SPRINGFIELD — Ten months before Illinois’ 2022 primary elections, Democrats from across the state descended on the capital city for the annual political events that coincide with the Illinois State Fair as an election kickoff.
Party leaders at the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association brunch delivered a message of unity and stark contrast with Republicans, including former Gov. Bruce Rauner and former President Donald Trump.
“So whatever you may read in the press, Democrats in Illinois are united. There’s too much at stake to be divided,” said Kristina Zahorik, IDCCA president, at the brunch.
Democratic unity was in question in the lead-up to the first major party event organized under the new Democratic Party of Illinois Chair, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, a U.S. Congresswoman, from suburban Matteson.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker supported Chicago Alderwoman Michelle Harris, a rival candidate, for the DPI chair position vacated by former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. But Kelly won the post in a narrow vote by county chairs in March.
Pritzker decided earlier this month that he would skip the IDCCA brunch, which was originally planned for the indoor ballroom of the Crowne Plaza hotel in Springfield, due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
But when the event was moved outdoors, Pritzker still didn’t attend, citing private family plans he made in the meantime. Instead, he recorded a brief video message which followed closely to his remarks made less than two hours later and 10 miles away at the Governor’s Day event at the Illinois State Fair.
Pritzker said he will continue to contribute to Democrats up and down the ballot through his Blue Wave Illinois advertising campaign which he launched in 2018 and has supported with millions of dollars of his own personal fortune since.
Kelly and Pritzker have both maintained they have a good relationship, and Pritzker said the Blue Wave Illinois effort is just one of several campaign funds used by Democrats to support down-ballot races.
GOVERNOR’S DAY: The guest speaker at the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association brunch – one of the largest downstate gatherings of Democrats each year — on Wednesday was Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, of Georgia, who won a runoff election along with Rev. Raphael Warnock on Jan. 5 in that state to give Democrats a one-vote majority in the Senate, thanks to the tiebreaking role of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Democratic Party of Illinois Chair and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly said that election allowed Democrats to pass the American Rescue Plan Act to give aid to states and stimulus checks to average Americans without any Republican support.
“It wasn’t one Republican vote that sent the resources back to every state, even though they’re taking credit for it because their states and their towns and their mayors and governors are getting the resources too,” she said.
She credited Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Senate President Don Harmon for leading the state through the pandemic, and party voters who “make sure that Democrats are in the house on every level of government.”
Kelly, Ossoff and Illinois’ U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin contrasted the elation of turning the Senate for Democrats to the “shock” and “fear” of Jan. 6, when an angry mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and stalled the certification vote of President Joe Biden.
“On Jan. 6, my wife Alicia was still working an overnight shift at Grady Hospital in Atlanta delivering babies, so I sat alone in my house watching the networks project our victories while a violent mob assaulted the U.S. Capitol and our Constitution,” Ossoff said. “And thank God. And thanks to the brave members of Congress on this stage, our Constitution survived.”
While the national politicians touted the contrast to Trump, Illinois Democrats continued to point to the four years of government dysfunction under Rauner, including a two-year budget impasse which sent the state’s backlog of unpaid bills skyrocketing to more than $16 billion.
Pritzker said Illinois is “moving in the right direction” thanks to Democrats after Rauner, citing Illinois Democrats’ votes to raise the minimum wage, pass the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan with bipartisan support, reform the criminal justice system, add funding to the state’s education system and balance the budget, leading to upgrades from two major credit agencies.
GOP: FIRE PRITZKER: Republicans rallied at the Illinois State Fair on Thursday with their eyes firmly set on trying to regain control of Congress and winning back the governor’s office in 2022.
Several hundred of the party faithful gathered at the fairgrounds under a hot sun, waving “Fire Pritzker” placards, to eat barbeque and hear messages from members of the state’s congressional delegation, legislative leaders and officials from the state party and Republican National Committee.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in blue states this year and I like what I’ve seen,” RNC Co-Chairman Tommy Hicks, of Texas, said at the rally. “I’ve been in the state of Washington, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey and now Illinois. Every event is packed. The excitement is real. And the enthusiasm is firmly on the Republican side.”
Despite the enthusiasm on display at the annual Republican Day gathering at the fair, the Illinois GOP faces an uphill battle in the 2022 elections. The party holds a superminority in the General Assembly, and no Republican has won a statewide race since former Gov. Bruce Rauner was elected in 2014.
