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Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Plenty of variables could shape state’s Congressional delegation

Dick Durbin turns 76 today.

In January he’ll take the oath of office for his fifth six-year term in the U.S. Senate. Thanks to the retirements of Kansas’ Pat Roberts (84), Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander (80) and Wyoming’s Mike Enzi (76), Durbin will move from the 14th oldest member of the chamber to the 11th. Yet he still lags a decade-plus behind veterans like California’s Dianne Feinstein (87, in office since 1992) and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley (also 87, in office since 1981).

Durbin also will move up on the Senate seniority chart from 11th to ninth. Amongst Democrats he’s got the fifth most tenure. He’s been the party whip since January 2005 (the second-highest leadership post) and served 14 years in the House before his Senate career. The end of his current term would mark 43 years on Capitol Hill.

It’s a little early to ask if Durbin has any re-election plans. But the long-term future of his seat is ripe for speculation, as is that of his colleague Tammy Duckworth, whose first Senate term ends in 2022. After some consideration as a running mate for President-Elect Joe Biden, Duckworth’s name also has surfaced in reported lists of potential cabinet appointments.

If either Senator leaves office early, Gov. JB Pritzker would appoint a replacement. That person would serve until the next general election, when they would have to run for the right to complete the term. Hopefully the process could be carried out with a little less intrigue than Rod Blagojevich’s 2009 appointment of Roland Burris to replace Barack Obama.

Should Biden tap Duckworth, Pritzker likely would quickly appoint someone interested in seeking a full term in 2022. That person probably would face a much stronger candidate than former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran, who captured just shy of 39% of the vote while Durbin got nearly 55%, up a few clicks from his 2014 win over state Sen. Jim Oberweis.

The GOP electoral calculus could be different if Duckworth stays in the Senate to seek a second term. She’d be a formidable incumbent, though the last person to retain that seat was Democrat Alan Dixon, elected in 1980 and re-elected in 1986 before losing the 1992 primary to Carol Moseley Braun.

Post-Census, Illinois may lose two Congressional seats. There’s every reason to believe Democrats in charge of remapping will force at least two of the current five Republican House members into the same new district, which could encourage someone to instead challenge Duckworth or Pritzker.

If Republicans take both seats, Durbin probably stays. If Democrats hold court, he might handpick a successor and retire.

Timing is everything, but the birthday boy has earned the right to call his own shots.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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