Illinois Senate President Harmon warns newly sworn senators about integrity

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State Senate President Don Harmon attends a tree planting ceremony to celebrate Shriners Children’s Chicago hospital’s 100th anniversary outside the hospital in October.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

SPRINGFIELD — With one state senator under federal investigation — and five others swept up in federal probes over the last three years — Illinois Senate President Don Harmon had a message Wednesday for the newly sworn members of his chamber: 

Do what’s right or get out.

“Be guided by that truth, whether it be politically convenient or not,” the Oak Park Democrat said as he was sworn in for another term as leader of the chamber. “If your motivations are elsewhere, the Illinois Senate is not for you.” 

His inauguration audience in the historic Old State Capitol Hall of Representatives included state Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, who is facing federal bribery charges, and state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, who is accused of abuse by his ex-wife — both of whom Gov. J.B. Pritzker has asked to resign.

In his welcoming remarks, Harmon quoted his late mother, who once told him she worried “that Springfield will change your notion of what the right thing is,” and former Chicago Police Supt. James Rochford, who warned a 1976 group of newly sworn officers “If you lack integrity, get out — get out now — because you will be found out.” 

State Sen. Michael Hastings, left; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, center; state Sen. Emil Jones III.

|Ashlee Rezin; Pat Nabong; Jean Lachat/Sun-Times file

Rochford’s daughter — Judge Elizabeth Rochford — was elected to the state Supreme Court in November.

“We’ve all unfortunately witnessed the sweeping tarnish that comes when even one elected official strays,” Harmon told senators. “If you aren’t here to do what’s right for the people of Illinois, I would suggest you take Mr. Rochford’s advice. The people of Illinois deserve, better and it is up to us to deliver.”

Harmon also noted in his address that he is now the legislative leader with the longest tenure, despite having spent just three years in the position. 

State Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, was sworn in on Wednesday for her first term as the Illinois House Republican leader, becoming the first woman to lead a House caucus. And state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, R-Hillside, was reelected House speaker, the post he first won in 2021. 

While Harmon’s address focused on integrity, newly selected Senate Republican Leader John Curran, R-Downers Grove, vowed to focus on strong and practical public policy, “regardless of the letter next to our name.” He said he’d continue to fight against “misplaced policies.” 

Illinois Senate Republican Leader John Curran of Downers Grove.

Provided

“There are millions of Illinoisans who support the Republican principles of freedom and economic opportunity for all,” Curran said. “It is my job as leader to ensure that their goals and their voices are represented.” 

The Illinois General Assembly has had a difficult stretch when it comes to investigations and charges into current and former members.

In addition to Jones, former House Speaker Mike Madigan, former state Sen. Annazette Collins and former state Sen. Sam McCann are all awaiting trial on federal corruption charges. 

And former state Sen. Tom Cullerton, former state Sen. Terry Link, former state Rep. Eddie Acevedo, former state Rep. Luis Arroyo and former state Sen. Martin Sandoval have all been hit with federal charges since 2019 and wound up pleading guilty. Sandoval died in 2020 from COVID-19 complications. 

At the nearby Bank of Springfield Center, Welch focused on both parties working together — but rejecting extremism.

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, gives his closing remarks on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives in 2021.

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register, distributed by the Associated Press

The Hillside Democrat told newly seated members of the Illinois House that he’d work with the other side of the aisle in “good faith” and with “civility and respect” during his second term as speaker — while also ticking off some hefty Democratic policies, including the protection of voting and workers’ rights.

Welch said the House must fight for middle-class families, continue to rebuild the state’s fiscal climate with “socially responsible” budgets and prioritize equity in health care, education and our justice system.

And he vowed to fight against extreme ideologies and “stand up to the extremists who want to pull us backward — because matters of basic human dignity shouldn’t be subject to the ideologies of politicians and judges.”

“Everyone who is ready to do the work and meet the challenges of this moment will have a partner in me — always,” Welch said. “But those who choose discord, those whose blind allegiance to extreme ideology would dismantle our fundamental institutions, those who would derail the work people have sent us here to do — they will find that this House will not waste the people’s time on their games.”

House GOP Leader Tony McCombie speaks during an Illinois House Judiciary Criminal Committee hearing last month.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

His GOP counterpart urged members to be “genuine and honest” and to speak up for constituents.

“Our position in politics is often regarded negatively. So let’s change that. If you understand a policy and it will be a detriment to the people of Illinois and you still support it, that is a problem,” McCombie said. 

“Know this position is not about you. It’s about them. Represent your districts, be present, be engaged and never forget why you are here. You are here to be their voice, their representative. ”

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January 11, 2023 at 10:03PM

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