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Question of the day: Golden Horseshoe Awards

Thursday, Dec 19, 2019 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The 2019 Golden Horseshoe Award for Best Elected Statewide Officeholder was no contest at all

How could it go to anyone other than JB Pritzker after the historically productive first session he had? Reached across the aisle to build bridges with the GOP and has begun the hard work of binding up the massive wounds left by the previous administration. It’s the governor in a walk.

Only one other person was nominated. It was the closest thing to a sweep that I think we’ve ever had.

* The 2019 Golden Horseshoe Award for Best US Representative goes to Cheri Bustos

We have lots of good Reps, but I nominate Rep. Cheri Bustos for taking on a national leadership role and still spending lots of time in her district, acting bipartisanly when she can, and, most especially, encouraging, recruiting, and training the next generation of local political leaders.

Raja Krishnamoorthi receives honorable mention.

Congratulations to our winners.

* I accidentally skipped over two categories yesterday, but before we get to them I should post something related which I didn’t post earlier this month and still feel bad about it…

At the Annual Third House Holiday Luncheon at the Chicago Hilton and Towers on Thursday December 5th, [Illinois Realtors’] Senior Director of Legislative and Political Affairs Julie Sullivan was named the “Speaker” of the Third House and will lead the group for the coming year.


OK, on to our next categories…

* Best contract lobbyist

* Best in-house lobbyist

Again, you must explain your nominations or they won’t count. And please, please, please nominate in both categories. Thanks and have fun!


  1. - Rutro - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 11:12 am:

    What if you’re “sort of” retired, still eligible?

  2. - noms - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 11:13 am:

    In-House: Khadine Bennett. She had a good group of nominations for best do-gooder, and that was given to another worthy lobbyists, but I can’t get over what a stellar year she had. Khadine was instrumental in just about every big piece of legislation and managed to pass the ACLU’s top priorities.

    Contract: In her first year of lobbying Mandy Drendell managed to pass one of the most fascinating bills of the year - electronic license plates. Ask her about it sometime. This gem of a bill managed to pass and get signed, and if implemented it will completely change the way license plates work in Illinois.

  3. - Annonin - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 11:16 am:

    Best contract lobbo is Liz Brown hands down. High energy who never leaves a stone unturned. Secret sources hint she also helped TeamJB get a lot of their wins.
    In-Houser is Donovan Pepper another very thorough person who continues to advance in big corp.

  4. - Just a Bill - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 11:19 am:

    Contract - Marc Poulos. Capital bill got done, always good to work with.

    In-House - Tyler Diers, Illinois Chamber - reached out to labor and others on data center tax incentives, was the go-to on tech issues, and plays really well with others.

  5. - - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 11:22 am:

    Contract: John Nicolay. He treats everyone with respect and works both sides of the aisle. He never hesitates to mentor a young lobbyist, even if you are working on opposite sides of an issue. Plus, have you ever seen him without a smile on his face?

    In-House: Madam Speaker Julie Sullivan. Her expertise never fails to impress. She knows the process better than many in the building.

  6. - phocion - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 11:25 am:

    Contract lobbyist - Marc Poulos for the capital bill - enough said.

    In-house lobbyist - Bresha Brewer (until recently) with the road builders. Capital bill, labor, environment, diversity - she handled it all with diplomacy, determination and an amazing eye to detail. Bresha just went back to state government where she will undoubtedly do an amazing job there.

  7. - Todd & Margo - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 11:42 am:

    Contract: Brandon Phelps. Bub. He knows the process, knows all the players, he works well with both sides of the aisle, he always has time for you when he’s busy, and is just an overall good human being. He is the foundation of the Dorgan, Butcher, & Phelps team.

    In-House Eddy Crews with the AFFI. He is retiring after this year, and you won’t find a nicer person than Eddy. He treats everybody with the same sincerity, kindness and respect. He is the best at getting in the door with a legislator and legislation moved. The AFFI has had some big wins because of what Eddie and his other colleagues with the AFFI are able to do. Eddy will be truly missed after he hangs up his lobbyist badge in the summer.

