Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, has served as Illinois House Speaker since Jan. 13, 2021. He has served in the General Assembly since January 2013 and represents a western Chicago suburb. An attorney, Welch also served 12 years on the Proviso Township High School Board of Education, the last 10 as president. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, Evanston, and a law degree from John Marshall Law School, Chicago. He and his wife, ShawnTe, have two children, Tyler and Marley.
FarmWeek: What are some of your top priorities this session?
Welch: I’m proud of the progress we’ve made as a state in my first two years as Speaker of the House and I intend to build on that success in this next term. One of my top priorities has and continues to be fiscal responsibility.
Our state budget was decimated during a 793-day budget impasse and the people of Illinois suffered tremendously because of it. In the past four years, we’ve made significant progress in getting our fiscal house in order. Not only have we completely eliminated a nearly $17 billion bill backlog accrued during that impasse, but we’re also making extra payments on our bills. We’ve earned our state a historic six credit upgrades and we were able to offer working families $1 billion in tax relief this past year. We certainly have much more work to do, but I feel strongly that we are on the right path.
It is because of this success that we are in a position to talk about some of my other priorities that include investing in training and workforce development, education and providing relief from inflationary pressures for our hardworking families. It is always a goal of mine to work across the aisle, and with new Republican leadership in the House this year, I’m hopeful we will find ways to work together on behalf of Illinoisans.
FarmWeek: How do you envision working with different sectors, including agriculture?
Welch: As Speaker, I’ve worked hard to establish a new style of leadership in the Illinois House. I encourage collaborative solutions and I value bringing all stakeholders to the same table so that we can develop final products that include a variety of voices from across the state. As policy makers, we have to come ready to learn with a willingness to compromise and find common ground whenever possible. I approach every issue that comes to the legislature through that same lens. Each day is a new opportunity to expand my understanding of a new topic and to offer my expertise when possible.
Specifically in the agriculture sector, I recognize I don’t have the institutional knowledge that many people around our state do, but I make a sincere effort to learn and better understand the ag community.
I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I’ve participated in the Adopt-A-Legislator program for over a decade to learn more about this incredibly important sector of our economy and state. I’ve traveled to Whiteside County each year, and I invited my farm family to the 2023 inauguration. I think this program is a wonderful example of how we can take steps to bridge gaps in communities across our state, and it’s been a very beneficial tool to help educate urban and suburban lawmakers.
It’s remarkable to think about the fact that if Illinois were its own independent country, we would have the 19th-largest economy in the world. That’s in large part thanks to our agricultural production. I’m grateful for organizations like the Illinois Farm Bureau that have developed relationships with Democrats and Republicans from all corners of our state so that we can rely on them as a resource when crafting important policy. I’m eager to continue growing that relationship and learning more about what’s most important to the communities they represent.
FarmWeek: What do you recommend as the best ways to communicate and work with lawmakers?
Welch: Don’t be shy. I want people to recognize how important their voices are in the legislative process. Set up visits in the Capitol or in district offices. Get to know your senator and representative and local leaders. Visit Springfield on lobby days, and of course, invite us to your farms and communities.
I think in this political climate, it’s been easy to forget that in the end we’re all Illinoisans working to make our state a better place to call home. We may disagree on how we achieve goals or when is the right time to do them, but more often than not, our goals are very much the same. When we foster and grow relationships by having thoughtful, honest, and sincere conversations, that’s when we can make real progress together.
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February 16, 2023 at 12:34PM