Dems make Ill. House gains but not veto-proof

Democrats made gains in the General Assembly but fell just short of gathering enough seats to be able to pass legislation without Republicans’ help or the governor’s blessing.

Democrats made gains in the General Assembly but fell just short of gathering enough seats to be able to pass legislation without Republicans’ help or the governor’s blessing.

House Democrats had looked Tuesday to add four more seats to their 67-51 seat majority so they could lead with the same “supermajority” margin held by their Senate colleagues for the past two years. They managed to claim three of the seats to widen their margin to 70-51 but fall just short of the threshold for a veto-proof vote.

At the same time, Senate Democrats appeared to just narrowly escape losing their bare-minimum 37-22 supermajority.

Attaining the margin in both chambers would have given Democrats enough votes to pass special legislation and overturn gubernatorial vetoes without help from Republicans, who had worked to tie Democrats to unpopular Gov. Rod Blagojevich and blame Democratic infighting for inaction on key issues in Springfield.

But it was Senate GOP Leader Frank Watson, recovering from a recent stroke, who offered the biggest surprise Tuesday, announcing to his colleagues that he won’t seek the post again – a decision that puts the Senate in the unusual situation of being in need of both Republican and Democratic leaders at the same time.

Democratic Senate President and Blagojevich loyalist Emil Jones already had announced his retirement effective in January.

Senate Democrats’ narrow hold on their veto-proof majority appeared to be safe thanks to a hard-fought battle in southern Illinois whose price tag topped $2 million, making it one of the most costly legislative races in state history.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Democratic Sen. Gary Forby of Benton had 49,357 votes, or 52 percent, and Benton Republican Ken Burzynski had 46,319 votes, or 48 percent.

In another key race, where a total of more than $1.5 million was spent, Democratic Sen. Linda Holmes of Aurora defeated Republican Terri Ann Wintermute with 54 percent of the vote in a rematch of their 2006 contest.

But House Speaker Michael Madigan’s prospects for his own supermajority were dashed with the loss of the seat of retiring Carlyle Rep. Kurt Granberg, a 22-year House veteran and member of the speaker’s leadership team.

Salem Republican John Cavaletto, who lost to Granberg in a close race in 2006, beat Centralia Democrat Patti Hahn with 54 percent of the vote to take the seat for the GOP.

Madigan did engineer the defeat of one of his targeted Republicans: House Deputy GOP Leader Brent Hassert of Romeoville, who lost to Democrat Emily Klunk- McCasey, a Will County prosecutor on temporary leave. AP

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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