Battle to replace Topinka is all about the politics

  • Written by Ray Hanania

Hanania-GrapevineYou get a honeymoon when you win office, but there is no honeymoon in the political afterlife.
Before Judy Baar Topinka was buried, a battle between the Democrats and Republicans was already erupting over who would take Topinka’s place as Illinois comptroller.
It’s not like the office of comptroller is the most important state office. Sure, it isn’t.
But the real issue is that Topinka was a Republican who held a statewide office and that is not so common in Illinois, which is a deep Blue State held by Democrats 
Although the new governor, Bruce Rauner, is a Republican, it’s more of a reflection on outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn’s failures as a state executive than any seismic shift in Illinois politics that gave Republicans an edge.
Quinn blew this election with one of the worst election campaigns I have seen in 40 years driven by his lack of loyalty to supporters, and an enormous failure to reach out to mainstream suburban Cook County voters.
It wasn’t a surprise at all.
Quinn argues that for the sake of voters, the person appointed to replace Topinka should be forced to seek election in two years in 2016 rather than in four years in 2018 when the Topinka term actually would expire.
Quinn is driven by bitterness – the kind he showed on election night when he refused to man-up and concede defeat. But his colleagues are driven by spoils. The bottom line is the state Democrats want the comptroller’s office back that Topinka, a Republican took.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a ruling last week that basically said that outgoing Governor Quinn has the power to appoint a person to take over Topinka’s remaining term, which ends in January at the swearing in of a new comptroller.
Madigan, a bright and brilliant state officer holder herself, said that incoming Gov. Rauner has the power to appoint the person to replace Topinka in the new four-year term that she won in the November election.
Topinka died at a very politically inopportune moment, between winning the election and getting sworn in to a new term.
Madigan’s ruling was based on existing state law that does not require a special election to be held in two years, but instead should be held when the state elections are next scheduled in November 2018. She did say she believed that voters should be given the chance to elect a replacement in two-years.
Quinn has called the legislature back into special session Jan. 8, a week before Rauner is sworn in to succeed him, which is an unneeded added cost to taxpayers.
The Republicans won the office fair and square.
Voters, despite being heavily Democratic in Illinois, soundly backed not only Rauner to replace Quinn but also re-elected Topinka by a wide margin.
Those calling for the costly special election argue it best reflects the interests of the voters.
 But I think the interests of the voters were clearly determined in November 2014, when voters overwhelmingly endorsed Rauner and Topinka as the only two Republicans to hold statewide office in a field crowded with Democrats. 
Topinka’s successor should be a Republican chosen by the Republican Party. 
That should be respected. And I happen to be a Democrat. A “Reagan Democrat” but a Democrat nonetheless. 

Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .