SPRINGFIELD – Rep. Jim Durkin, a former prosecutor from the Chicago suburbs, pledged to end divisiveness among Illinois Republicans after they elected him by acclamation Thursday to lead the caucus in the state House.
House Republicans voted unanimously for Durkin when his prime challenger, Springfield Rep. Raymond Poe, stepped aside.
Durkin, 52, replaces outgoing caucus leader Tom Cross, who told members last week he is planning to run for treasurer. Cross held the leadership position for a decade, and came under recent fire from members following a loss of seats last November and a caucus campaign fund that stood at $21,030 in June fundraising reports.
"The positive thing that comes out of here today is that it was a unanimous vote," Durkin said, following his election as leader. "We're going to use that energy to move forward and win races."
Durkin's election follows a summer-long internal scrum over the post, as Republicans continue to grow increasingly frustrated with Democrats' veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.
The former prosecutor is known for his command of criminal law and his measured, if pointed, rebukes during debate on the House floor. He said he expects to officially take the reins in two to three weeks.
In removing his name from consideration, Poe said he realized some of his likely voters weren't present and decided there was a need for party unity.
"I can count noses," Poe told The Associated Press before the vote. "I know I have four or five of my votes that can't be in town."
Durkin's election means that the GOP caucuses in both the House and the Senate are led by lawmakers from the same district. Durkin's senator is Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont.
Some House Republicans had argued in favor of a downstate leader to better represent the party, which has lost key suburban seats and now finds itself in "super-minority" status in both chambers, meaning Democrats have enough votes to pass any legislation without help from the other party and without fear of a gubernatorial veto.
"I live in the western suburbs. I can't say I know what's the right thing for northwest Illinois, for central Illinois, for southern Illinois," Durkin said. "I'm going to rely upon my colleagues who are in different regions of the state to make decisions on campaign decisions. Also we've got to run policy through them, too."
Durkin was first elected to the House in 1994 and served until 2002. He made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate and was re-elected to the state House in 2006.
Generally considered a conservative, Durkin is respected enough that he was ranking Republican of the investigating committee that developed a case for impeachment against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2009.
According to House caucus rules, a majority of votes are needed to elect a new leader. But with a number of 47 members on vacation or unable to travel to Springfield, some feared there wouldn't be enough present to produce a majority. In the end, Poe, a corn and soybean farmer, asked for a vote by acclamation from the 40 members in attendance.
Durkin acknowledged that he'd had his eyes on the job since May, when talk began of Cross running for attorney general if current Democratic officeholder Lisa Madigan made a bid for governor. Madigan last month announced she'd be seeking a fourth term for attorney general. Durkin said he then spent the summer raising money to help prove his effectiveness as a future leader.
"We have to examine how the House Republican Organization has been run. There will be some adjustments made. I can't say what those will be," Durkin said. "But the task is to unite our party...to me that is the most important job that I have right now.
Associated Press writer political writer John O'Connor contributed.