legislative victories, including extending reproductive health rights, legalizing recreational marijuana, expanding gambling options and passing a $45 billion, bipartisan capital infrastructure plan which included several new taxes.

Durkin said he expects the GOP to take back some of those seats in 2020, by separating the 2020 election from Trump, focusing on Pritzker and state House Speaker Mike Madigan, and opposing the proposed graduated income tax ballot measure that would amend the state's constitution.