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A missed opportunity

Monday, Jun 24, 2019

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

“We are so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish this first legislative session of ours,” Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton told a TV interviewer earlier this month. “We said that we wanted to think big for the people of Illinois, we said that we wanted to get Springfield back on the track of working families and that’s what we did.”

But a former House colleague was overheard telling Stratton at a bill-signing ceremony the next day how much she’d missed her. Indeed, Stratton’s absence from the legislative arena was the subject of much speculation in the waning days of the spring session.

J.B .Pritzker often referred to Stratton as a “partner” during the campaign. And she was unarguably indispensable during Pritzker’s statewide bid.

Stratton was only in her first term in the Illinois House when Pritzker picked her to run with him, but she’d already impressed her colleagues with her abilities. It was widely assumed that Stratton would play a major role in the governor’s dealings with the Legislature.

But, depending how you count, Stratton was only in Springfield for about 20 days during the five-month legislative session. Her public schedule, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows her departing for Springfield from Chicago a few times at 6 o’clock in the evening with no events when she arrived, so I didn’t count those.

Her schedule only includes a handful of meetings with legislators and scheduled appearances at legislative-related events.

And the last time Stratton was in Springfield was May 16, and she departed for Chicago at 2 p.m.

That meant Stratton completely missed the final two weeks of the spring session, which is typically a busy time, but was especially so this year as one hugely important bill after another was hotly debated by the House and Senate.

As mentioned above, her absence was the source of frequent chatter in Springfield, particularly when some members of the House Black Caucus began resisting pressure to vote for the cannabis legalization bill. Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx traveled to Springfield at least twice to help put out that fire, and several Senate Black Caucus members also played a crucial role as did Deputy Gov. Christian Mitchell, who, like Stratton, is a former House member.

The governor’s office was in an “all hands on deck” mode during those final days, but according to her office, Stratton wasn’t even in Illinois. She traveled “out of state” from May 22 through May 25 for her daughter’s graduation and then left on May 28 “with a US delegation of women leaders to Israel,” her office said. Legislative session was scheduled to end on May 31 but ended up lasting until June 2.

Stratton returned on June 5, just in time to attend Gov. Pritzker’s bill-signing ceremony for budget-related legislation, even though the budget deal was made and voted on while she was out of the country. She also attended the governor’s signing ceremony for the Reproductive Health Act the following week, the day after she was interviewed on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” program.

Stratton’s spokesperson defended his boss, saying she’d been “deeply involved” in legislation and had “countless conversations” with legislators. And the governor’s office claimed Pritzker consulted with her “regularly” on issues like expungement during the cannabis legalization debate. “Illinois is a more just and equitable state today because of the Lieutenant Governor, and her work will continue to be central to the progress we make.”

But I talked with several House Democrats, mainly Black Caucus and female members, and everyone said the same thing: They had little to no interaction with Stratton on important legislation.

”Not at all,” said one legislator, adding “She stopped by to say hi but no conversations on bills.”

”She seemed kind of on an island of her own if you asked me,” said another.

It’s not unusual for a lieutenant governor to not take a major role at the Statehouse. The office has no constitutional duties.

This simply wouldn’t have been a story with almost all previous lt. governors because expectations were so low. Expectations for Stratton, on the other hand, were sky high and remain so, as clearly shown by that WTTW interview.

As far as I can tell she wasn’t elbowed out by the governor or his administration. She chose this path, which is obviously her right as a constitutional officer. And, in the end, almost all of the governor’s bills passed.

But the words I heard most often about her were “disappointing” and “missed opportunity.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

28 Comments
  1. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 9:47 am:

    As the late Liz Taylor said a long time ago, there’s no deodorant like success. Democrats and did an outstanding job of passing big legislation. How bad would it be if they failed at some key bills and Stratton was not around?


  2. - efudd - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 9:55 am:

    Meh, stuff got done, like a budget. For the first time in four years this state is being operated by someone who knows how to run things.
    If anything, this is just another sign of how little that office is needed.


  3. - PublicServant - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:05 am:

    As the column points out, it sure looks like a missed opportunity to me. I hope she heeds the alert that Rich is providing, because going forward, all hands really will be needed on deck backing, and promoting the graduated tax amendment.


  4. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:09 am:

    To the Post,

    Constitutionally, the Lt. Governor here in Illinois the defining role of the position is to *be* qualified, constitutionally, to be the governor. That’s it. Be able by the constitutional requirements to become governor if the need arises.

    I start there because some states, the LG has far more constitutional powers, and in some cases some powers greater than the governor. Some preside over the Senate as the role is not ceremonial, while others have other powers that remove them from the governor, allowing a logical rationale that the LG runs separate, no ticket needed, as the structure of the executives are defined.