In Congress, Democrats hold a narrow lead in both the House and Senate, and historically a new president’s party loses seats in their first midterm election. But because of the state’s population loss over the past 10 years, Illinois is losing one of its 18 congressional seats, and Democrats firmly in control of drawing the new maps are expected to do it in a way that collapses one of the downstate GOP districts.
STATEWIDE GOP RACES: Illinois’ GOP candidates for governor did not speak at the State Fair’s Republican Day Thursday although potential candidate and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis addressed the crowd along with other sitting congressmen.
Davis’ central Illinois district is one that is likely to change markedly when the General Assembly draws the new congressional maps. He has even said that depending on what the district looks like when the new maps are drawn, he might consider stepping down from Congress to run for statewide office, possibly for governor.
“I don’t know what my future holds because my future and the political future is going to depend upon what the corrupt Democrats in Springfield are going to do when they redraw our congressional map,” he told reporters Thursday. “I’ll know what I want to do in the future based upon what that battlefield looks like.”
Candidates Paul Schimpf, a former state senator and Republican attorney general candidate, Darren Bailey, a current state senator and Pritzker antagonist during the pandemic, and Gary Rabine, a suburban businessman, all spoke at the same GOP breakfast Thursday morning.
The only statewide office that will be an open seat next year is secretary of state, where incumbent Democrat Jesse White is stepping down at the end of a 22-year stint in that office. So far, no Republicans have formally announced a bid for that office, but state Rep. Dan Brady, of Bloomington, said Thursday he is seriously considering the race.
State Reps. Dan Brady, of Bloomington, and Tom Demmer, of Dixon, expressed interest in the office Thursday.
Republican voters will select their nominees for the 2022 races during primary elections on June 28. Illinois primaries are normally held in March of election years, but lawmakers pushed back the date of next year’s primaries due to delays in the redistricting process brought on by delays in the release of 2020 U.S. Census data.
REDISTRICTING UPDATE: Lawmakers will head back to the Capitol on Tuesday, Aug. 31, to consider changes to the legislative maps that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law earlier this year, Democratic leaders announced Friday.
Those maps — which set the new boundaries for the 118 state House and 59 state Senate districts for the next decade — were passed based on survey data in May, as the full U.S. Census block-level numbers were not made available until Aug. 12. The release of that data, however, appears to show population deviations far exceeding the 10% threshold allowed under Supreme Court precedent, so some changes are necessary to put the maps in compliance.
The remap effort, which occurs every 10 years after the census, was a key talking point Thursday for Republicans during their day at the Illinois State Fair, which followed Governor’s Day, a celebration of Democrats, the day prior.
In the run-up to the legislative maps passing, GOP leaders warned that using survey data as opposed to the full census results would lead to the exact problem the maps now face.
But if Democrats would have waited on the census data, they would have missed a key deadline in the Illinois Constitution that would have put mapmaking in the hands of a bipartisan commission and possibly given Republicans a 50-50 shot at mapmaking control.
Republicans have filed a lawsuit asking a federal panel to send the matter to a commission as described in the constitution. On Thursday, the GOP filed a motion for summary judgement in light of the census data, an effort to send the matter to a commission and void the current version of the legislative maps.
But Democrats filed a motion on Thursday to dismiss the Republicans’ amended complaint, and another Friday seeking to halt the process until Sept. 1, after the one-day session.
In their court filing to dismiss, lawyers for the Democrats called the GOP effort to send the maps to a commission one “to exploit exigencies resulting from a global pandemic, which were out of the legislature’s control, for political gain.”
The matter is otherwise set for trial at the end of September.
MASK MANDATE MEETING: A capacity crowd packed into the Illinois State Board of Education room on Wednesday as many more stood outside the building to protest the state’s new indoor mask mandate in all public and nonpublic schools.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued the mask mandate in an executive order Aug. 4, shortly after the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidelines for schools in response to a surge in the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19. Those guidelines urge “universal indoor masking” by all students over the age of 2, staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.
Since then, ISBE has put more than two dozen public and nonpublic school systems on probationary status for refusing to comply with the mandate, although some have since had their status restored after later agreeing to comply.
