Illinois Times

Mike Coffey to fill Butler's House seat

Scott Reeder Jan 5, 2023 4:00 AM
Mike Coffey will be appointed to fill the two-year term for the seat vacated by former state Rep. Tim Butler, who resigned three days after being reelected.

Springfield restauranter Mike Coffey Jr. will fill the seat vacated by former state Rep. Tim Butler, Sangamon County Republican Chair Dianne Barghouti Hardwick has told Illinois Times.

Coffey manages the downtown supper club Saputo's Twins Corner, which is owned by his parents, and owns the west-side eatery Papa Frank's.

"As a business owner, he's very interested helping bring business to Springfield, and that only helps Springfield and Sangamon County," Barghouti Hardwick said. "When we do better with business, it improves the economy in our area. ... We felt that he has a good ability to work across the party lines. Republicans are in a super minority, so in order to have good things happen for our county, someone is definitely going to need to work across party lines."

In an exclusive interview with Illinois Times, Coffey said he is well-positioned to work with a variety of people.

"Saputo's is a special place. It's the only place where you could have the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate, the minority leader, the majority leader and every statewide official, all in the same building at the same time," he said. "So, we've been very fortunate to have all different kinds of politicians and every walk of life come in. That's always been our forte, to welcome anybody that wants to come into the restaurant."

For decades, former House Speaker Mike Madigan held court at the restaurant during most legislative session nights. He always sat at the same chair at the same table and usually ordered the same entrée. During the Illinois State Fair, he could be seen sporting a Saputo's baseball cap.

"My only agenda for the 95th District is bringing back stuff to Springfield, so we can grow and develop, bring jobs and construction. We've got to get stuff done," Coffey said.

Butler, a four-term Springfield Republican lawmaker, announced three days after being reelected to the post in November that he had accepted a position with the Illinois Railroad Association.

Butler's resignation was effective Dec. 31, 11 days before his current term would have expired. Illinois law empowers leaders of the same political party as the person leaving office to choose the successor. The bosses are the party chairs of the counties represented by the lawmaker.

Because Butler left office with 11 days left in his term, this necessitates two appointments. Menard County Republican Chair Jason Huffman will fill the remainder of the current term, which is expected to include four legislative session days, and Coffey will fill the subsequent two-year term.

Coffey said since the boundaries for Butler's district changed, he wasn't eligible to fill the final days of the current term.

"One of the things that I made perfectly clear when I gave my talk to the Sangamon County Republicans is that I'm a conservative Republican, but if you're looking for a candidate that is just going to espouse conservative values across the state, I'm not that person. I want to work across party lines. We're in a big, big minority. And, while not giving up my conservative principles, I want to be able to work to get things done. I don't want to showboat and get on TV or get in newspaper articles. I want to get things done for the district."

Coffey leads the Springfield Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, a board overseeing the Bank of Springfield Center, that he has served on since 1997. He also made an unsuccessful bid for Springfield mayor in 2011, a non-partisan position.

Coffey, 52, said he is entering political office decades later than he originally hoped. He was a political science major at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and initially planned to go to law school.

"But unfortunately, when I was in college, my only brother was killed in an automobile accident. So, after that happened, I hurried up and finished and came home to help my parents out. I've always been interested in politics. I was part of the College Republicans. Right off the bat after coming back from the U of I, I became a (precinct) committeeman and was doing stuff with the convention center. I've always had an interest in politics, but quite honestly, I didn't think this opportunity would come about."

In June, Coffey will have been married for 30 years. He and his wife, Lori, have three children ages 28, 25 and 18.

Shortly after Butler announced that he was stepping down, many party insiders speculated that state Rep. Sandy Hamilton would be the favorite for filling the spot.

While Hamilton does not live in Butler's current district, she does live in his new district and would have been eligible for the two-year appointment. In November, Hamilton lost to state Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, in a bid for the 48th Senate District seat.

Barghouti Hardwick said after a period of contemplation, Hamilton decided not to apply for the position. Hamilton could not be reached immediately for comment.

Representatives from the Sangamon, Christian and Macon County Republican organizations sit on the committee that will vote Jan. 5 on the two-year appointment. Since it is a weighted vote based on the number of voters within the district, Barghouti Hardwick will decide the winner.

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for the Illinois Times, can be reached at sreeder@illinoistimes.com.