    It’s important to realize that. Lt. Governor Stratton every single day, no matter how one slices her work day, she is fulfilling her constitutional obligation by being… qualified.

    I have no idea why her choices, or maybe more importantly, why she made those choices or what influenced her choices, this session were what they are. I was quick to point out former LG Evelyn Sanguinetti was absent during press conferences, public stagings, even postured framings of members on the stairs, and nit just figuratively.

    I’m not disappointed. Sanguinetti was never a real partner except when Sanguinetti wanted to be seen. Never did I feel the BTIA(tm) or the former governor look to Sanguinetti as anything but a prop, no different than the Carhartt, the van, or the vests.

    Where I’ve walked this around is… Stratton was going to be, allegedly, someone that not only publicly had the administration ear, but privately was the eyes and ears for this governor with former colleagues and public officials knowing Stratton was engaged in process, and Stratton could be a larger figure than past LGs, including one who “quit” for 27 minutes to be a radio host.

    The question is… how big of a role does Stratton want, how large of an influence does Stratton have now, and even before, with the governor and the PBIA(tm) folks, and now after this session, Stratton’s own role (or lack thereof) in it, what dies the next three years look like, and as a career, what will Stratton do… to *appear* relevant?

    What will Stratton do… to give at least an impression of full engagement, and full partnership in the governing?

    Stratton is doing the minimum. I’ll leave that there.

    Was it lip service by the candidate Pritzker, and the running mate Stratton… that the role of LG will be one with real importance?

    Wherever inside infighting or inside baseball or choices made with or even without hurt feelings, the impression may not reflect what the governor or LG would like, but actions, words, and reflective accounts of this past session paint the LG well outside the game, and far from what could have been what what told to be her role.

    Can’t change what has passed. Let’s see how the governor, the BPIA(tm) and the LG want the perceived actions “after” to either shake or overshadow.., what has happened.


  5. - efudd - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:10 am:

    Walk down any street in southern Illinois and ask ten people whose the lite governor.
    You’ll get nine and a half dumb looks.


  6. - 47th Ward - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:14 am:

    ===You’ll get nine and a half dumb looks.===

    Must…resist making fun…too easy…dumb looks…not today.

    Not gonna do it.


  7. - What's in a name? - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:19 am:

    You get the same look if you ask the square root of four.

    Forgive me, too easy.


  8. - efudd - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:23 am:

    Ya’ll are welcome for the softball.


  9. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:24 am:

    (Sigh)

    The question does not revolve on popularity.

    That’s never been the point in Illinois politics.

    Illinois politics and the influence and power isn’t measured on that scale.

    Illinois politics and influence is measured by both the levels of engagement… and how that engagement shapes, crafts, and creates policy by that political actor.

    It’s not that Stratton is known, unknown…

    It’s that Stratton, in the measure of politics, power, and influence… during session… was a missing actor in process.

    So… where does that leave her? Was it her choice, the BPIA(tm) choice, the governor’s choice…

    In reality, Stratton could’ve been the major fulcrum, instead of what role she played… and still be terribly unknown as she is with the role she did have.


  10. - ILPundit - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:25 am:

    I would just make 2 points. First, Lt. Governor’s don’t get to simply insert themselves into the process on behalf of the Governor — at least not without creating chaos in the Governor’s leadership team. Show me some proof the Governor assigned her a major task that she blew off, and I might find the thesis more compelling.

    Second, compared to people like — literally all — of the Deputy Governor’s, she had far less experience as a single term state legislator than most of Pritzker’s senior team.

    Not really seeing the missed opportunity here. Seems a bit more like a cheap shot IMHO.


  11. - efudd - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:40 am:

    “could’ve been the major fulcrum”

    What didn’t get passed that Pritzker wanted?


  12. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:43 am:

    ===What didn’t get passed that Pritzker wanted?===

    Are you saying it was smooth sailing?

    I’d suspect others might disagree, especially that last minute maneuvers, behind the scenes negotiations, even the governor meeting with legislators to nose count seems to refute the “ease” you’d like to put in this session.

    One can’t acknowledge all that was accomplished and also say it was an easy-peasy road for it all to happen.


  13. - Politix - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:50 am:

    Missed opportunity for what? When was the last time a lt gov played a starring role in the legislative session? This is just more unfair scrutiny of a woman of color.


  14. - efudd - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:51 am:

    OW, where in my comments did I say it was smooth sailing? I’m stating, historic legislation was passed with her obvious absence. Which calls into question how much impact her presence would have made.
    Also, back to my original point, working the floor with southern Illinois legislators, with them knowing most of their constituents couldn’t pick her out of a lineup, would’ve been pointless.

