State Rep. Paul Froelich to abandon GOP for Democrats
In a rare political defection, state Rep. Paul Froehlich of Schaumburg said Monday that he will leave the Republican Party for the Democrats.
Froehlich, who ran unopposed in 2006 for a third term representing the 56th District, will formally announce the switch on Wednesday.
“I plan to do a press event on it where I can answer whatever questions people might have and make my announcement and address it thoroughly then," Froehlich told the Arlington Heights Daily Herald Monday afternoon.
Froehlich would also leave the Schaumburg Township Republican organization, which he led for more than a decade, the newspaper reported.
Froehlich’s defection would give the Democrats a 67-51 majority in the state House of Representatives. That would still leave House Democrats four seats short of the 60 percent “supermajority” needed to pass a budget and other bills that would take effect before June 1, 2008.
Froehlich has run unopposed in the last two elections, and crushed a Republican primary opponent by a 2-to-1 margin in 2006.
But Schaumburg -- like other parts of suburban Cook County – is no longer a rock-solid Republican area, as conservative white residents have moved out and many Democratic-leaning Latinos have moved in.
In the 2006 elections, Gov. Rod Blagojevich captured 48 percent of the vote in Schaumburg Township, election records show. Just four years before, Blagojevich lost the township by almost 12 percentage points to Jim Ryan, the GOP gubernatorial candidate.
Also last year, longtime GOP Rep. Terry Parke lost his House seat in the adjacent 44th District to Democrat Fred Crespo, who just two years prior was an up-and-coming Republican figure.
Waning Republican power in his district was a likely factor in Froehlich’s decision to switch parties, said Kent Redfield, a political studies professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
“This would put him in the majority, assuming there’s an agreement (with House Speaker Michael Madigan) not to have a primary challenger (in 2008),” Redfield said.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown downplayed the chance Madigan would oppose Froehlich in 2008.
“Our practice has always been to support the incumbent,” Brown said.
“The speaker has always found Paul to be a responsible and conscientious member of the Illinois House,” Brown said. “We welcome him to the Democratic Party.”
State Republicans appeared to be surprised by the move.
"I knew that he was not happy with the current situation," said state Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, who has sat next to Froehlich on the House floor. "(But) I did not know that it was coming right now."
"I am very sorry it has come to this. I've always considered him a friend," Moffitt said.
David Dring, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Tom Cross, said in an e-mail that the move seemed to be “made more for personal political gain than any belief on issues.”
The House Republican Caucus “has always encouraged members to vote their district’s best interest, and Paul was no different,” Dring said.
“If the rumors are true it’s sad and disappointing,” said Jason Heffley, deputy executive director of the Illinois Republican Party. “We’d hope it’s not for a short-term political gain, because ultimately he’s accountable to voters who elected him as a Republican to serve his district and also to the Republican grassroots activists who elevated him to Schaumburg Township committeeman.”
It’s “pretty unusual” for sitting politicians to switch political parties in Illinois, Redfield said.
The last state legislator to switch party affiliations was Sen. James Meeks of Chicago, who ran as a Democrat in 2006 after serving one term as an independent. But Meeks had been a registered Democrat even while serving as an independent.
Former Democratic state Rep. Sam Panayotovich of Chicago switched to the Republican Party in 1987. He was voted out of office a year later.
But with Democrats already holding a solid majority in the House, Redfield said a legislative defection won’t matter as much as, say, in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats hold a 50-49 majority over the Republicans.
“It’s not like we’re talking about Joe Lieberman switching parties,” Redfield said, referring to rumors that the independent U.S. senator from Connecticut might join the GOP.
Jeremy Pelzer can be reached at 788-1519 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.