The Illinois General Assembly began a new legislative session Wednesday—with both new and familiar faces. Though the legislative leaders remain the same, making what was old “new” again, Democrats have expanded their veto-proof majority, known as a “supermajority".
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats, held onto their top spots. Cullerton was first elected Senate president a decade ago, while Madigan has been speaker for all but two years since 1983. Both Republican leaders are carrying on, too-- Rep. Jim Durkin from Western Springs and Sen. Bill Brady from Bloomington.
In his inaugural speech, Cullerton spoke about the 15 new people joining the Senate, highlighting their diversity.
“We’ve got mechanical engineers and mathematicians. Offensive linemen and air force instructors,” he mused. “If you want to get specific, Senator Dewitt can design you a new kitchen and Senator Plummer will sell you the materials to build it,” he said.
Cullerton used the opportunity to have fun at Brady’s expense. “The Republican caucus chose wisely in turning to you for leadership. You’re going to be – and I really mean this – a super-minority leader these next two years,” he said.
Cullerton also spoke about the need for infrastructure improvements, as well as maintaining an educated workforce. Brady said those issues will also be on his 2019 agenda.
Madigan approached his inaugural speech in a different light. He used the podium to throw a few jabs at outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner—who repeatedly campaigned against him.
“Four long years of character assassination. Four long years of personal vilification. Four long years of strident negotiating positions—also known as my way or the highway,” he said.
Nearly all of the 74 newly sworn-in House Democrats voted for him, but state Representative Anne Stava-Murray, a freshman Democrat from Naperville, did not. She’s among those who managed to flip an Illinois House seat that had long been held by Republicans.
Stava-Murray campaigned on voting against Madigan for speaker, saying he hadn’t done enough to combat sexual harassment in the state legislature.
“When you have leaders who have to step down as a result of the MeToo movement, you’ve clearly been promoting people who display those aggressive behaviors,” she said after the swearing-in ceremony. “Whether or not you know, you’ve chosen to know or not know.”
Stava-Murray said she’s willing to work across the aisle on what she calls “progressive issues,” even though Madigan remains House speaker.
Democrats in general say they’re optimistic about advancing issues central to Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker's agenda—which raising the minimum wage and changing the state’s income tax system.
But it's not just Democrats who are looking forward to change. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin spoke of a new Illinois in the years ahead.
"With this new General Assembly and a new governor, I am optimistic that for once in many, many years, that we can put politics aside and work for the greater good of our constituents and their future,” he told the House inauguration crowd.