Under the state’s administrative code, schools can be placed on probation for “deficiencies that present a health hazard or a danger to students or staff.” When that happens, the schools are given 60 days to submit a plan for correcting the deficiency and, if they fail to do so, risk losing their state recognition altogether.
But a number of local and regional superintendents argued that the decision about how to reopen safely should be left to local leaders, just as it was during the early phases of the pandemic.
Shane Gordon, superintendent of Bluford USD 318 in southern Illinois, said the polarizing atmosphere surrounding mask mandates has been a challenge for all school officials in Illinois, and he said ISBE’s strict enforcement of the mandate was adding to the challenge.
Since that vote, Gordon said, he and members of the Bluford school board have been targets of harsh criticism in the community.
But Sheri Smith, superintendent of the Forrestville Valley School District in northwest Illinois, argued that putting districts on probation might be too lenient because it actually gives districts additional time to continue defying the executive order.
Those statements came during the public comment portion of the board’s meeting. The board took no further action on the mask mandate, and Ayala gave no indication that she intends to ease up on the enforcement of it.
REDISTRICTING CHALLENGE: Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly argued Aug. 16, new, detailed census numbers released last week show the legislative maps that Democrats pushed through in the spring are unconstitutional.
The Census Bureau released the data Aug. 12, several months later than usual due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors. The numbers show population counts down to the block level, which is what lawmakers need in order to draw districts that are as close to equal in population as possible.
Due to the delays, Democrats who control the General Assembly drew maps using population estimates based on survey data. Under the Illinois Constitution, waiting beyond June 30 for the official data would have triggered a provision putting the process in the hands of a bipartisan legislative commission in which Democrats could have lost their partisan advantage.
Previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions have held that in state legislative districts, populations can vary by as much as 10% between the largest and smallest districts. But variations of more than 10% generally have been held unconstitutional.
Republicans are now arguing that based on their analysis, the smallest and largest districts contained in the new maps that were passed this spring and signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker vary by just under 30 percent — from 92,390 in the 83rd House District, which includes Aurora, to 124,836 in the 5th House District, a narrow, rectangular-shaped district that stretches from Chicago’s Near North Side south to 79th Street on the city’s South Side.
In June, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, and Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods, filed a federal lawsuit in Chicago seeking to have the maps overturned and asking the court either to order the formation of the bipartisan redistricting commission or appoint a special master to draw new maps. A hearing in that case is currently set for Tuesday. Trial in the case is set for Sept. 27-29.
If the maps are found to be unconstitutional, though, it is not certain that the court would invoke the state constitution’s provision calling for the bipartisan commission.
Democrats could argue that they met the constitution’s June 30 deadline and, therefore, only need to go back and make adjustments to the maps to bring them into compliance.
Democratic Sens. Omar Aquino and Elgie Sims, both of Chicago, the chair and vice chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, issued a joint statement Monday saying they are still reviewing the census data.
STATE MICROBE: Penicillium rubens NRRL 1951, which yields the antibiotic penicillin, was designated as the official state microbe in House Bill 1879, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed Tuesday.
While the first mold spore that produces penicillin was discovered in Europe in 1928, the National Center for Agriculture Utilization in Peoria, known as the Ag Lab, was the site of the penicillium rubens discovery in the 1940s which allowed for speedier production of the antibiotic used to treat several infections.
Peoria Democrat Sen. Dave Koehler, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, noted penicillin’s contribution to halting bacterial infections such as gangrene in soldiers wounded in World War II.
“Not only did the mass production of penicillin in Peoria change the world by helping us win World War II and saving countless lives across the globe, but it also provided an important recipe that I think we should follow here in Illinois today,” House sponsor Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, said at the news conference. “Currently, as many investments in our country for research and development have migrated to the East and West Coast, this recognition today in this bill signing is a reminder that there is a place for discovery and implementation here in Illinois.”
Spain announced stakeholders from his hometown in Peoria are launching a “comprehensive effort to return bio manufacturing and pharmaceutical mass production to central Illinois,” known as Peoria Bio-Made.
AG EDUCATION: A bipartisan group of lawmakers also celebrated the governor’s signature Tuesday, Aug. 17, on House Bill 3218 and Senate Bill 1624, two measures that add “agriculture education” to the list of acceptable electives that qualify a student for admission to state universities, and “agricultural sciences” to the list of acceptable science courses for admission.
