Republican legislators, who up until now have stayed loyal to the governor, are no longer willing to stand behind Governor Bruce Rauner’s ideological agenda.
Rauner, who has almost exclusively personally funded the Illinois Republican Party, holds considerable leverage over lawmakers who defy him which has until now led lawmakers to fall in line.
In fact, in 2016, Rauner invested heavily in a downstate race seeking to oust a Republican lawmaker who opposed the Governor on a few key votes.
But with mounting pressure coming to a climax as credit rating downgrades loom, universities suffer, and schools announcing they will not open in the fall, legislators were no longer willing to put politics above their constituents.
Rep. Steven Andersson, R-Geneva, the House GOP floor leader, said “I was not elected by Gov. Rauner, I was elected by the people in my district,” of his vote against the governor.
Members representing universities cited the significant damage Rauner has inflicted during the budget impasse on their schools and college towns.
Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, noted the damage done to Eastern Illinois University in his district as he voted for the budget compromise.
Rep. Reggie Phillips, R-Charleston, whose district is also home to Eastern Illinois University, said of his vote for compromise, “I’d like to save my university. I’d like to save my town,” Phillips said.
Representative for Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, teared up as she said, “I hope you will help me bring my university back.”
Others, cited the enormous financial consequences.
Rep. David Harris, R-Mount Prospect, said, “I was not elected as a state legislator to help preside over the destruction of this great state!” Harris called the state’s $15 billion backlog of unpaid bills “immoral.”
“I was concerned about the downgrade,” said Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville. “I think it’s fiscally conservative to lower the amount that we’re spending currently today,” which the compromise accomplishes.
Rep. Andersson also cited the promise of bond rating agencies to downgrade to Illinois’ credit rating as the reason he voted for the package.
Many members conceded that Rauner may punish those who defy him with primary challengers.
“For me right here today, right here, right now, this is the sword that I’m willing to die on,” said Rep. Michael Unes, R-East Peoria. “And if it costs me my seat, so be it.”
Rep. Bryant also said she expected a primary challenge as a result of her vote. “… if it means I don’t come back then I don’t come back, but I believe this was the right vote for our region,” she said.