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Column

SPRINGFIELD SPOTLIGHT: GOP lawmaker reprimanded for going after his own

Durkin strips another rep of communications staffer

For the second time this year, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has stripped one of his member's access to a House communications staffer.

Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland, is the most recent to lose his state-funded communications staff member. Earlier this year, Rep. Dave McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, lost his communications staffer for criticizing fellow Republican Rep. Steve Reick for allegedly making "racist" comments and calling on Durkin to resign for being a "fake Republican" and "corrupt insider." McSweeney, who wants to run statewide in 2022, said he paid for his own communications staffer, so he wasn't concerned. 

The problems with Miller (no relation) started coming to a head last month when his Facebook page displayed an Americans for Prosperity Illinois post calling on readers to "Keep Rep. Brady accountable for raising the gas tax." The post featured a photo of Rep. Dan Brady, a deputy House Republican leader. 

Miller later claimed that his Facebook account had been hacked. "Thanks for the heads-up," he told me after denying he'd made the post. I was dubious about the explanation, to say the least.

And the attacks on his fellow Republicans continued. Earlier this month, he wrote on Facebook "Republicans don't vote for tax hikes," and called the GOP members who voted to raise the Motor Fuel Tax "Republicans in name only." 

Miller claimed in another post (which, like pretty much everything else quoted here, has also disappeared from his Facebook page, but was saved by the House Republicans) that gasoline was 30 cents a gallon cheaper across the Indiana border and wrote "Thank Dems and Rinos." And he talked some smack about Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, who voted for the gas tax hike. "She done the same crap last time on the budget." 

"The House Republican caucus does not tolerate attacks on fellow members," said Durkin's spokesperson Eleni Demertzis when asked about the staff move. 

"Apparently people that vote against tax hikes must be punished," Miller responded, claiming that the move reminded him of junior high school.

Miller also said he was "very emotional" after losing his staffer. "It's going to be tough without him." But he posted a photo on his Facebook page, also since deleted, of his wheat combine with the text "Mission accomplished! Wheat cut. [Staffer's name] gone. Prayers have been answered." Asked about that, Miller said it was a "weak moment" and said he was probably spending too much time on his combine. 

Miller issued a formal statement the next day quoting the Illinois Republican Party platform's plank about opposing tax hikes. 

"It apparently is completely acceptable to violate a clear tenant of the Republican Party platform as no one who voted for the tax increases is being penalized in any way," Miller said in the release. "I make some comments about my disappointment in Republican support for tax hikes and that is what gets our Republican leadership angry."

"I will continue to speak my mind and will continue to oppose tax increases," Miller said. "The vast majority of my constituents are furious about the tax increases approved this spring. I hear from them every day and the message I give to them is that I will stand with them by opposing tax hikers regardless of their political party affiliation."

Notice that he said he will oppose "tax hikers." That would include members of his own Republican caucus. 

Miller is a member of what's known in Springfield as the Eastern Bloc, a handful of anti-tax, pro-life, ultra-conservative House members from eastern and southeastern Illinois. They haven't had an impact on the Statehouse outside of occasionally getting a little publicity by using overheated rhetoric. And now at least one of them has decided to go after fellow Republicans.

It's difficult not to wonder where all of this goes for Durkin, who heads up a super-minority caucus that is fractured into at least two even smaller camps. 

McSweeney, for one, has been a constant thorn in Durkin's side all year. And the Eastern Bloc members are apparently trying to reignite the party's old circular firing squad habits of attacking fellow Republicans (say whatever you want about former Gov. Bruce Rauner, but he and his people put a stop to that stuff for a few years) and they and other members, including Durkin's own House Republican Organization chairperson, are calling on Chicago to be kicked out of Illinois while a fight continues festering in southern Illinois over the Confederate flag. 

I wouldn't want to be that guy.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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