Rich Miller: New IDES head Richards is best bet for Pritzker

Something had to give. Last week, IDES announced that it was changing its unemployment benefits application process. Callers are now promised a callback, instead of having to spend all day, every day waiting on hold.

And then Chan was suddenly replaced with Kristin Richards.

Richards was named Senate President John Cullerton’s chief of staff in 2016 after serving as Cullerton’s policy and budget director. Senate President Don Harmon kept her on after he was elected to replace Cullerton several months ago, mainly because she’s a serious policy wonk and he needed her help to transition into his new position. She’s also beloved and respected by his caucus members.

Richards is super-smart and knows government back and forth. Yeah, she can be tough when times demand it, but she is also a naturally empathetic person. She is, I think, just the sort of person that IDES desperately needs right now. She has worked on unemployment issues for years and has been particularly involved since the pandemic began. Illinoisans are hurting and IDES staffers are over-worked and over-wrought. The state needs a no-nonsense technocrat as well as a human touch in that position.

Richards also, of course, knows how to handle legislators, which is a hugely important skill right now because legislative fury at IDES (and, by extension, the governor) is all too real. At the very least, her appointment immediately gets most Senate Democrats off the governor’s back. It’ll take her more time to calm everyone else. Results are the main thing, but having the unique skill of effectively handling legislative egos is crucial for Pritzker’s ability to govern going forward. I wrote not long ago that the governor needed to find a way to calm the uprising, and this is a smart way to do it.



July 11, 2020 at 08:34AM

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