Rich Miller: Explaining the gamesmanship in Springfield

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Rich Miller Capitol Fax

The Illinois Senate’s COVID mitigation protocols (testing, masks and limited remote voting) didn’t anticipate a partisan attempt to use a record-breaking virus surge to shut the chamber down, but that’s what almost happened last week.

The Senate Republicans were rightfully outraged that the Democratic super-majority geared up to jam through a redistricting bill of several judicial circuits without so much as a proper hearing. So, they counted heads and determined that they just might be able to force an adjournment without action if they stayed off the floor, thereby denying the Democrats a quorum. And since the Democrats weren’t planning to come back to town before petition circulation started, any delay could mean the end of the attempted court gerrymandering.

Two Senate Democrats had reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus after taking the mandated SHIELD test the evening before. Another Democrat had already announced he’d tested positive for the virus and was experiencing mild symptoms. Yet another was running late and couldn’t be there for the scheduled 11 o’clock start time.

A slew of others had various excuses for not being in Springfield, including one whose staff had tested positive and was quarantining to be on the safe side.

The Senate’s pandemic-era remote voting rule still requires a quorum to be physically present at the Capitol. The Democrats needed 29 members at the Statehouse to ensure there was an official quorum of 30. They didn’t need all 30 because a Republican would have to be on the floor to question the existence of a quorum. The Democrats have 41 members, but they couldn’t produce 29 bodies. Rank and file Democrats fumed at the bungling of the headcount and the Republican games.

So, top Democrats came up with a plan. The member who was running late was told to hurry up. Two members who tested positive were asked to sit in their cars in their Statehouse parking spots and participate from there. Another participated from her Statehouse office. Those three were deemed “Present” even though they weren’t on the floor.

Voting while on the Capitol grounds but not in the chamber does have precedent. Former Sen. Bill Haine was very ill and couldn’t risk infection when the chamber overrode Bruce Rauner’s veto of the income tax hike in 2017. Haine voted from his Statehouse office and the override motion prevailed with the bare minimum of 36.

But it turns out there was no rush to get people to town because a group of House Democratic lawmakers from Lake County banded together to stop the judicial remap bill until they got what they wanted. Some accommodations were eventually made, but it took a good long while.

The House Republicans later tried their own quorum stunt to block the remap bill, but the Democrats had 62 members on hand (three more than required) and the plot fizzled.

During debate on the House’s rules change to again allow remote voting earlier in the day, Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) asked that the chamber consider imposing some conditions on remote participation, since some members appeared to be abusing the rule (leaving session early and voting while driving home, for instance). Butler represents the Capital City, so he has an interest in protecting the livelihoods of the town’s businesses. Session injects a large amount of money into Springfield every year.

Rep. Butler is right. Some of these excuses are just ridiculous. Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia) infamously voted remotely last year from a helicopter during a gubernatorial campaign tour. Some basic rules really ought to be put in place. And ditching session for campaigns should be at the top of the list (Sen. Bailey could be seen last week voting remotely while apparently driving his car.)

But what Rep. Butler and others may not appreciate is that Democrats were furious at the parliamentary gamesmanship. There’s currently no desire to hurry back to town for floor action if they’re just going to sit around in potentially COVID-infested spaces for hours on end while one chamber or the other attempts to secure a quorum because of a lack of Republican cooperation.

This was an unusual case. I get it. The judicial subcircuit remap bill shouldn’t have been blatantly shoved through like that. It was an abuse of authority to rush through a bill to put more Democrats on local courts and the Republicans were right to protest.

But I also don’t blame the Democrats for wanting to just stay in remote committee mode and not return to Springfield during the coming weeks while this surge blows over if this gamesmanship is going to be a habit.

PHOTOS: Social distancing and face masks in the Illinois Capitol

Rep. Darren Bailey

Illinois state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, wears a face mask as he confers with a staff member at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield during the spring legislative session Thursday, May 21. Bailey was removed from the floor Wednesday for not complying with House rules that required face coverings. 




