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Topinka's Death Puts Illinois Politics In Unchartered Territory

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 11, 2014 8:30PM

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. (Image via Illinois Comptroller's Office website.)
Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who died Wednesday at age 70 from stroke-related complications, was a trailblazer in Illinois politics. Her death leaves a void in state government that is also unprecedented.

It may be too early to begin the discussion of who will succeed Topinka as comptroller but that hasn’t stopped Illinois’ most powerful politicians from doing exactly that. And as these discussions go, there are disagreements as to who has authority to appoint a successor or if a special election is necessary to replace Topinka. The latter is particularly worth watching since Topinka was re-elected last month and was still serving out her first term as comptroller.

What isn’t in doubt is that Gov. Pat Quinn, in one of his final acts in office, will likely appoint Nancy Kimme, Topinka’s top lieutenant, to serve out the remaining weeks of Topinka’s term. But will Kimme remain after Bruce Rauner takes office? Rauner believes he has the authority as governor to name a replacement.

“(Kimme would) serve the people well,” Rauner said. “And then we can take our time and pick the right person to serve out the four-year term starting in January.”

Rauner said it’s “common sense” he has the authority to appoint a successor but Springfield lawmakers may reconvene to pass legislation calling for special elections for constitutional office vacancies such as the one created by Topinka’s death. The problem with that is the General Assembly would want to hold the election to determine Topinka’s successor in 2016. This is why Rauner is gung-ho to appoint a comptroller and not have to deal with the financial and legal matters a special election would raise.

The governor-elect added there should also be a respectful period of mourning before tackling the subject.

“I don’t think right now is the time to talk about that. I’m sure the lawyers will want to fight about it.”