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IDNR director now a state party committeewoman

Monday, Jun 17, 2019

* Bernie

COLLEEN CALLAHAN, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, has taken on another role — as a member of the Democratic State Central Committee.

Democratic county chairs from the 18th Congressional District last month unanimously picked Callahan to take the place of SHIRLEY McCOMBS of Petersburg, who died in October at age 81.

The Democratic committee includes one man and one woman from each of the state’s 18 congressional districts. The man elected to represent the 18th is BILL HOULIHAN of Springfield, and he told Sangamon County Democrats at a recent meeting that Callahan will be a “great partner.” He noted she is a cousin of U.S. Rep. CHERI BUSTOS, D-Moline, and niece of Bustos’ late father, GENE CALLAHAN of Springfield.

Colleen Callahan, 68, lives near Kickapoo, and in 2008 was the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 18th. She lost that year to then-state Rep. AARON SCHOCK. […]

“I am happy to step up to the plate as it relates to communicating the issues,” she said of her new party post.

I dunno about this. IDNR has been known as a patronage dumping ground. So, a director who is also a state Democratic Party official who has to run for election could become a problem.

Your thoughts?

…Adding… For those defending this in comments, let’s go back to 2016

A bipartisan pair of state senators are introducing legislation that would ban directors of state agencies and other high-level gubernatorial appointees from using their “official authority or influence” to sway elections.

Announcing the proposal Wednesday at Statehouse news conference, Sens. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, and Sam McCann, R-Plainview, touted it as an important expansion of the state’s ethics laws.

Manar said the measure will close “a gaping hole” in existing law and is similar to restrictions at the federal level and in other states.

“I’m of the opinion that agency directors should not spend their time campaigning,” he said. “They should spend their time managing the agencies that they have been entrusted to run and to manage when the Senate confirmed their appointments.”

…Adding… Sen. Manar just told me “My position hasn’t changed” regarding his 2016 legislation.

…Adding… A commenter makes an excellent point…

Every time a grievance is filed, someone might claim that whatever slight they experienced was because the director is a dem party official who dislikes them because they voted republican in the past

I’m told the governor’s office was not informed of this. I can’t believe they’re going to allow this to stand.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - DuPage Saint - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 10:25 am:

    I am once again thoroughly impressed with the accuracy of the saying “We don’t want nobody nobody sent” is everyone in Illinois politics down to township level related to someone?

  2. - Ok - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 10:31 am:

    Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough

  3. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 10:33 am:

    Yarbrough is not in an appointed job.

  4. - SuburbanCook - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 10:34 am:

    Is it any different than a County Clerk being a Township Committeeman and Vice Chairman of the County Party?

  5. - Monday Morning Quarterback - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 10:43 am:

    Her cousin, Cheri Bustos, is likely pushing this for her political bench. Bustos district director on the congressional staff doubles as 17th CD state central committeewoman.

  6. - A Jack - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 10:45 am:

    I agree it could be a problem. But you do have the Rutan and Shakman rulings to help with patronage. And hopefully the press will keep an eye on how many assistant directors IDNR decides to hire. I do think patronage is less of a problem then it was in the 90’s and earlier.

  7. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 10:52 am:

    ….she has turned IDNR around. What has she done in 6 months that i have missed.

  8. - Just Me - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 10:55 am:

    If Mike Madigan can hold a high-profile office while also being a high-profile party leader, and can do it ethically and without scandal, then I’m sure Callahan can figure out a way to do it as well.

  9. - Amalia - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 10:58 am:

    I’m going to get busy with genealogy in the hopes that someone connected turns up in the tree.

  10. - Token Conservative - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 10:58 am:

    Illinois Democrats, the party of patronage.

  11. - Fax Machine - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 11:03 am:

    Did the Governor sign off on this? I can’t imagine that the Speaker and Director Callahan would so this without giving JB a head’s up.