TED SCHURTER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



House of Representatives

The Illinois House of Representatives conducts their spring legislative session Thursday, May 21, at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield. 




TED SCHURTER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Rep. Tim Butler

Illinois state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, confers with colleagues at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield, where the Illinois House of Representatives conducted its spring session, on May 21.




TED SCHURTER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Reps. Jim Durkin and Mike Madigan

Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, left, talks with Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, on Thursday. The conversation took place after Durkin asked why one of his members was denied recognition Wednesday and wasn’t given an answer during the spring legislative session.




TED SCHURTER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Rep. Jim Durkin

Illinois House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, asks on Thursday why one of his members was denied recognition the day before.




TED SCHURTER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Mike Madigan

Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, confers with his chief of staff Jessica Basham during the spring legislative session Thursday, May 21, 2020. The Illinois House of Representatives is conducting their spring session at the Bank of Springfield Center.




TED SCHURTER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Rep. Kelly Burke

Illinois state Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, answers questions about vote-by-mail legislation during the spring legislative session Thursday, May 21, at the Bank of Springfield Center.




TED SCHURTER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Rep. Kelly Burke

Illinois state Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, answers questions about vote-by-mail legislation during the spring legislative session Thursday, May 21, at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield. 




TED SCHURTER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Speaker Mike Madigan

Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, walks toward the podium on an elevated platform at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield. 




TED SCHURTER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Illinois Legislature

The Illinois House of Representatives conducts their spring legislative session Thursday, May 21, 2020, at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield.




TED SCHURTER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Illinois Senate

Senators and staff maintain social distancing on the floor of the Illinois Senate during session at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21. 




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Sen. Jim Oberweis

Illinois state Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, wears a face shield while on the floor of the Illinois Senate during session at the Illinois State Capitol, Thursday, May 21. 




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Sen. Jim Oberweis

Illinois State Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, wears a full face shield while on the floor of the Illinois Senate during session at the Illinois State Capitol, Thursday, May 21, in Springfield. 




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Sen. Emil Jones

Illinois State Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, waits for his turn to speak on the floor of the Illinois Senate at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21. 




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Senate President Don Harmon

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, talks with Illinois State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, on the floor of the Illinois Senate at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21. 




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Sen. Kimberly Lightford

Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, leads the Illinois Senate as they gavel in for for session at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21. 




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Sen. Antonio Munoz

Illinois State Sen. Antonio Munoz, D-Chicago, stands alone on the floor of the Illinois Senate to begin executive appointments in which senators will enter the chamber in groups to vote during session at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21.




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Sen. Dale Righter

Illinois State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, takes a break at his desk in-between an executive committee and the Illinois Senate coming back into session at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21. 




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Sen. Bill Brady at the Illinois State Capitol

Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, then Illinois Senate Republican leader, speaks with state Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, on the floor of the Illinois Senate during session at the Illinois State Capitol on May 21.




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Sen. Heather Steans

Illinois State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, enters the floor of the Illinois Senate during session at the Illinois State Capitol ON Thursday, May 21. 




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Rep. Ryan Spain

Illinois state Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, asks questions about vote-by-mail legislation during the spring legislative session Thursday, May 21.




TED SCHURTER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Sen. Jim Oberweis

Illinois State Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, wears a full face shield while on the floor of the Illinois Senate during session at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21.




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions during his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic held in his office at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21.




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Dr. Ngozi Ezike

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, delivers the latest numbers for the COVID-19 pandemic at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21.




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker removes his face mask, made of a fabric with baseballs printed on it, to deliver his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic held in his office at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21.




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker wears a face mask made of a fabric with baseballs printed on it during his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic held in his office at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21. 




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions during his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic held in his office at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21. 




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions during his daily press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic held in his office at the Illinois State Capitol on Thursday, May 21. 




JUSTIN L. FOWLER, THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER VIA AP



Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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January 7, 2022 at 07:27PM

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