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OUR VIEW: Eyes on Springfield as new Legislature takes over

THE ISSUE: Lawmakers sworn in to start new General Assembly term today
OUR VIEW: Lots to watch for, and make sure to keep communicating

The 100th Illinois General Assembly gaveled out of session quietly Tuesday morning, and the 101st officially begins today as lawmakers take the oath of office. Inauguration for new Gov. JB Pritzker will be Monday.

In some sense those distinctions are a formality. The “old” House passed votes Tuesday essentially at Pritzker’s request that would allow him to both replace the members of the Illinois Tollway Board as well as to bump pay for cabinet members by 15 percent.

With the “new” Legislature having even stronger Democrat control, it’s easy to believe both measures could’ve passed regardless of when they were called to the floor, but the formality of today’s swearing-in ceremonies remains somewhat significant.

On the Senate side, our area continues to be represented primarily by state Sen. Sue Rezin, the Morris Republican whose first term began Dec. 1, 2010, when local Republican leaders appointed her to fill a vacancy. She’d actually been elected in the 75th House District, defeating incumbent Careen Gordon, but never took that seat. Rezin since has won three Senate elections.

On the House side things are considerably less stable, as residents of the 76th District have seen the seat pass from longtime state Rep. Frank Mautino to an appointed successor, Andy Skoog, in December 2015 when Mautino, a Spring Valley Democrat, resigned to become auditor general. In 2016 Skoog of Utica, lost an election to Streator Republican Jerry Long, who in turn lost last November to Ottawa Democrat Lance Yednock. That’s four different men representing the region in just about three calendar years.

It’s hard to know just what to expect from the next two years. We’re already in election season, as incoming state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, has both fired broadsides at powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan while also announcing a bid to challenge veteran U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in the Democratic primary.

Meanwhile, prominent Republicans seem to be at odds over which wing will wrest control of the state party. Will it be someone like House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, who backed both of the Pritzker-endorsed measures Tuesday? Or are folks going to line up behind Wheaton state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who narrowly missed defeating the once-powerful Rauner in a primary last year?

Firmly entrenched, the Democrats seem less focused on 2020, although many observers will be looking to see how the Pritzker-Madigan dynamic plays out, as it’s certain to be different than his clashes with Rod Blagojevich and steamrolling of Pat Quinn, the state’s most recent Democratic governors.

We pledge to continue reporting, analyzing and opining on dealings in Springfield and Chicago. The Shaw Media Group network incorporates a field of newsrooms responsible for covering many legislative districts, which should better position all of us to explain how pending legislation will affect our readers and their pocketbooks.

Further, we encourage our lawmakers to continue to conduct regular events in their districts in order to maintain connections not just with donors and influencers but simply average folks who want to understand how things work. And we likewise encourage readers to make use of phone lines and email addresses to bring concerns directly to elected officials.

Springfield is not isolated from the rest of Illinois the way Washington, D.C., can seem like a different planet from the vast majority of the United States. These lawmakers are just people who, when they’re not in session, live and walk among us. They’re not on Fox News or CNN, they’re just trying to keep the state moving forward. And they need your input to do so, which means communication should be a two-way street.

Here’s hoping the next two years move Illinois forward in positive ways. We know many of our readers are deeply skeptical of how the Democrats in control will try to shape the future, but nothing is written in stone, at least not yet. Don’t just wait to see how things happen, remain involved and be part of the process.

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