  8. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 11:42 am:

    Contract: Liz Brown. She seems to be everywhere and involved in the winning side of some of the most important legislative issues.

    In-house: This is a tricky one for those of us who only visit Springfield a few times a year and focus on specific issues when we do. My nomination is for Nick Yelverton. I’m in higher ed and a member of the IFT (not on the exec board, just an involved member). Nick is my go-to for all things education, and he takes the time to explain the background details. He provides very useful context during regional endorsement sessions. When I bring small groups of educators or students to the Capitol, Nick takes the time to talk to them and share his take on the issues and stances of key legislators. Thanks to Nick, my forays into the Capitol are focused and effective. In addition, the legislators I talk to all know and trust Nick as a reliable source.

  9. - Ms.Anonymous - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 12:01 pm:

    Contractual: I would like to nominate Bukola Bello for Best Contractual Lobbyist.
    Bukola Bello has proven herself to be a “tour de force” in the lobbying sector. With a myriad of clients, Bukola can seamlessly juggle clients, roll calls, and meetings. She strives to provide the best possible outcome for her clients.
    Not only is she a consummate professional towards her peers she actively lobbies for causes that she believes in. Bukola is more than a lobbyist, she is an advocate. Her passion and dedication to her clients never wavers. Bukola lobbies for Planned Parenthood, and has made it her personal mission to ensure that women and girls across the state of Illinois have access to quality reproductive health care. When it came down to the wire on the Reproductive Health Act, Bukola single handedly changed several “no” or “maybe” votes to “yes” votes.
    We are currently living in political climate that may leave many feeling disillusioned and cynical, Bukola is not afraid to reach across the aisle and work with leaders that may hold opposing viewpoints, but can reach a mutual agreement .
    Bukola Bello represents the future of lobbying. She is progressive, compassionate and dedicated.

    In house: Khadine Bennett from the ACLU. She has done fantastic work lobbying for the Reproductive Health Act! She is always such a joy to interact with!

    Brava to both ladies!

  10. - Shytown - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 12:23 pm:

    Contract: Liz Brown. She gets stuff done.

    In house: Who doesn’t love Donovan Pepper? A sweetheart who can work with anyone.

  11. - ladyforthewin - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 12:42 pm:

    Contract- Gotta go with LBR. Liz has worked very hard to establish herself in the House and Senate. She was an early JB and Kwame supporter and no one works harder. She has made smart political choices and is a reliable lobbyist in the world of unpredictability.

    In House- Erin OBrien. She represents her client as strong as her predecessor and does it all with a smile on her face.

  12. - SaulGoodman - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 1:17 pm:

    Contract: this award should be renamed as the Dave Sullivan Award. Dave is probably the most respected person the building. It’s really hard to do this work and not make enemies, but Dave has figured out how to be incredibly effective and successful while maintaining decency and integrity at all times.

    In-house: Adrienne Alexander at AFSCME. Not only does she have the best Twitter feed out there, but she’s smart, kind, hard-working, and incredibly effective. Similar to Dave Sullivan, she’s also very well respected with no enemies. AFSCME would be lost without her.

  13. - Retired in the Chi - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 1:27 pm:

    Contractual: Bukola Bello, She’s the woman for the job! Steadfast dedication with her work for the Chicago Teacher’s pension fund and the Policeman’s Annuity Benefit Fund. If you have a pension issue, Bukola has a pension solution.

    In house: Khadine Bennett she has had a wonderful year and deserves the recognition.

  14. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 1:35 pm:

    Rick Nielsen.
    Single-handedly got the capital bill approved AND saved himself $300 by not registering to do it.

  15. - Avocado - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 1:53 pm:

    Contract:Bukola Bello hands down. She is kind, smart, quick, and ready to work on any issue in front of her. She is an incredibly hard worker and is always willing to have hard conversations with officials.

