Lawmakers scramble for state senate presidency

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. Longtime senate president Emil Jones is retiring from his powerful post. Other lawmakers have been jockeying for position to try and win the job.

A balding man wearing glasses, senator James Clayborne of downstate Belleville is building a coalition of African-American lawmakers from Chicago and white downstaters to become a self-described frontrunner in the race to become Illinois senate president:

"I think I have the most diversified support of any candidate who is seeking the position of the senate presidency," Clayborne said.

Clayborne is a favorite of Illinois gun rights advocates. Five years ago, he sponsored a $30 million appropriation to build an outdoor recreational center and gun firing range in downstate Sparta.

"It has created jobs. You have hotels. You have restaurants. It's Sparta's Wrigley Field," Clayborne said.

"My problem with Jim, even though he's a fine person, is that he's a triple-A with the National Rifle Association," said Sen. Rickey Hendon, (D) Chicago.

Hendon, who also wants to be senate president, said he cannot understand why black lawmakers who represent some of the most violence-wracked districts in the state could support a gun rights advocate of any race.

"With all the violence in Chicago right now, all the shooting, to select a pro-gun president of the senate just because he's African American is just something I'm not prepared to do," Hendon said.

But the majority of the nine-member senate black caucus has voted to support Clayborne. Their leader, Kwame Raoul, says there are other issues to consider.

"I differed with him on certain votes on certain gun-control bills, but I'm going to evaluate who I support comprehesively," said Raoul, (D) Chicago.

Gun control advocates worry that a gun rights president could use his power to block votes on gun control bills. Senator John Cullerton is another senate president hopeful who says he'd never do such a thing.

"There'll be no procedural blocks form having votes. If people want to vote on these things, they'll have an opportunity to vote on them," said Cullerton, (D) Chicago.

Clayborne also promised an even-handed approach to gun control and said votes he'd cast in the past on the issue were more a matter of serving his downstate district than what he believes in his heart about guns.

"I don't even own a FOID card; I don't even own a gun," Clayborne said.

As it stands now, neither Clayborne nor any of the other candidates has enough votes to win the senate presidency. The lesson is that anyone who claims to be frontrunner will put him or herself in the line of fire.

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