- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan urged lawmakers Monday to let voters choose a replacement for the late Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka in 2016 after outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn and Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner make separate appointments to fill the job in the interim.

In a legal analysis, Madigan says Quinn can name an appointee until Jan. 12, when current terms end and newly elected officials are sworn in. Once Rauner takes office he can pick someone to fill the full term. But Madigan cautioned that allowing an appointee to serve all four years of an elected office is “undemocratic” and legislators should approve a special election for the 2016 presidential election year.

Topinka, a Republican who had won a second four-year term in November, died last week from complications following a stroke. Her death created a rare situation for the outgoing Democratic governor and incoming Republican governor. Interpretations of the Illinois Constitution and state statute outline provisions for the governor to appoint someone and special elections, but haven’t been decisive.

The lack of clarity has left party leaders bickering about next steps in the handoff of power between Quinn and Rauner, who’ll be Illinois’ first Republican governor in more than a decade and face Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. The disagreements deepened Monday after Madigan’s guidance.

The attorney general - a Democrat who is the daughter of House Speaker Michael Madigan - said the Illinois Constitution allows for Rauner’s pick to stay in office until 2018, but there should still be an election. She cites the constitution, documents related to its adoption and state statutes.



“The State is now facing the undemocratic circumstance in which an appointee could serve the Comptroller’s full four-year term, notwithstanding that there is a statewide election in 2016 that could provide the voters with the opportunity to elect a successor to serve half of the term,” Madigan wrote.

Top Democrats seized the idea, with Senate President John Cullerton saying through a spokeswoman that it’s clear lawmakers need an “immediate special session” ahead of Rauner taking office for legislation outlining a 2016 comptroller special election. Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said the replacement process will “undoubtedly be litigated” so voters should have a choice.

But Republicans disagreed, saying the attorney general’s guidance over who could make appointments was clear. Topinka - who also once served as state treasurer and leader of the state GOP - would have been the only other Republican constitutional officer to serve with Rauner and Lt. Gov.-elect Evelyn Sanguinetti.

“The Constitution requires that Bruce appoint a Comptroller to a four-year term and that is how we plan to proceed,” Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said in a statement.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin accused Democrats of political motivations.

“They apparently aren’t satisfied, they want every office in the state of Illinois,” he said, adding that they should bring up the issue next year if the “area is gray enough.”

Speaker Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, wouldn’t discuss the possibility of a special session ahead of Rauner’s inauguration.

“The governor and governor-elect ought to work together on a sensible solution,” Brown said.

Quinn hasn’t indicated what he’ll do with a replacement.

Spokesman Grant Klinzman said the governor was reviewing Attorney General Madigan’s analysis. Quinn has previously said he’ll consider the constitution and court cases in making his decision but would take time to give the public a chance to mourn. A memorial service for Topinka is Wednesday.

Last week, Rauner urged Quinn to name longtime Topinka aide Nancy Kimme in the interim. She is also a member of Rauner’s transition team.

In recent days, the option of merging the comptroller and treasurer’s offices has also resurfaced. The move would require changing the state constitution. Topinka supported a merger.

The treasurer invests state money, while the comptroller is in charge of writing checks and paying the bills.

“It would be a timely thing to do now, honoring her legacy,” said state Sen. Heather Steans, a Democrat who’s sponsored a merger proposal.

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Follow Sophia Tareen at https://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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