Jim Durkin

State Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs

SPRINGFIELD -– Despite months of talk from downstate Republicans about the need for one their own to lead the party in the Illinois House, the new minority leader is an attorney from Chicago’s suburbs.

State Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs was chosen to replace outgoing House Minority Leader Tom Cross in a 50-minute meeting Thursday at a hotel near the Capitol.

He easily bested state Rep. Raymond Poe of Springfield, who had said just days ago that he had enough votes to win and had the backing from downstate lawmakers like state Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign.

In fact, it was Poe who nominated Durkin after realizing he didn’t have enough support in the 47-member minority.

“I don’t think we need these scrapes, scrabbles, whatever you want to call them,” Poe said. “I didn’t have the votes here today. One thing about every legislator, we can count. We know where our votes are.”

Talk of Durkin as the minority leader began in May when Cross first began making noises about a statewide run.

A dogfight between him and Poe began looming after Cross last week made it official that he was stepping down after a decade as minority leader in a chamber ruled by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Cross is planning to announce a bid for state treasurer in the coming weeks.

The fight didn’t happen after it became clear the 52-year-old Durkin had wrapped things up.

Durkin, an attorney, was elected to the House in 1994 and served until early 2003, when he launched an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Dick Durbin. He returned to the House in 2006.

The Illinois State University graduate said his job will be to unify a group that has been split by geography, social issues and the state’s massive pension funding problems.

“We have a very diverse caucus. But we’re going to use that diversity to our advantage,” Durkin said.

The changes come as Republicans are in a super-minority in both the House and Senate. Democrats hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers and control the governor’s office.

But, that power hasn’t translated into a workable solution to the state’s pension mess. Like the issue of gun control, the divisions on pension reform aren’t dictated by party affiliation.

Poe, for example, has sided with labor unions when it comes to fixing the five state retirement systems. Although conservative on many issues, Poe, 69, represents thousands of unionized state workers in his Sangamon County district.

By contrast, Durkin has voted for various pension reform efforts that have reached the House floor.

He wouldn’t endorse any particular proposal Thursday.

“I want to see what the product is first,” Durkin said. “This is one of many extremely important issues this caucus is going to have to discuss.”

Brown had been a Poe backer, but said he now supports Durkin.

“I think it’s important that we unite,” he said.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said Durkin needs to work to elect more Republicans.

“He could energize our base more. He could try and calm some of the concerns over the social issues that we all find ourselves in from time to time,” Brady said.

State Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Charleston said, “I think he offers us a tremendous amount. I just think this was a good move.”

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