“These young people who are taking agricultural science, it allows them to meet the science requirements in high school, so as they move through college, they’ve got that background,” Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, who sponsored the bill, said at the news conference. “So it allows them to expand their horizons; again, it opens up all those pathways to success.”
Earlier Tuesday, Gob. J.B. Pritzker kicked off Agriculture Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield.
“This expansion of agricultural education options was made possible by students, teachers, FFA clubs and lawmakers coming together to ensure that high school students in Illinois can access the tools they need to continue our proud Illinois agriculture tradition,” he said.
SENIOR CARE BILLS: On Aug. 16, which was Senior and Scout Day at the fair, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a package of bills aimed at improving health care for seniors, including those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Senate Bill 677, by Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, and Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, requires all health care workers with a continuing education requirement as part of their license take at least a one-hour training course each renewal period on the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. That new requirement takes effect Jan. 1, 2023.
House Bill 848, by Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet, and Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, extends the Illinois Lottery’s special scratch-off game that helps fund Alzheimer’s care, support, education, and awareness to Jan. 1, 2025. It had been scheduled to expire in 2022.
House Bill 3147, by Manley and Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, addresses an issue that arose during the pandemic when patients in long-term care facilities were unable to communicate with family members due to lock-downs of those facilities. It requires those facilities to make “every reasonable effort” to facilitate at least one phone call or video call with a family member each day during a governor-declared disaster. It took effect immediately.
And House Bill 2570, by Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, and Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, allows drivers over age 55 to qualify for automobile insurance rate reductions by taking an online defensive driving course or accident prevention course, rather than an in-person course.
VETERANS BILLS: On Veterans and Gold Star Families Day at the fair, Aug. 15, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed several bills dealing with services for military veterans and their families.
House Bill 1290, by Rep. Joyce Mason, D-Gurnee, and Cullerton, amends the definition of “honorable discharge” for purposes of qualifying for state veterans benefits to include any type of discharge other than honorable if the only reason why they were discharged was due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to the governor’s office, an estimated 13,000 enlisted members of the LGBTQ community were discharged under the military’s now-defunct “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.
House Bill 2776, by Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, and Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Swansea, provides for expedited licensing of service members or their spouses who hold professional licenses in other states and are stationed or deployed in Illinois. It requires the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to process those applications within 30 days of receiving them, rather than within 60 days after submission. It also updates statutes about licensure requirements.
House Bill 3865, by Rep. Mark Walker, D-Arlington Heights, and Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, requires private companies that provide military benefit services to disclose that the benefits are available without charge. It also makes it unlawful under the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act to fail to make the required disclosure, fail to comply with fiduciary responsibilities under federal law, or to charge fees in violation of federal law.
Senate Bill 505, by Hastings and Rep. Dave Vella, D-Rockford, provides that members of the Illinois National Guard serving on state active duty, in addition to those serving in a federal duty or in training status, shall have a state flag presented to their next of kin upon their death.
Senate Bill 2089, by Belt and Greenwood, requires the Department of Natural Resources to fly POW/MIA flags, in addition to the United States and Illinois flags, at all state parks, effective Jan. 1, 2022. It also requires the department to have flags at all national parks in the state within five years of the effective date.
House Bill 1915, by Rep. Michael Marron, R-Fithian, and Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, allows the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs to create a “Fold of Honor” decal for state license plates to benefit the Folds of Honor Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps provide educational scholarships for the families of fallen and disabled service members.
And House Bill 2984, by Rep. Randy Frese, R-Paloma, and Sen. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, establishes the first Saturday in May as “Veterans Gardening Day,” to honor and remember veterans.
COVID-19 UPDATE: There were 423 intensive care beds in use for COVID-19 as of Aug. 15, a high since May 13. On a seven-day average from Monday to Sunday, there were 354 ICU beds in use daily, a 39% increase from a week ago and a 290% increase from the week ending July 11.
There were 1,862 hospital beds in use for COVID-19 patients as of Sunday night, while 1,661 were in use on average over the previous seven days, a 34% increase from a week ago. Ventilators in use by COVID-19 patients were up 44% from a week ago on average, with 195 in use as of Sunday night.
Over the past five days, 73 people have died of COVID-19, or about 15 per day on average.
The Illinois Department of Public Health only reports breakthrough cases and deaths for people who have been vaccinated every Wednesday, and has not reported case counts for those who have been vaccinated. Since Jan. 1, only 189 of the COVID-19 related deaths — or 2.68% — have been in unvaccinated individuals.
