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For The First Time In Decades, Illinois House Gets New Majority Leader

Greg Harris
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
State Rep. Greg Harris, left, speaks with a colleague on the floor of the Illinois House on Nov. 29, 2018.

For the first time in more than two decades, the Illinois House of Representatives has a new majority leader. And the appointment is breaking new ground.

State Rep. Greg Harris was named to the position by House Speaker Michael Madigan. The job of majority leader is second in the hierarchy only to the speaker himself.

Harris was a key player in the negotiations that resolved Illinois’ two-year budget stalemate. He recently recalled Madigan’s marching orders in that fight:

“The first thing he told me was that when we went about this, our task was not just balancing line items on a spreadsheet, but remembering that each decision we made directly affects the lives of families in every corner of our state,” Harris said Wednesday, as he nominated Madigan for another term as House speaker.

He says after he arrived in Springfield in 2006, he told Madigan he wanted to sponsor legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.

“And it turned out to be a years-long battle, but with Mike’s help, Illinois became the last of only 10 states in the country that was able to pass marriage equality legislatively,” Harris said.

He is the first openly gay legislator to be the majority leader. Harris also identifies himself as someone living with AIDS.

He succeeds Barbara Flynn Currie, who was the first woman to be majority leader in the Illinois House. She retired this week.

“In 1997, I asked Barbara Flynn Currie to serve as the state’s first female majority leader,” Madigan said in a statement. “Following in her historic tenure, today’s appointment again represents House Democrats’ commitment to building an inclusive, welcoming Legislature where all are represented.

“As the first openly gay majority leader, Rep. Harris will also continue to reflect our caucus’ commitment to working across the aisle and making the tough decisions,” Madigan said.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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