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IL Veto Session: McCombie takes charge of House GOP caucus < Illinois

State Rep. Tony McCombie said during the first week of the veto session that her top priority if she becomes the next House minority leader will be to rebuild the GOP caucus after November’s election, which disappointed Republicans.

“The number one priority is to balance the Republican Party,” she told reporters during her first statehouse press briefing since being elected president. “I mean, we seriously need some numbers. We must work together on our messages. We need to get our caucus all together to have opinions.”

McCombie said Illinois Republicans need to refine their message to appeal to more voters.

“Well, I think we need a message, right,” she said. “We’re just beginning a message — you’ve just elected the first female Speaker of the Republican House of Representatives. I think that should show people across the state that we are inclusive, diverse and welcoming of all people.”

McCombie, of Savanna, northwest Illinois, was named the new GOP leader Tuesday night after current caucus chairman Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs announced he would not seek another term in the post following last week’s election will.

McCombie was previously mayor of Savanna and was elected state representative for the first time in 2016, defeating incumbent Democrat Mike Smiddy for the Quad Cities seat. She easily won re-election in 2018 and 2020 and ran unopposed this year.

During the 2019-2020 election cycle, she served as chair of the House Republican Organization, which raises funds and coordinates a nationwide campaign to elect GOP House members.

Even before the 2022 election, Republicans were in a superminority in the House of Representatives, 73 to 45. Unofficial results so far show they have lost at least four of those places, with a race on Wednesday still too close to announce.

With numbers like that, McCombie said, working with Democrats will be important if Republicans hope to achieve one of their priorities.

“I’ll do what I’m doing now,” she said. “I have friends on both sides of the aisle. I am working to build relationships and friendships and you all may not know me but I am very honest and transparent. And I’m going to continue that kind of conversation with the people across the aisle.”

As someone known for being more conservative than Durkin, McCombie said she will try to moderate politics in the state, which she says was driven by the left wing of the Democratic Party.

“Here’s the thing. Illinois isn’t about being pro-life or pro-guns. In Illinois, we keep pushing the extremes. And maybe that message wasn’t obvious,” she said. “But in my opinion it would “There aren’t any Republicans who would vote to get rid of parental notification that would allow abortions up to nine months. I think that’s what we need to talk about in Illinois, those are the extremes.”

Her first responsibilities as a leader will include appointing the rest of a leadership team. In addition to Durkin’s resignation, much of the rest of the House GOP leadership team will step down from public office at the end of this session.

Minority Deputy Leaders Dan Brady and Tom Demmer were both defeated in their bids for state office; Minority Deputy Leader Avery Bourne ran for lieutenant governor with gubernatorial nominee Richard Irvin and was defeated in the primary. Rep. Keith Wheeler, also a minority deputy leader, was defeated for re-election; Minority Conference leader David Welter was defeated in re-election in the primary; and Minority Floor Leader Mark Batinick did not run for re-election.

Tim Butler, another deputy minority leader, will step down for a private sector post at the end of the year. Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, also a member of Durkin’s leadership team, trailed by about 200 votes in her election on Wednesday.

McCombie said on Wednesday that she had already chosen one of those positions and had appointed Macomb MP Norine Hammond as minority deputy leader.

“She’s been my mentor since I was first elected,” McCombie said. “She was here. She has seen the legislative side of the (General Assembly). She was in the lead. It will bring us untapped knowledge.”

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide and hundreds of radio and television stations. It is primarily funded by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.