Democrats’ Springfield message: It’s their party, and Republicans can cry if they want to

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SPRINGFIELD — Voices were raised, tempers flared and accusations traded on the Illinois House floor Wednesday afternoon, nothing out of the ordinary in and of itself for this late stage of a legislative session.

“Welcome to the emotions of the last week in May,” said state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, directing his remark to new lawmakers who might be unfamiliar with how testy things can get in the waning days.

The immediate cause of the tensions was an obscure piece of legislation by Chicago standards — a fight over whether Champaign County should split away from five more rural counties with which it shares a judicial district.

But in that debate, fought strictly along partisan lines because the change would give Democrats a better shot at electing local judges, I thought we could see an emerging theme of this year’s legislative session.

That is, Democrats are completely back in charge in Springfield, and when push comes to shove, and at some point it always does, they’re going to do things their way.

Republicans no longer have a backstop in the governor’s office to thwart the aims of a Democratic-controlled General Assembly, and it’s starting to show.

Sure, that’s been obvious since the November election — with the election of J.B. Pritzker as governor and Democratic super majorities in both legislative chambers.

But you never quite know how it will play out.

In place of Republican Bruce Rauner and his obstructionist tendencies, Pritzker and his party’s legislators are aggressively moving forward with an unabashedly liberal agenda.

One day after slamming through an expansive abortion rights bill over Republican opposition as a way to fight back against southern states moving in the opposite direction, House Democrats pushed another conservative hot button by voting to require fingerprinting of individuals seeking a Firearm Owners Identification Card.

In recent days, both chambers approved a constitutional amendment to switch Illinois to a graduated income tax, moving away from the flat rate tax that has been in effect nearly 50 years. And before that, they approved an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

None of this bothers me. I’m a liberal. (And please excuse me for not saying “progressive” because it seems so benign.)

But I’ve been conditioned by experience to at least consider what happens when the pendulum swings the other way.

And this is definitely the sort of legislative session that could spark a backlash, depending on how it wraps up over the next 48 hours.

None of this is to suggest there is no bipartisanship taking place, some of which was on display Wednesday as the Senate voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana with some Republican support and even kind words from some Republican opponents.

Democrats and Republicans are also said to be working well together in an effort to pass a budget and to approve a bill funding infrastructure improvements, which may involve a further expansion of legalized gambling.

On Wednesday, they even teamed up to advance yet another McCormick Place expansion project, which usually causes more of a fight.

Part of this is a matter of personalities. Pritzker is an affable sort who clearly wants to be seen as a dealmaker, and the current Republican legislative leaders are the type who look for common ground, although politics sometimes demand a more strident approach.

A more strident approach was definitely on tap Wednesday when Democrats moved ahead with their bill to overhaul the judiciary in Champaign County.

They compounded their partisan offense by turning a deaf ear to Republican demands to abide by a procedural rule that would have forced them to first receive input from the courts.

“You should be ashamed,” raged state Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville. “It’s despicable. It’s shameful. You threw democracy out the window.”

I’m not sure about all that, but I don’t think there was any doubt Democrats were reminding them who’s boss. And coming immediately on the heels of the gun control debate, Republican sensibilities already were frayed.

Everyone seemed to chill out before they headed over to the big birthday bash Pritzker was throwing at the governor’s mansion for Secretary of State Jesse White.

Nobody seems to know yet whether legislators will be able to come to agreement on the infrastructure bill or gambling expansion before Friday’s adjournment.

But if Democrats can agree among themselves, they aren’t going to let Republicans get in their way.

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May 29, 2019 at 08:31PM

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