McCombie to take reins of House GOP caucus

Illinois McCombie
PETER HANCOCK/CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS PHOTO House Minority Leader-elect Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) speaks at a news conference in her soon-to-be office once she officially assumes the GOP leadership title in the 103rd General Assembly in January.

SPRINGFIELD (Capitol News Illinois) – State Rep. Tony McCombie said Wednesday that her top priority when she becomes the next House minority leader will be to rebuild the GOP caucus following last week’s elections that were, for Republicans, a disappointment.

“The top priority is to bring balance to the Republican Party,” she told reporters during her first Statehouse news conference since being elected leader. “I mean, we need some numbers, seriously. We need to collaborate on our messages. We need to bring our caucus all together to have opinions.”

McCombie said Republicans in Illinois must hone their message to appeal to more voters.

“Well, I think we need to have a message, right,” she said. “We’re starting a message right now – you’ve just elected the first female Republican House leader. I think that should show folks across the state that we are inclusive, diverse, and welcoming all people to come in.”

McCombie, from Savanna in northwest Illinois, was named the new GOP leader Tuesday night. The caucus’ current leader, Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs, would not seek another term following last week’s elections.

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

During the 2019-2020 election cycle, she served as chair of the House Republican Organization (HRO). The HRO raises money and coordinates a statewide campaign to elect GOP House members.

Republicans lost at least four House seats

Even before the 2022 elections, Republicans were in a 73-45 super minority in the House. Unofficial returns so far show they lost at least four of those seats. One race is still too close to call as of Wednesday.

With those kinds of numbers, McCombie said, it will be important to work collaboratively with Democrats if Republicans hope to achieve any of their priorities.

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

As one who is known for being more conservative than Durkin, McCombie said she will seek to moderate policies in the state that she says have been driven by the left wing of the Democratic Party.

“Here’s the thing. In Illinois, it’s not about being pro-life or pro-gun. In Illinois, we continue to push the extremes. And maybe that message wasn’t apparent,” she said. “But there would be, in my opinion, no pro-choice Republicans that would vote to repeal parental notification, that would allow abortions up to nine months. So I think that’s what we need to talk about in Illinois is the extremes.”

McCombie to assemble new leadership team

Among her first tasks as leader will be naming the rest of a leadership team. In addition to Durkin stepping down, much of the rest of the House GOP leadership team will be leaving public office at the end of this session.

Deputy Minority Leaders Dan Brady and Tom Demmer were both defeated in their bids for statewide offices; Assistant Minority Leader Avery Bourne ran for lieutenant governor with gubernatorial candidate Richard Irvin and was defeated in the primary; Rep. Keith Wheeler, also an assistant minority leader, was defeated for reelection; Minority Conference Chairman David Welter was defeated for reelection in the primary; and Minority Floor Leader Mark Batinick did not run for reelection.

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

McCombie to name Hammond as deputy minority leader

McCombie said Wednesday that she has already decided on one of those positions, naming Rep. Norine Hammond, of Macomb, to be a deputy minority leader.

“She has been my mentor since I was first elected,” McCombie said. “She has been here and has seen the legislative aide side of the (General Assembly). She’s been in leadership. She is going to be bringing us knowledge that’s been underutilized.”

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Peter Hancock is the Statehouse reporter for Capitol News Illinois and held that position since January 2019. Hancock previously covered the state government in Kansas for much of two decades, including stints with the Lawrence Journal-World and Kansas Public Radio. He would also report for the Kansas Health Policy Authority and the Kansas Education Policy Report.

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Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois.

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