NEW IPO Logo - by Charles Larry Home Search Browse About IPO Staff Links

The Day the Republicans Stole the Senate

Thompson makes the ruling


1981 MARKS the second time the minority party has won a powerful leadership post in the Illinois General Assembly. But there was no inkling of what was to happen.

On Wednesday morning, January 14, 81st Senate President Philip Rock convenes that body for the last time, officially ending the labors of a session even his critics have cited as singularly productive. Within minutes the 81st Senate has adjourned sine die.

On Wednesday afternoon the 82nd Senate is about to convene. The red-carpeted, plush Senate chamber is filled with family and friends to celebrate the swearing in of senators. Pages patiently steer a course through the sea of people to deliver congratulatory bouquets of roses, carnations and chrysanthemums. There is an air of anticipation, but it has no edge.

The 82nd Senate opens with Gov. James R. Thompson presiding over the swearing-in ceremonies. Thompson as governor is the presiding officer, according to the Constitution, until the Senate elects a president. The attendance roll call shows three of the 59 senators absent: one Republican and two Democrats. Since that puts the Republicans and Democrats at 28 even, neither party has a majority; no president can be elected. David Shapiro, minority leader of the Republicans in the 81st Senate, moves to adjourn. Rock does not object. The Senate adjourns until the next day.

On Thursday morning, January 15, the lights are off downstairs in the rotunda of the Statehouse. It is a state holiday, and state workers have the day off. The only ones working are the guards, who pull a table and chairs out onto the floor, yawn, sit down and put up their feet.

But upstairs, in the ornate Senate chamber on the third floor of the north wing, the chandeliers are sparkling their brightest. The business of the day is to elect the Senate president.

But the families, friends, even the flowers are gone. Only the senators, their staff, and reporters, are here today, milling around on the floor as they wait for Thompson to appear. Reports are mixed on whether all the senators will arrive. It's doubtful the Senate is any closer to electing a president since the Democrats are still divided. Disgruntled black senators grumble that the Senate should not even be in session on Martin Luther King's birthday.

The record of the following events is taken from acting Senate secretary Ed Fernandes' official transcript of the proceedings.

10 a.m. Thompson gavels the Senate to order. Acting secretary Ed Fernandes calls the roll: 51 of the 59 senators are present. Thompson notes the quorum. (Late arrivals bring the total to 57, with all 29 Republicans present, but only 28 of the 30 Democrats.)

Thompson proceeds to the election of the president. Roger Keats nominates David Shapiro. John Maitland and Adeline Geo-Karis second. Jim Donnewald nominates Phil Rock. Jerome Joyce, Frank Savickas and Howard Carroll second.

Then a curious exchange beings. Jeremiah Joyce, a Chicago Democrat, moves to adjourn until [February 10. Richard Newhouse, a black Chicago Democrat, who apparently believes he is seconding Joyce's motion, moves to adjourn until January 20; Newhouse explains he wants to observe King's birthday. Rock moves to table Joyce's adjournment motion. Joyce, New-house and three others vote to go; Rock leads the 50 who vote to stay.

Newhouse tries again, this time moving to adjourn until January 22 Thompson rules the motion out of order: no other business has transpired since the vote on Joyce's adjournment motion.

Republican Dick Walsh moves to close the nominations for president. Geo-Karis seconds. Nominations are closed by voice vote.

Now that some business has transpired, Newhouse tries for the third and last time to adjourn. Earlene Collins, another black Chicago Democrat, seconds.Thompson allows a voice vote. The nays drown out the ayes.

4/March 1981/Illinois Issues

Thompson proceeds to the election, reciting the parliamentary rules for the balloting: "The nominations having been closed, the nominations are Senator David Shapiro of Amboy, Senator Philip Rock of Oak Park. The Secretary will call the roll of the Senators. Each Senator should answer the roll by stating the name of the nominated candidate for whom he is voting or he may vote Present. The vote of a majority of the members present and voting will be required to elect the president. Open the roll."

The words sink in: Thompson said, "a majority of the members present and voting." The Democrats are stunned. Thompson has just said the constitutional majority of 30 is not needed to elect the president. The Democrats have 30 of the 59 elected senators, but only 28 are in Springfield in the chamber. They are outnumbered; all 29 Republican senators are in their seats.

Fernandes begins to call the roll. Democrat Dawn Clark Netsch rises to object to Thompson's ruling as "completely contrary to everything that has been established as precedent . . . ." Netsch is right. In each of the four elections held under the new Constitution, a majority of those elected was required. Former Gov. Dan Walker, in 1973 and 1975, and Thompson, himself, in 1977 and 1979, had so ruled.

Thompson responds: "All right, Senator, since the question has been raised, the Chair will explain the basis for the ruling, and then I will treat your statement as an appeal of the ruling of the Chair and we will proceed to that.