    In-house: There is no contest here. Alec Laird is one of the most reasonable and down to earth people under the dome. If you have a heated negotiation I am sure Alec’s personality can diffuse it. IRMA should be lucky to have him.

  16. - Everybody vote now - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 1:58 pm:

    Contract lobbyist: Heather Weir-Vaught. Pure brilliance. She works as hard for do-gooders as she works for her corporate clients. She goes the extra mile, doesn’t pull punches, is funny as hell, and her brain is like a computer. She’s very approachable, willing to talk through ideas and she brings her whole self to the work!

    In house: Adrienne Alexander with AFSCME. She works hard, is on top of her game and is willing to work towards a compromise when possible, and doesn’t wast your time when it’s not. On top of that, she does as an incredible job at the city and county level too!

  17. - Eddy - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 2:11 pm:

    I’m not retiring. Just not running for re-election with the AFFI. Thank you for your kind words.

  18. - Springfield - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 2:13 pm:

    Contract goes to the team of Marc Poulos & Dave Sullivan. They are both superstars in their own right. The combination is impressive, successful & honest. Hard to imagine a better team.
    In House is Dave Gross from the IHA. He is solid and well respected.

  19. - Success - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 2:20 pm:

    When there is a big issue you want Dave Sullivan on your team. He brings integrity and respectability immediately and then works hard to ethically accomplish the goal. That’s what clients need and what the process needs. He’s also so friendly…and throws great parties. He has advised me in my career and is always willing to help.
    I like Bob Barry from AT&T. He is an encyclopedia of Illinois and politics and another solid person who is very helpful.

  20. - Newbie Here - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 2:39 pm:

    Bukola Bello for best Contract Lobbyist. Take a look in any pension committee in the Capitol and there are little to no women in attendance. Look a little closer and there are even fewer women of color. Bukola testifies with ease on subjects that many do not understand. She’s smart, competent and well spoken.

    In-House Lobbyist: Deanna Sullivan. Her expertise in the field of education is unmatched.

  21. - Yasssssss - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 2:56 pm:

    Liz Brown for best contract person. She does a nice balance between the 2nd and 3rd floors. She organized the Build UP coalition to focus on the vertical construction for the capital bill. Also, she was heavily involved in the cannabis and gaming efforts.

    In House- Second the nomination for Julie Sullivan. She has worked hard for the Realtors and is instrumental in making their office the venue for all of the hot events during session.

  22. - David Alig - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 2:59 pm:

    Best Contract Lobbyist: By far the best Contract Lobbyist is Bukola Bello from Vision M.A.I. She was key in Sb 1670 to help fellow Police Officers within the State. She was always in attendance at hearing and was the back bone of communicating with the people of Springfield to make this happen. If it was not for Bukola this bill would have never made it as far as it did. For this I thank her along with the selected few Officers in the State to get this bill to the governor’s desk.

  23. - Client - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 3:08 pm:

    I am biased on this because he lobbies fir us but my vote goes to Dave Sullivan. He always does a great job for us (& others) but this May was truly something to watch. While he was working on several big issues, his sister died in the last few days of session. When he told us I thought we would have figure something out. But he did not miss a beat. Dave is such a family guy and you could tell he was sad and struggling. But he got through it and we and I know his other clients were as usual thrilled with his efforts and success. I’m not sure how he did it but I know he got out of there quickly when session was over so he could be with his family. Success under those circumstances is profound.

  24. - suburban dad - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 3:39 pm:

    Contract — Dave Sullivan. In-house — Second the nomination for Khadine Bennet of the ACLU of Illinois. Can’t imagine this session without Khadine. The Reproductive Health Act was believed to be dead by most in the Capitol complex. Khadine never gave up and by sheer force of will kept things alive and moving. While other states were passing repro bans, Illinois moved forward. On top of that, Khadine was the moving force behind making traffic stop study data permanent - an old Obama bill from the early bill to check racial profiling. that is a good record for a decade — she did it in one session.