  12. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 11:08 am:

    Wrong post.

  13. - Norseman - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 11:11 am:

    === Illinois Democrats, the party of patronage. ===

    For sure. The GOP doesn’t dabble in patronage. LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL

  14. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 11:14 am:

    Less restricted employees under the federal Hatch Act can hold office in political parties. The Hatch Act always prohibits any federal employee from using the federal office to advance a political cause. But, Ms. Callahan would probably be able to retain her Central Committee post even under the Hatch Act.

  15. - Commonsense in Illinois - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 11:20 am:

    That’s a lot of birds and bunnies walking precincts…

  16. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 11:22 am:

    ===If Mike Madigan can===

    Madigan is an elected official. He’s not an appointed state agency director. If you can’t tell the difference, then I can’t help you.

  17. - Publius - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 11:23 am:

    Wasn’t the previous director a former state rep? Was their any concern then?

  18. - Just Me - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 11:29 am:

    Rich, you missed my snark.

  19. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 11:51 am:

    Manar was right then, and should presumably feel the same way in this case - someone should ask him for comment. It’s a bad look. Ive also got a feeling this might cause problems for DNR HR staff down the road. Every time a grievance is filed, someone might claim that whatever slight they experienced was because the director is a dem party official who dislikes them because they voted republican in the past

  20. - Fax Machine - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 12:09 pm:

    There is precedent for what Manar and McCann had proposed - members of the Executive Ethics Commission are explicitly prohibited from engaging in political activities

  21. - Justice Brandeis - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 12:10 pm:

    The more Illinois moves in the direction of making it more difficult to serve in government by impeding a person’s exercise of their 1st amendment right to participate in political activities outside of work, the more difficult it will be to find qualified people willing to serve. With every additional regulation or complication, we run the risk of creating a situation where holding a government office or job or political office is primarily a bastion for the very wealthy that have the means to navigate an expensive and overly legailistic system. Disclose it, don’t prohibit it. If its a political liability to hold both jobs, then the problem should sort itself out on its own.

  22. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 12:12 pm:

    ===the more difficult it will be to find qualified people willing to serve===


    Spare me.

  23. - LINK - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 12:33 pm:

    Since I read this earlier this morning, I’ve been reaching out to former IDNR staff for input but for a number of reasons cannot get a handle on how Director Callahan has performed since her appointment.

    I primarily hear that she seems to keeping a lower profile BUT they are finally posting jobs that haven’t been filled for in some cases more than a decade. These positions are needed and have been needed but were being dumped on those who remained behind. If this is so and they fill them with qualified people AND NOT “special” people, then that’s a good first step trying to repair an agency battered and bruised by Governor’s dating back to Blago.

    With regard to her election, I can only hope she carries the same standards that Gene Callahan was known for many years ago, otherwise, it will become an issue very quickly.

    I get my input from those that worked in IDOC which became the current IDNR and from my 35+ years of working with the staff at those agencies during those years.

    Illinois lost a lot of good people years ago and little has been done to date to put qualified people with their feet on the ground in the field to offset all those administrative types wearing loafers in Springfield - to paraphrase an IDNR retiree I know…

  24. - Justice Brandeis - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 12:44 pm:

    RM - point taken - probably should have said that the pool of qualified people will likely be smaller…

    The Gov just augmented the salaries of top staff “with the goal of attracting and retaining top talent.” The more obstacles the state puts in place to working in a top level government job, the more pay people will likely expect to leave a good gig in the private sector.

  25. - NeverPoliticallyCorrect - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 1:43 pm:

    In the absence of any fear of accountability, power tends to be abused, both in big and little ways. Evidence Illinois and this latest example. Until we see a viable second political party expect more of this type of abuse.

  26. - Monday Morning Quarterback - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 1:46 pm:

    I think the point to make in all of this is not being seen: this may be a Durbin (Bill Houlihan) move to help Cheri Bustos build her bench when they want to hand off the Senate seat to Bustos. This effort will help them build up the Bustos bench with family and friends.

