SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers officially began a new term Wednesday, with senators and representatives elected in November taking their oaths of office.
Lawmakers making up the 101st edition of the General Assembly begin their work with the prospect of a new governor taking office Monday and Democrats firmly in control of all parts of state government. In addition to all six statewide offices, Democrats hold a 40-19 edge in the Senate and a 74-44 advantage in the House.
Despite new faces among legislators, the leaders of the chambers remained the same. Michael Madigan was again elected House speaker, while Jim Durkin of Western Springs will return as Republican leader. In the Senate, John Cullerton will serve another term as president, while Bill Brady of Bloomington will return as Republican leader.
Madigan told House members the last four “long” years under Gov. Bruce Rauner have been filled with “character assassination,” “personal vilification” and strident negotiating positions, “also known as my way or the highway.”
“In the last four years, people working with people has not happened in the state of Illinois,” Madigan said during Wednesday’s ceremony at University of Illinois Springfield’s Sangamon Auditorium. “Rather, we simply got a series of ultimatums.”
Madigan said the state still faces significant problems after the budget impasse, including a budget imbalance and an inability to properly support areas like education and infrastructure maintenance.
Going forward, he encouraged legislators to not just talk about “closing the book” as they move beyond the last four years.
“Rather, let’s talk in terms of closing one chapter in the book (and) take lessons from that chapter so we can move on to a new chapter where people work with people,” Madigan said.
State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville was the only Democrat who did not vote for Madigan as House speaker, voting “present.” The freshman legislator said she doesn’t believe current leadership has done enough to address the “toxic culture” of sexual harassment in the Statehouse.
During the Senate’s swearing-in ceremony that took place at the Capitol, Cullerton did not spend much time during his acceptance speech on the previous four years. He only mentioned it while asking senators how they will measure success this year.
“Before you answer, remember what failure looks like,” he said. “We’ve seen it. It’s a state with no budget. It’s a state where social service agencies close their doors.”
Cullerton mentioned a jobs program, a new capital plan and raising the minimum wage as issues to be addressed this spring.
Although business groups have opposed raising the minimum wage, Cullerton said the state should require “a living wage for honest work, because I think the employers of this state value their workers just as much as workers value their jobs, and we want both to succeed.”
While saying the state needs a new capital construction program, Cullerton did not mention ways to pay for it.
Rauner presided over the Senate chamber as senators were sworn in and until leaders had been elected. It was one of his last official acts as governor.
Rauner welcomed the 15 newly elected senators and said “thank you for choosing public service.”
Despite their political differences, Cullerton offered thanks to the outgoing governor.
“On behalf of the Illinois Senate, thank you for your public service,” Cullerton said. “We may have had our differences from time to time, but you took on a challenge when others merely complained from the sidelines. Thank you, and I wish you and your family the best.”