    Don’t put words in my mouth, brother.


  15. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:54 am:

    ===Missed opportunity for what? When was the last time a lt gov played a starring role in the legislative session? This is just more unfair scrutiny of a woman of color.===

    Ugh. It’s not making anyone a victim.

    The question is…

    What role did you expect Lt. Governor Stratton to have, and the choices and decisions the LG made during session, was that not a missed opportunity to be engaged, relevant, matter… or are you willing to accept the constitutionally mandated to expect of the office… and that’s all you expect?

    Be a little more honest in your thoughts. It’s easy to be lazy to victimhood.


  16. - Second Chance - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:56 am:

    The question is who was OK with her leaving? The Chief-of-Staff usually gets in the way and thinks about those things? But I haven’t met the LTG’s COS so maybe being MIA is their MO.

    There are some qualified staff in that office, some that have passed legislation (making me scratch my head more as I type that), why were they alright with this? I digress… eliminate the office and create a replacement process for the Governor through legislation.


  17. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 10:58 am:

    ===I’m stating, historic legislation was passed with her obvious absence. Which calls into question how much impact her presence would have made.===

    It’s like winning a baseball game 3-2, and not have a full lineup or a weakened bullpen.

    The outcome was one part of this. The real question is what could’ve been, what role could’ve been shaped, what political relevance could’ve been cemented.

    There’s a reason people say…

    “The box score doesn’t explain how the game actually went”

    ===Also, back to my original point, working the floor with southern Illinois legislators, with them knowing most of their constituents couldn’t pick her out of a lineup, would’ve been pointless.===

    You think the top 5 statehouse lobbyist could be picked out of a lineup by any legislators’ constituents?

    Your idea of influence might be way too shallow.


  18. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 11:00 am:

    ===Don’t put words in my mouth, brother.===

    Friend,

    I explained above my retort. Shallow thoughts are sometimes overwhelmed by thoughts that appear to put words into mouths.

    You could use your words anytime.

    You chose a drive-by, not me, lol


  19. - dying HDO - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 11:06 am:

    wow. i know the position is undefined but she doesn’t have to raise funds (perhaps the worst part of being an elected) nor does she have to help push legislation through. just travel and show up at bill signings.

    the part about not needing to raise funds is key . . . she’s got a sweet gig.


  20. - Bourbon Street - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 11:18 am:

    It’s a “missed opportunity” when someone has the chance to participant in important work and fails to do so, and therefore Rich is absolutely correct. Count me in as a person who is disappointed. I would have voted for Pritzker so matter who his running mate was, but I was excited at the thought that he picked someone (unlike many of our previous Lt. Govs.) who was going to be involved in State governance. Granted, she is not obligated to do so, but it would be better for all of us if she is.


  21. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 12:43 pm:

    What does the governor think of her involvement? Not physically being there really doesn’t mean anything any more.


  22. - Mr. Reflection - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 1:16 pm:

    I have met with her chief of staff and he was……. UNBEARABLE! He spoke down to me and the other experts in the room. She was probably left out so she wouldn’t have to bring him around!!!


  23. - Governor Tanner - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 1:47 pm:

    Everyone keeps patting themselves on the back for the legislative session but I fail to see what, if any, tough things were done.

    Most, if not all, of the legislation was some sort of giveaway or reward (even a pay raise), nothing was a cut or a tough choice.

    Curious to see what role she will play when (if?) they decide to start doing hard things.


  24. - Rich Miller - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 1:51 pm:

    ===nothing was a cut===

    Pritzker specifically ran on avoiding budget cuts. Elections have consequences.


  25. - Anonymous - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 3:08 pm:

    “Ugh. It’s not making anyone a victim.”

    Another white dude heard from. Thanks.


  26. - Shytown - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 3:32 pm:

    Rich is spot on here. Everyone rolled up their sleeves except for her. Anyone who might insinuate that this wasn’t her choice doesn’t know her because no one is going to boss her around. She has incredible potential, but is squandering it with probably bad advice from inexperienced/unprepared top staff (ie, CoS) and maybe there’s a little ego at work because she’s not in the drivers seat.


  27. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Jun 24, 19 @ 4:02 pm:

    ===Another white dude heard from. Thanks.===

    Make a case or try another drive-by.

    Either way, LG Stratton isn’t a victim here.


  28. - Bebe - Tuesday, Jun 25, 19 @ 7:13 am:

    The Lt. Governor’s CoS was a top official in Chicago Department of Public Health and the City Clerk’s office, so not inexperienced or unprepared in any way. Ms. Stratton was probably trying to balance her appearance in public events all over the state (which seemed to happen frequently during her first six months on the job) and legislative work. She also quietly got married in May.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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