Only 899 of the 6.6 million fully vaccinated Illinoisans had been hospitalized in 2021 as of Wednesday, Aug. 11. About 52% of the state’s population is vaccinated.
The pace of vaccinations has increased recently amid the surge, with 38,840 administered on average daily over the past seven days. That’s a 123% increase from July 26.
EVICTIONS MORATORIUM: Since March 2020, Illinois residents unable to pay rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic have been protected from eviction through Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive action, but that reality could change come Sept. 1 when executive and Illinois Supreme Court orders are scheduled to expire.
For some landlords, that’s welcome news after a 17-month prohibition, except in limited health and safety circumstances, on residential evictions. But for housing advocates and renters, it puts Illinois in a “great period of uncertainty,” with tens of thousands of renters at risk of losing their homes as court hearings begin for the first time in over a year.
Meanwhile, a new, more transmissible delta variant of the COVID-19 virus that led to those executive actions is surging, sending hospitalizations and positivity rates skyrocketing, especially among unvaccinated individuals.
Amid the rising cases and a new federal moratorium that could be in place until Oct. 3 if the courts permit it, the governor’s office did not directly respond to a Capitol News Illinois question this week as to whether he was considering issuing a new or extended moratorium.
Jose Sanchez Molina, a spokesperson for the governor, issued a statement saying it is “critically important for the administration to provide much-needed support for Illinois residents as part of the gradual phaseout of the eviction moratorium.”
The statement also noted that enforcement “has not begun as the state is diligently working to ensure that residents are aware of and apply to available aid,” and the administration “has worked alongside our courts to establish a process that includes a step to educate residents on available aid before eviction enforcement begins.”
What comes after Sept. 1 is not immediately clear, but housing stakeholders, key state agencies and court representatives reached by Capitol News Illinois said it will likely depend on the pace of distribution of aid, whether the new federal eviction moratorium is found legally permissible and whether Pritzker decides to issue a new moratorium.
But if nothing changes, many renters’ and landlords’ futures will largely revolve around the state’s court system, in particular the county and judge which are handling the eviction case, as well as the administration of a soon-to-launch court-based aid program.
Read more about this issue here.
Asked at a news conference Aug. 16, Pritzker didn’t directly say whether he would extend the state’s eviction moratorium for those facing hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic as cases, deaths and hospitalizations for the virus continue to rise.
“We’ve looked at that, we continue to look at it. We’ll make a decision about that soon,” Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference in Springfield when asked if he would extend the moratorium, which is set to expire at the end of the month.
He cited the state’s ongoing efforts to connect renters with aid.
“So we’ll be working with all of the organizations across the state as well as renters and landlords to alleviate the pain that people may experience,” Pritzker said. “But either way people won’t be, you know, forced out of their homes right away, if they are part of this process that we’ve created.”
FAIRGROUNDS PLANS: The state of Illinois is teaming up with the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln to develop a master plan for year-round use of state fairgrounds facilities in Springfield and Du Quoin.
Gov. JB Pritzker and Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II made that announcement Friday, Aug. 13, along with John Stremsterfer, president and CEO of the foundation.
“Today, we honor the legacy of paving an even better path forward for these fairgrounds for generations to come,” Pritzker said during a news conference early Friday morning outside the Department of Agriculture building next to the Springfield fairgrounds. “That’s our intention. That’s what our state fair advisory board is tasked with.”
The larger state fair in Springfield typically draws more than half a million visitors during its two-week operation, while the Du Quoin fair has been drawing about 100,000 in recent years.
Both fair sites also host other events occasionally throughout the year, but Stremsterfer, who grew up just blocks away from the Springfield fairgrounds, said the idea is to turn them into year-round venues.
“It’s such a great asset for the people in the state of Illinois. I think we all want to be proud of everything that in the state, but especially the property that we’re all responsible for our citizens,” he said. “And I think nothing exemplifies that more than the State Fairgrounds.”
That announcement came on the second day of the 2021 state fair after many of the opening-day events, including a Grandstand concert by rock musician Sammy Hagar, had to be canceled due to a violent storm that swept across central Illinois Thursday. That storm resulted in significant flooding in Gibson City, a town of about 3,000 people roughly 100 miles northeast of Springfield.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
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