One of the metro-east’s state senators might soon be spending some time browsing Apartments.com. Or he could decide to end his career in the Illinois Senate, which has spanned nearly 20 years.
Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, an Okawville Republican, faces some unpleasant options — and a looming deadline to make a decision — because he no longer resides in the district he represents, thanks to redistricting.
The options include moving from his $375,000 house that sits on an Okawville golf course, or leaving office.
“That is a decision I have to make soon,” Luechtefeld said. “It’s not easy to move, and I’m not a young man. It’s not an easy decision to make, but we’ll try to make that decision.”
He added: “I think I would be dishonest if I said I’m not leaning one way or another. You can’t just all-of-the-sudden make that decision. But right now, I wouldn’t really care to say which way I’m leaning.”
Luechtefeld’s quandary goes back to 2011, when new boundaries were drawn for the state’s House and Senate districts. The districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts. Okawville, which had been situated in the 58th Senate District represented by Luechtefeld, is now within the 54th Senate District, which is represented by a fellow Republican, Sen. Kyle McCarter of Lebanon.
The Illinois constitution states that, after a redistricting, a state lawmaker must be “a resident of the new district he represents for 18 months prior to re-election.”
If he seeks re-election in the 58th District, Luechtefeld would be running in the November 2016 election. That’s 18 months and a few weeks away.
There’s disagreement about whether the 18-month period is based on Election Day, or possibly some point shortly afterward, such as when election officials verify the results or when the winners are sworn into office.
“I’ve had people checking on that for me,” Luechtefeld said. “There are a couple of interpretations of when it is.”
Ken Menzel, attorney for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said: “I’m sure there’s an answer, but I haven’t researched it to know what the answer is.” He added: “The clock is definitely ticking.”
Luechtefeld, 74, said whatever he decides, selling his home will not be part of the equation. His home is about 10 years old and overlooks a lake on Okawville’s Roland Barkau Memorial Golf Course.
“I don’t foresee selling this house, no,” he said. “You don’t have to sell your house. You can keep your house, buy another home, rent a home, those kinds of things.”
Moving to a different home to meet a residency requirement can be a tricky situation for a politician. The residency requirement can conceivably be met by simply renting an apartment in the district and calling it home. But opponents can mount a legal challenge, and a candidate’s residency can be open to a court’s interpretation.
If a candidate keeps ownership of an existing home outside the district, an opponent also could make a campaign issue out of whether the candidate is really residing in a new residence within the district. But at least one political expert said Luechtefeld could probably withstand that type of campaign attack.
“Some people may be unhappy about it, but I’m not sure it’s a voting issue with his constituents,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. “Most of the voters would keep their senator, and he’s obviously a popular, durable guy, so I would think he could get re-elected.”
The 58th Senate District’s boundaries are largely unchanged from the previous map. The district lost some area around northern Washington County and Carbondale, but gained some area southeast of Anna.
Yepsen added: “In the final analysis, his re-election is going to be him versus somebody else, and that person is going to have to be a very good candidate to beat David Luechtefeld. He’s very popular, very well-liked.”
In his last election, in 2010, Luechtefeld handily defeated challenger Michael Bigler by about 20,000 votes.
Luechtefeld said running in the 54th Senate District isn’t really an option, in part because McCarter isn’t up for re-election until 2018. And the Republican Party, hoping to build on or at least maintain its numbers in the Senate, wouldn’t want two GOP incumbents running against each other.
Yepsen said he’s heard of possible candidates for the 58th district, both Republican and Democrat, but nothing definitive. He said there likely are potential candidates waiting to see what Luechtefeld does, before deciding whether they want to jump in.
Luechtefeld serves as the Senate Republicans’ assistant leader, meaning he helps develop and guide the GOP agenda in the Senate. He serves on the Senate education, executive, financial institutions, higher education, and agriculture and conservation committees.