In 1983, Phil Gramm not only changed parties, but resigned from his U.S. House seat, ran in the special election and won as Republican and won U.S. Senate race year later
From the desk of John Lopez: After reading more comments in tweets, including from one IL-16 Republican primary challenger to Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R, IL-16) that he needs to resign from the Republican Party, something this morning reminded me how a then 3rd-term congressman did his party switch nearly 40 years ago.
Instead of simply notifying the U.S. House clerk he wanted his political party listing to be changed from Democrat to Republican, similar to how Justin Amash (MI-03) and Jonathan Van Drew (NJ-02) did in the past 3 years, then-Congressman Phil Gramm (D, TX-06), on the 2nd day of the 98th Congress, resigned his congressional seat, and ran for election as a Republican in the special election the following month.
The reason Gramm took such a drastic move was due to sponsoring the Gramm-Latta Budget Act of 1981 as a member of the Majority on the House Budget Committee for the newly-minted President Ronald Reagan. Gramm-Latta was the first significant legislation implementing the conservative decade of the 1980s.
Then House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Jr. of Massachusetts, in response, threw Gramm off the House Budget Committee entering the 98th Congress. Gramm resigned from the House two days into his 3rd elected term.
Texas had just elected its first Republican governor since Reconstruction in 1978, William Clements, who was voted out in 1982. Governor Mark White (D) set a special election for February 12, under a blanket primary. Gramm easily won the special election without a runoff being needed, given no candidate, including a couple of future congressmen, could build the name ID in a month Gramm had from 3 successful elections as a Democrat in a blanket primary.
The following year during the 1984 Reagan landslide, 4-term U.S. Senator John Tower (R) retired from the Senate, and Gramm won election to the open seat. Gramm’s TX-06 was won by Republican Joe Barton and has stayed Republican to this day.
During the abbreviated special election campaign and his U.S. Senate campaign, Gramm made it clear to voters he had chosen the voters over Tip O’Neill. That message resonated in a Texas that was beginning to become a Republican stronghold.
Could Adam Kinzinger take a similar gamble, and leave the Republican Party to become an Independent or simply resign his congressional seat to set up his preferred successor?
Legally, he could. But long-term, if he chose to pursue the U.S. Senate next year, the Independent route could cause him potential problems.
It’s an option since Kinzinger has always said he wants to stay in the House, and with his IL-16 very likely to be eliminated with the congressional remap and a late June primary for the regular election next year…causes one to pause to consider the possibility.
So how would this work?
Under Illinois law, a vacancy in the U.S. House would require Governor J.B. Pritzker to call a special election no later than 120 days of the vacancy. Under Illinois law, Governor Pritzker would have to call a special primary election within those 120 days for the established political parties, the Republicans and Democrats.
So right there, the 1983 Gramm path is disrupted because while Texas mandates a blanket primary and majority (50%+1) winner, Illinois’ winner-take-all special primary places established party candidates into up to 2 elections.
So think the current challengers, including the ones who’ve raised some money like Catalina Lauf, forcing them to run in a primary for the unexpired term, AND THEN being able to be viable to run in regular 2022 election!
Talk about bleeding your potential opponents of money, Kinzinger could do this, especially if he ran as an Independent, having to only be on the ballot once against the primary winners.
Then, Republican and Democrat special primary winners and Independent Adam Kinzinger (and his $3 million campaign bank account as of June 30). Would Kinzinger do a 1983/1984 Gramm, paraphrased/updated:
“I chose the people of IL-16 over Donald Trump/QAnon/conspiracy theories!”
So let’s look at the calendar. Kinzinger could plan his departure in sync with the end of the federal government’s fiscal year on September 30, and a resignation effective at 11:59PM ET that night would mandate a special election by the end of January, with a special primary during the middle of the Holiday season, with the general set possibly on day 120, or Saturday, January 29th, 2022!
OR, Kinzinger could force his would-be IL-16 challengers to face his preferred successor, possibly state Senator Sue Rezin (R, Morris) who could run within the boundaries of her home IL-16. She ran in the IL-14 Republican primary in 2020 finishing 2nd, in the only election she ever lost.
Something that hasn’t been widely reported. The Grundy County Republican Party Chairman Aren Hansen was recently elected to succeed the IL-16 state central committeeperson who resigned earlier this year. Could Hansen, with known ties to Rezin (who turns 57 this month), be setting something like this up?
And given a special election, Rezin would not have to resign her state senate seat to pursue Congress.
And a potential rematch with Lauf, who many of Rezin’s supporters blame for losing IL-14 primary last year, could settle that old score between the two women, especially the Rezin backers.
And if Rezin wins IL-16 and it is eliminated at the congressional remap, she would still have nearly a year of the 117th Congress to gain experience for a possible future run, potentially in another House district.
While I’m the first to admit a Kinzinger resignation and subsequent special election to replace him in the 117th Congress likely will not happen, such things are more possible with a primary date of June 28, 2022.