"Four years ago when I sat in this Body as the temporary Presiding Officer, I was given a script to follow by the Office of Senator [Thomas] Hynes [whose election Netsch and the rest of The Crazy Eight stalled through 186 ballots], to recognize Senators for the purpose of [the] nominating [and] the seconding on both sides of the aisle and to do the procedural business of the Senate, with which I was unfamiliar. That script, as you correctly recall. Senator Netsch, did carry the sentence that a vote of thirty Senators would be required. No question was raised at that time by any member of the Body as to the correctness of that ruling. The Chair, anticipating a controversy at this Session, has asked the advice of his counsel as to the correctness of the 1977 ruling that a constitutional majority is required to elect the President of this Senate, and the Chair has concluded that the 1977 ruling or any ruling like it is wrong . . . ."

If Netsch stayed, the roll call would show a quorum. If she left, the roll call would not have to continue

At one point in his discourse, Thompson admits he presides as "a sort of constitutional intruder," but hastens to remind Netsch that as a lawyer he is hardly unfamiliar with the law or legal precedent. He recites the reasons for his ruling with the precision of a lawyer arguing his case in court. Indeed, the recitation reads like a well-researched legal brief: "... and so Senator Netsch, the Chair bases its opinion on its reading of the Constitution, its reading of the constitutional debates, its reading of Robert's [Rules of Order], its reading of Mason's [Manual of Legislative Procedure], but most of all, on its reading of the explicit opinion of the Attorney General of Illinois of 1955 which has never been withdrawn, modified or changed, either by the Attorney General, the General Assembly, the Senate or the Constitutional Convention, which produced the Constitution of 1970."

His summation complete, Thompson calls for a second for Netsch's appeal of the ruling.

Thompson's recitation has given Rock time to recover. He seconds Net-sch's appeal and requests a recess so the Democrats can caucus. Thompson grants the request and Rock agrees to return at 11:30 a.m.

11:30 a.m. Thompson gavels the Senate to order three times, calling for the senators to take their seats. All 29 Republicans are on the floor, but none of the Democrats.

Thompson proceeds to Netsch's appeal of his ruling. Walsh moves to limit debate to two minutes. The motion passes on a voice vote. Thompson proceeds to the debate on Netsch's appeal of this ruling.

Rock and Netsch hurry into the chamber and take their seats. Rock seeks recognition. Thompson gives him the floor. But Rock, obviously rattled, is at a loss of words. He realizes the motion limiting debate has just been passed; he sheepishly admits he had wanted to debate that motion. Thompson reminds him the motion was not debatable and, besides, the motion has already been passed. Thompson again proceeds to the debate of Netsch's appeal of his ruling, giving her the floor.

Netsch, apparently aware that only the Democrats' absence can save them now, questions the presence of a quorum and demands a roll call.

6/March 1981/Illinois Issues

Thompson says, "The Chair observes a quorum is present. But I'll be delighted to call the roll, if that's what you want." Netsch asks for the roll call, and Fernandes is calling the name of Jeremiah Joyce before Netsch realizes that she will be the 30th senator on the floor needed for the quorum. She hurries off the floor. Thompson: "Mr. Secretary, the Chair observes that the mover ... of the question of the quorum has left the floor, and so, her request is now out of order. Stop the roll call."

Netsch hurries back onto the floor.

Thompson: "I'm sorry, she's come back. Continue the roll call for as long as she remains on the Floor."

Netsch was caught. If she stayed, the roll call would show a quorum. If she left, the roll call would not have to continue. She leaves.

Thompson again proceeds to the debate of Netsch's appeal of his ruling. There is no debate. Netsch is not there. Thompson proceeds to the vote on his ruling. The 29 Republicans vote to uphold it.

Thompson: "Under the Constitution, laws, statutes, opinions and procedures of the State of Illinois, this Body has, by vote, declared it to be the rule of this Senate, that a Presiding Officer may be elected by a majority of those present and voting. Since nominations are closed, we will now proceed with the roll call for the election of the President of the Senate. Mr. Secretary, call the roll."

Fernandes has reached the C's when Thompson interrupts and acknowledges the presence of Savickas, a Chicago Democrat, on the floor. Fernandes finishes the roll call.

Thompson: "The Chair will again note that . . . while the Secretary is tabulating the roll, that Senator Frank Savickas was present on the Floor of the Senate during the roll call."

Thompson announces the vote: Rock 0; Shapiro 29.

Thompson: "I hereby declare that Senator David Shapiro, having received the constitutional majority required to be elected under the ruling of the Chair and the judgment of this Senate as the Presiding Officer, the President of the Senate, is hereby declared elected as President of the Senate of the 82nd General Assembly.

Within minutes, Shapiro is escorted to the rostrum to be sworn in by Thompson. Shapiro is so shaken he raises his left hand when Thompson instructs him to take the oath of office.

March 1981/Illinois Issues/7

|Home| |Search| |Back to Periodicals Available| |Table of Contents| |Back to Illinois Issues 1981|
Illinois Periodicals Online (IPO) is a digital imaging project at the Northern Illinois University Libraries funded by the Illinois State Library