- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - Outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn has called state lawmakers back to Springfield next month to consider a 2016 special election to replace the late Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka - a move he described Thursday as a “democratic right,” but that Republicans attributed to partisan motives.

The legislative special session will be Jan. 8 - days before Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner becomes Illinois’ first GOP governor in more than a decade and would have the power to name a four-year replacement. Topinka, a Republican, had won a second term in November but died last week.

If the Democrat-controlled Legislature approves the special election, it could cut Rauner’s anticipated appointment to just two years. A special election in 2016 with a strong Democratic presidential candidate at the top of the ticket would benefit down-ballot candidates for the party.

Quinn, who is expected to name a temporary successor to Topinka but didn’t on Thursday, said it was important to ultimately give voters a chance to decide.

“Nobody but Judy Baar Topinka was elected to do this job. That’s why it’s so important that voters have the soonest possible opportunity to elect their comptroller. Holding a special election is the right thing to do,” Quinn said in a statement. “Members of the legislature should set up a special election for 2016 so that voters can exercise their democratic right to decide who will serve as their comptroller.”

Quinn had indicated he would look to the Illinois Constitution, constitutional debates and court cases. His move follows guidance this week from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, a Democrat.

In a legal analysis, she said Quinn can appoint someone until Jan. 12, when Rauner takes office. After that, Rauner could name a four-year replacement. However, Madigan also urged a 2016 election, saying it was “undemocratic” for an appointee to fully take over an elected office.

Republicans criticized Quinn’s decision, saying the only “constitutionally responsible” choice is for Rauner to name a successor whose term lasts until 2018.

“A partisan and constitutionally dubious eleventh-hour law would face a certain legal challenge and force the people of Illinois to endure a protracted legal battle that no one wants,” read a statement from Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.

Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf has said the incoming governor intends to appoint a full-term comptroller when he’s sworn in. He questioned the motives of the special session.

“Any major change like this should apply to all future vacancies and be carefully and thoughtfully discussed - not rushed through in a last-minute special session that would look overtly political,” Schrimpf said Thursday.

Topinka would have been the only other Republican constitutional officer to serve with Rauner and his lieutenant governor-elect.

“Gov. Quinn is doing what he can do within the short period of time that he has left,” said Kent Redfield, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “The politics definitely favor the Democrats, I don’t think there’s any question about that.”

While they’re already in Springfield, legislative leaders could try to take up other issues.

Quinn has been pushing an increase in the state’s minimum wage for more than a year, but lawmakers adjourned earlier this month with only the Senate’s approval on an increase from $8.25 to $11 over time.

Senate President John Cullerton supported the idea of a 2016 contest and previously left the door open to another legislative session before adjourning. His spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said Thursday that people should have “the opportunity to elect a comptroller of their choosing.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman, Steve Brown, reiterated Thursday what he’s previously said - that the appointment issue is up to Quinn and Rauner to work out.

Topinka died after suffering complications from a stroke. She was honored Wednesday at a memorial service in suburban Chicago.

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

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Associated Press writer Kerry Lester contributed to this report.


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