House Republican Leader Tom Cross says he will attempt to put to a vote Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to sell a western Illinois prison to the federal government to house suspected terrorists from Guantanamo Bay.
Calling the move "a huge mistake," Cross said, "There ought to be a debate. There ought to be a discussion."
So far, there is a debate over whether the deal would legally require approval from the General Assembly. Under the preliminary outline, the federal government would buy the $140 million, near-vacant prison in Thomson outright from the state.
Regardless, Cross seems determined to fight the move if Quinn decides to move forward without General Assembly approval. Forcing a vote in the General Assembly would put every state representative and senator on record about moving suspected terrorists to Illinois on the eve of a critical election year.
Cross said this afternoon he would introduce legislation that would make Quinn go through the General Assembly. But lawmakers are not set to reconvene until early next year. Meanwhile, Cross also said he may ask Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan for an official opinion as to whether or not the move would require lawmakers to sign off on it.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, who controls legislation in the chamber, has not said where he stands on the issue. His daughter is the attorney general. Both are Chicago Democrats.
If Cross can't manage to force the issue to a vote in the General Assembly, he appears determined to fight it in the public square, roping Illinois lawmakers into a fierce debate that is now raging among the state's Congressional delegation.
"I don't think the folks in the state of Illinois feel it is appropriate for two people - Sentor (Dick) Durbin and Governor Quinn - to act together to make this happen without a public vetting," said the Oswego Republican.
The plan to move Gitmo detainees to Illinois will require approval in the U.S. House and Senate.
All of the state's seven Republicans in the U.S. House say they oppose the deal, with U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Highland Pary - a candidate for U.S. Senate - leading the very public charge.
Like other opponents, Cross raised the specter of increased terrorist attention to the state if Gitmo detainees are moved to the Thomson prison as part of President Barack Obama's plan to shut the controversial Cuba facility down.
Supporters, including some Democrats in the Illinois delegation, say the plan will bring thousands of jobs to the rural Thomson region near the Mississippi River. They also say residents have nothing to fear, that the inmates will be kept separate from the regular prison population and the facility will be upgraded to be the most secure prison in the country.
About 35 inmates with terrorist links are already housed in prisons in Illinois.
Cross said today he has heard the arguments and doesn't buy them. He insists that shipping suspected terrorists to Thomson prison would be a "different dynamic" than having isolated terrorists in prisons across the state.
"We are talking about a different animal of a criminal, and I think people should have an opportunity to discuss it," he said.
Thomson's village president and the two Democratic lawmakers representing the area in the General Assembly support moving the suspected terrorists to the prison.