  25. - Lobby - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 4:30 pm:

    I like the previous nomination of Marc Poulos and Dave Sullivan. What a great team. Each has great abilities to get the job done well and as a team there are about as good as you can get. In addition to being key to the Capital bill, they are involved in so much more. Hands down, they are the best.
    In House, I like the nomination of Erin O’Brien. The Docs are well served by her.

  26. - mocking jay - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 4:45 pm:

    In House: Sarah Hartwick with Ed-RED. The woman brings it every day. She brings a decade of experience in education issues from GOP staff to Advance Illinois to ISBE and now representing school districts themselves and she has really elevated the role for ED-RED. She is knowledgeable and is trusted by members on both sides of the aisle. Not to mention she is a tireless working mom of four who is ALWAYS in a good mood.

    Contract: Amy Ballinger Cole. Another education guru who is expanding her topic areas with a can-do positive attitude. She is passionate about the clients she takes on and cares about being honest, which is not always a trait you find in a contract lobbyist. She’s going to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. She is another working mom who also helps lift up other women. You can tell she loves what she does and it is inspiring in a place that can tend to drag people down.

  27. - Michelle - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 5:23 pm:

    Contract: Bukola Bello! She is competent, Springfield savvy and extremely professional. She has been influential in helping younger lobbyist find their way and helping black/brown lobbyist grow into successful individuals. She’s my vote!

  28. - Eagle Eye - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 5:33 pm:

    I’ll second the Bukola/Khadine duo. Both are extremely underrated. Both have cultivated and fostered genuine relationships with clients in a tough town. Not an easy feat. Both work whole host of issues that would make your head spin. Both are successful in consistently passing bills in both Chambers. Let’s get some new blood in here and give these two the award.

  29. - JB - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 5:37 pm:

    The bipartisan nature of both Poulos and Sullivan is unmatched. They are great to work with and highly effective. Their team is a rare combination of good people doing great work with a terrific attitude and work ethic.
    In House I would vote for Julie Sullivan at the Realtors. Such a class act.

  30. - {Sigh} - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 5:55 pm:

    We need to end 2019 on a fun note and Marc Poulos has been MIA on his selfie game.

    Contract lobbyist: Marc Poulos. The man knows strategy and knows how to execute a plan- just look at I-80 and #LookUp. He ruffled some feathers, but he had one main job and that was to Rebuild Illinois. Favorite++!100%👌✌️😀😃😄😁🤳🏼

  31. - Mo' Money Mo' Problems - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 6:03 pm:

    Contract: When the vertical capital bill looked dead, Liz Brown-Reeves created the Build UP Coalition that without a doubt led to its successful passage. Liz is an effective communicator, strategist and has paved the way for other women to excel in the Capitol. She treats all of her clients the same, whether large or small and above all else, she is honest and does things the right way. Hang out with her and you’ll have a blast too.

    In-House: I’m going to go with Heather O’Donnell at Thresholds. The woman is a force to be reckoned with and has stood mightily despite Rauner’s budget cuts that essentially decimated mental health in Illinois. She also takes the initiative on behalf of the three (or more?) behavioral health trade associations. Do not underestimate her…I’ve been with her at the negotiating table, and she does not play. Advocating for mental health in a broke state like Illinois is difficult, yet she is effective and successful year after year.

  32. - Kudos to All - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 6:23 pm:

    I have to throw my hat in the ring and go with the Dynamic Duo
    Contractual: Bukola Bello, lobbying with purpose in heels while pregnant in one session and with a newborn the next session. Much respect to moms who lobby!
    In House: Khadine fresh energy, ideas and she knows her stuff.

  33. - Insider on the Outside - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 9:25 pm:

    Best Contract Lobbyist: Liz Brown Reeves…
    Everybody wants a contract lobbyist with access. Lots of them got it. Liz has got it too - House, Senate and the 2nd floor.

    She hustles and knows how to move a roll call in the final moments. Having somebody on your side who understands which vote to get and how it can create a domino effect is critical, especially for major issues that come down to the final moments.

