How different will Speaker Welch be from Speaker Madigan?

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Emanuel “Chris” Welch became the Illinois House speaker yesterday largely because Madigan built up power for so many years that he offended just about everybody. Welch has promised to change that, to be different. So, here are some key areas to watch in figuring out just what the new speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives is made of.

Let’s start with the arcane but crucial area of rules.

In his 36-year reign, Madigan increasingly ran every aspect of House operations as his own personal fief. No bill was called, no measure escaped committee, no deal was concluded without the speaker’s at least tacit approval.

Members on both sides of the aisle—mushrooms, in Springfield parlance—object to that. They’re asking for at least a chance to have their say.

That could happen if the House returns to the regular order of business on floor amendments to pending bills. Madigan wanted all amendments first cleared in committee—in other words, by him—rather than being put up for debate. Will Welch reverse that?

In a related matter, Republicans in particular badly want the right to get their bills aired in committee, rather than have them unceremoniously dumped into the Rules Committee—the chamber of silent death. So they’re pushing a plan that would allow any bill that has a certain number of bipartisan sponsors to automatically get at least a hearing.

A second area: upcoming legislative and congressional reapportionment, better known as remap.

Under Madigan, the process was handled strictly behind closed doors and was utterly partisan, run by Madigan and the Senate president. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has promised not to sign an “unfair map,” and Welch has suggested he’s inclined to agree. But what does that mean?

I don’t expect Springfield’s ruling Democrats to turn the power over to an independent, outside group. Politics just doesn’t work that way. But they’ll have to somehow nod to Pritzker’s concerns and Welch’s comments. It will be interesting to see how the new speaker handles this.

One area of special note: the loss of African American population, especially in the city. That has to translate to fewer seats for Black politicians, whether they want to admit that or not. Perhaps Welch will have an easier time selling that reality to the Legislature’s Black Caucus than Madigan would have.

Then there’s distribution of power within the Democratic caucus: who gets into leadership and who will control key committees.

Welch almost certainly had to make some sort of deal with others who ran for speaker, particularly North Sider Ann Williams, who led a group of about 20 women, mostly from the northern third of the metropolitan area.

If Williams doesn’t get something, perhaps a slot as majority leader or a beefed-up position as speaker pro tem, it will look like the women caved too early. And there are continuing issues of sexual harassment in the House. That’s why one key lawmaker, Rep. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, voted present, calling for a full review of old charges against Welch that resurfaced in the speakership scrum. Welch is going to have to make it absolutely clear from the beginning that he will not tolerate abuse and is prepared to ax anyone close to him who does.

One final subject is finances, a very major item given that the state now has a $3.9 billion budget hole.

Democrats are the majority, and ultimately will have their way. But just raising taxes on the middle-class again, after Pritzker’s graduated income tax was rejected by voters, will be a very hard sell. Welch could use some GOP buy-in—Madigan rarely would raise taxes without at least a couple of GOP votes—but spending cuts that will be the Republican price would disproportionately hit people of color.

So watch to see how Welch juggles those conflicting forces, on the budget and on the other matters. Illinois has a new, different House speaker. We’ll soon find out how new and different he really is.

via Crain’s Chicago Business

January 14, 2021 at 09:48PM

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