Illinois Republicans seem in an unenviable position today.

The party controls no constitutional offices in state government. Democrats have more members in the Legislature than at any time since it took on its modern size, with supermajorities in both chambers.

But that doesn't mean local GOP lawmakers are disconsolate. They're not thrilled at the position their party is in. But each says he sees opportunities to be effective even from a position in which Republicans alone can't deliver the votes to pass a bill or override a gubernatorial veto.

Right now, Democrats have a 40-19 edge in the Senate and a 74-44 advantage in the House once two Democratic vacancies are filled.

The ability to get something done comes down to building relationships and communicating effectively with other lawmakers, most said — including ones who served during the last time the GOP had a superminority in the House from 2013-17.

"You represent your district, you work with people, you focus on building relationships," state Rep. Keith Sommer, R-Morton, said. "I'm always hopeful that while we disagree on some issues, the Legislature can pull together and do its job."

Rep. Mike Unes, R-East Peoria, agreed that continuing "to build relationships across all walks of life and across the aisle" is important, especially when doing so can help benefit district-specific priorities.

He noted that since he was inaugurated in 2011, the Legislature has nearly 90 new members — offering opportunities to "build trust and relationships" with new colleagues.

"We are going to have to work in a collaborative and bipartisan manner, but we should be doing that no matter what," Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, said.

Such an approach — being respectful of others and logic-based in arguments seeking support for bills — has paid dividends, Sen. Chuck Weaver said. The Peoria Republican noted that even though the Senate already had supermajority Democrat control he passed 16 bills out of both that chamber and the House in the last session.

Outreach and ideas

The communication won't just be within the walls of the Statehouse, either.

Weaver said he has found it helpful to pursue legislation suggested by constituents, a process he refers to as citizen legislating. Often, those advocates then come and testify on the reasons the proposed bill should become law.

That "gets the common person in front of legislators, and when they hear (their) story, legislators react," Weaver said.

Unes, too, pointed to bill ideas that came from local residents that were easier to press for because their voices were added into the mix. Those included a law last year to help increase the number of medical caregivers trained to help assist in treating victims of childhood sexual assaults, which was pushed by the Pediatric Resource Center locally, and legislation that prevents penalties on Gold Star widows breaking their leases, inspired by Sgt. Douglas Riney's widow Kylie's experiences in Texas.

Weaver also stressed that Republicans need to do a better job reaching out both to constituents and to members of the media about measures under consideration.

"While Republican votes on the floor may not be able to stop legislation, our duty will increase with regard to communicating to the public so the public can engage with legislators of both sides," he said.

Positive signals

Several lawmakers also said they've seen positive bipartisan outreach from the Pritzker administration.

Unes said that Pritzker's willingness to meet with House Republicans and minority leader Jim Durkin is encouraging.

"I hope that continues," he said. "I hope there is that good faith, and I think that if we see that, he'll find a caucus that is willing to work with him, though there's obviously going to be things that we're just not philosophically able to agree on."

Sommer praised Pritzker's inclusion of Republicans on his transition advisory teams, and his decision to name retiring Republican state Rep. David Harris to head the state Department of Revenue.

"I think that's a sign that he wants to cooperate and not just be one-party rule," Sommer said. "I think he's willing to accept input from everyone, and that's encouraging."

Spain said that even Pritzker's decision to stop in and mingle with GOP lawmakers at their post-inauguration celebration early this month was a positive gesture in terms of keeping the lines of communication open.

But, he said, he hopes that as Democrats seek Republican support for legislation they also remain open to adopting some GOP initiatives.

"That just can't be a one-way street where we're putting Republican votes on to support initiatives from the governor and it's not reciprocated where we're allowed to put our ideas forward," he said.