    Liz also moves issues without a lot of fanfare - working through a system she knows well. Sometimes low key is the name of the game and while you may think Liz would be the last person to do anything quietly, you misread it all and, frankly, she’s probably already solved the issue. If she’s working on your side, relax. If not, sorry.

    In House - Donovan Pepper. This guy is nothing but charming and nice for a company that folks don’t always like. He knows his stuff and he’s hard to compete against so you’d best just work with him and cut your losses.

  34. - Checkers - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 9:49 pm:

    Contract: This one has to go to Liz Brown. First and foremost, Liz will not be outworked. I would put her dedication to her clients’ goals up against anyone. This year, without her the vertical capital program would not have come to fruition. She took charge in bringing together various vertical capital interests to collectively keep the pressure on the GA to get it done - an incredibly difficult task. Plus, Liz is a down to Earth good person who will always give it to you straight.

    In-house: I’m going with Nadeen Israel with AFC. Yeah, I’m aware, her nomination have been better fitting in the “do-gooder” category, but she has one of the best qualities an in-house lobbyists can offer - a genuine passion for the interest she represents. In this case it is improving HIV/AIDS services and supports and improving our healthcare delivery systems. Nadeen isn’t just a healthcare lobbyist, she is a go-to source for information and advice, because she always knows her stuff and is on top of her game.

  35. - For what it’s worth... - Thursday, Dec 19, 19 @ 11:34 pm:

    Congratulations to all of the nominees. Rich I don’t envy you Brother.

    I’ve thought hard about this and I’m actually changing my nomination. I would expect someone to be an influencer if they worked on staff. I would also expect someone to have great people skills if they worked across the aisle as a lawmaker. It would not be a shocker to see a large client roster from someone who has curried favor from former colleagues. However, I would not expect someone with no staff or elected official experience to have much pull in the GA, let alone a respectable book of business. Gotta give this one to Bukola. No doors were opened from being a part of Speaker or Senate staff. No clients were awarded for past favors. Bukola is impressive in every sense of the word. She is the prototype for what independent success looks like. She’s not beholden to anyone and she gets things done. Best contractual lobbyist - by major upset - Bukola.

    For in-house it’s a toss up between DeAnna Sullivan and Sarah Hartwick. Both know education issues inside and out.

  36. - Calling it - Friday, Dec 20, 19 @ 8:31 am:

    Gotta go with Mocking Jay on both picks. Sarah Hartwick is as upbeat and capable as she is effective. She gets things done and does so collaboratively - with both a smile and a backbone.

    And Amy Ballinger-Cole is flat-out as good as they come. She knows Springfield as well as anyone, and is a savvy a strategist as you’ll find. Better still, she’s as good with people as she is smart on the substance. She’s the full package.

  37. - Siopm76 - Friday, Dec 20, 19 @ 9:45 am:

    Liz Brown-Reeves is a shining star of the up and coming generation of contract lobbyists. I have worked with he on numerous projects over the last 8 years and have seen repeated examples of her sterling judgment on people, process and politics. She is a relentless worker and combination of relationships in both chambers and the executive branch are unmatched. Liz is also one of the finest people I’ve ever known. A consummate professional with a great sense of humor. A little known fact: Liz was a protege of the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon

  38. - Siopm76 - Friday, Dec 20, 19 @ 9:47 am:

    Donovan Pepper is one of the best ever in-house lobbyists. I’ve been fortunate to work with him ever since his days at the Chicagoland Chamber. Smart, super diligent and a terrific person.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

* Isabel’s afternoon roundup
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* Open thread
* Isabel’s morning briefing
* SUBSCRIBERS ONLY - Today's edition of Capitol Fax (use all CAPS in password)
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* Welch: 'No one's ever said the House is boring'
* House passes budget 65-45 - BIMP passes 62-46 - Grocery tax elimination sails 86-20 - Revenue omnibus put on postponed consideration - Motion to reconsider passes - But big problem and Dems will have to suspend the rules - Concurrence motion finally passes as GOP gives up
* Yesterday's stories

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