  27. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 1:46 pm:

    The raising of salaries has nothing to do with attracting and retaining top talent. Who do they think they’re fooling. It is to pay the appointees with connections more money. Period. They rarely go out of state to find the “best qualified” talent available. As usual it is who you know. I’m sure it is that way in every state agency.

  28. - Sir Reel - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 2:14 pm:

    Beyond the partisan politics, I worry about this detracting her from her regular job. Being Director of DNR is more than a full time job (if one takes it seriously - not all have). Lots of travel, speaking to groups and organizations a lot, etc. If she has to choose between her DNR work and her Central Committee work, I fear she’ll pick the latter.

  29. - RuralJewel - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 2:52 pm:

    Truly disheartening to see this development with Director Callahan. I have great respect for Bustos and it seems like Callahan could be a great director at DNR, but this severely damages confidence that Callahan is focused on her job as an agency director. People forget how much DNR covers and how the last decade it has hemmorhaged knowledgable staff and failed to replace or train replacements. IDNR personnel are doing their best but strong leadership is needed to support their work. She has been mostly under the radar at DNR so far, and while I think some appreciate that she is taking her time to understand the agencey’s challenges she hasn’t done much at all yet
    Even the things she has been involved in were the result of work from prior to her appointment.

    While I completely understand why having Callahan as a Central Committeman is important politically, but she accepted the position at IDNR. I think other Dems, like Manar, should do what they can to quash this. I cannot believe there isn’t another well qualified individual that could take that committee with Houlihan and be a boon to Bustos. Again, I fully disclose I really like Bustos but I can’t deny that this sort of thing tempers ebthusiasm.

  30. - RuralJewel - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 3:04 pm:

    Ugh, apologies for my typos and grammar mistakes. This why I shouldn’t try and type a long winded response on a phone screen. TLDR: Frustrated IDNR supporter bemoans politics despite affection for Bustos/fat fingers and editing on a phone screen

  31. - Blue Dog Dem - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 3:32 pm:

    Seriously. How soon before Jerry II is appointed IDNR director. Hours or days is my call.

  32. - MCNoMore - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 5:58 pm:

    This won’t help with the narrative IDNR was a consolation prize for not getting AG. Doesn’t mean Director Callahan can’t do a great job, but it doesn’t instill confidence in the rank and file when your boss isn’t enthusiastic about the appointment and is already looking to take on additional non-DNR responsibilities. Like other posters have stated, IDNR Director is a full time+ job and deserves someone’s complete attention. Would have been nice to get an Natural Resources/Environmental professional instead of an AG person. I hope she proves detractors wrong. IDNR needs a win.

  33. - MG85 - Monday, Jun 17, 19 @ 6:28 pm:

    ==He’s not an appointed state agency director.==

    So your position is elected officials can be Party faithfuls but not appointees (like Directors).

    What about hired MC positions? Can Ryan Croke, Chief of Staff of DHS, or Kristin DiCenso, Chief of Staff of IDNR, fall under the elected category or the appointee category. DiCenso is an Alderwoman of Springfield and, while a non-partisan race, she is a well known Democrat.

    Reason I ask is, the justification of the “grievance” issue is a non-starter. People are appointed, elected, and hired to be objective and legal parameters exist to determine if someone is acting accordingly (aka just cause).

    So, I’d be interested to read everyone’s perspective on high level hires as well.

  34. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Jun 18, 19 @ 12:17 am:

    This is a fun test for the Pritzker administration.

    There is no “good solution” to this, either the Governor asserts himself at potential political cost or the Governor loses legitimacy.

    I am biased in this matter. In many other states I wouldn’t see a similar political position as an issue, but here we are two decades after Rutan and right on the heels of the State losing a tremendous lawsuit because our public servants refuse to follow the law and to follow their own consent decree.

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