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‘Nothing can be passed without our members’

Monday, Feb 26, 2024 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Two news conferences held after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s budget address last week didn’t receive much news media attention. As the saying goes, coverage follows conflict, and the two pressers were far more subtle and polite in their criticisms of the governor’s plan than those held by Republicans, so they were mostly overlooked.

But clear undercurrents were visible during both events, one held by the Legislative Black Caucus and the other by the Legislative Latino Caucus. And, unlike the Republicans, those two caucuses actually have considerable sway over the state’s lawmaking process.

While mostly couched in supportive language of the governor and the majority party leaders, the messages were distinct: Even after years of Democratic control, not nearly enough is still being done to help people in Black and Latino communities on every level. Poverty, violence, child care, health care, education, economic development, trade union membership, homelessness. You name it, the services and opportunities are lacking.

So, the two caucuses did a bit of flexing.

“This year, we will be negotiating from a position of strength,” declared Black Caucus Chair Rep. Carol Ammons. “Our community and our members are the value-add in the General Assembly and nothing can be passed without our members.” Not counting the House Speaker, there are 19 Black members in the House and 13 in the Senate, according to the caucus’ website. That’s enough to block a majority vote in both chambers, if they can stick together.

Ammons, D-Urbana, revealed during the press conference that the caucus plans to release a document in the coming weeks titled “Leveling the playing field,” which will focus on how to spend state dollars to “invest in building an equitable state and eliminating structural racism.” Dollar figures will be attached to each proposal, Ammons said. If it’s done well, the report could have a significant impact, not only this year, but in years to come.

The Legislative Latino Caucus does not yet have nearly the same numerical strength as the Black Caucus. But the joint caucus now has 16 members, which is higher than ever before. And Sen. Celina Villanueva, D-Chicago, firmly declared, “Latino families must benefit equitably from the investments that the state is making.”

Villanueva claimed that the Latino population was undercounted in the 2020 US Census, but, she said, “I want everyone to know as they’re hearing this, our community is only growing and our community is young. We aren’t going anywhere. We will be here.” She’s definitely right about that.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning noted a few years ago that while the Black population declined in northeastern Illinois by a few percentage points over 30 years, the northeastern Illinois Hispanic population had grown to 24.2% of the region’s population, up from 11.5% in 1990. A study last year by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute found that the average age of Illinois Latinos was 28, compared to 38 for Illinoisans overall. Indeed, a significant number of legislative districts were drawn in 2021 with the anticipation that large numbers of young Latinos would eventually reach an age where they could elect one of their own before the next Census.

On the policy side, Rep. Lilian Jiménez, D-Chicago, echoed criticisms of the budget by groups like the Illinois Partners for Human Service, which decried the lack of adequate funding for community care workers. SEIU Healthcare has a strong presence in the Latino community and some former union staffers are serving in the General Assembly. The union sharply criticized the budget for its lack of funding “to address the cause of the state’s care crisis — the fact is that the crucial jobs that provide home care and childcare services are not good and stable jobs.”

What I laid out above is not a complete picture by any means whatsoever. But I’ve been saying for years and years that the news media here, myself included, needs to focus much more on the internal debates within the super-majority party and its allies because that is where almost all policymaking decisions actually happen in the Illinois General Assembly.

The Republicans (who have their own internal divisions and debates) shouldn’t be cut out of the coverage by any means, but the stark reality on the ground is not being conveyed and valid perspectives are too often ignored.

       

8 Comments
  1. - Retired School Board Member - Monday, Feb 26, 24 @ 8:08 am:

    “While mostly couched in supportive language of the governor and the majority party leaders, the messages were distinct: Even after years of Democratic control, not nearly enough is still being done to help people in Black and Latino communities on every level. Poverty, violence, child care, health care, education, economic development, trade union membership, homelessness. You name it, the services and opportunities are lacking.”

    This is not only the opinion of the Black and Latino Caucuses. During a conversation with my 20 something son this weekend, he expressed EXACTLY this sentiment and said that this feeling is PERVASIVE among young people.

    They aren’t interested in showing up for a system that is there to just keep people’s (read electeds’) jobs.


  2. - Roman - Monday, Feb 26, 24 @ 8:16 am:

    Really good point about the media just reflexively running to the Republicans to get (and then give a ton of coverage to) their reaction when in fact, it is next to meaningless.

    Too often, the media fall into safe (and frankly, lazy) “both sides” reporting habits. It unwittingly fuels civic conflict and leaves readers and viewers less informed.


  3. - Anyone Remember - Monday, Feb 26, 24 @ 8:27 am:

    “… will focus on how to spend state dollars … .”

    Does use of the word “focus” mean there will be no “focus” of where the money will come from?


  4. - Larry Bowa Jr. - Monday, Feb 26, 24 @ 9:04 am:

    “They aren’t interested in showing up for a system that is there to just keep people’s (read electeds’) jobs.”

    That’s all representative democracy is in the end huh?
    No wonder the fascists are about to end it. We failed by not giving to give the youth their Johnny Unbeatable to vote for.


  5. - RNUG - Monday, Feb 26, 24 @ 10:10 am:

    == needs to focus much more on the internal debates within the super-majority party … ==

    The disagreement (war) was pretty obvious in the last Chicago election. Both the (more or less) minorities want to hang on to what gains they have made, and want to expand their piece of the pie. But it looks like the long term demographic trend will favor the Hispanic group through a combination of youth and in migration.

    While each group can individually throw a monkey wrench into the budget machinery, they could be even more powerful IF (when?) they could find common cause; fight to get a bigger piece of the overall pie before fighting over dividing the piece.

    Right now Pritzer, his money, and fairly common sense governing is holding the Democrat party together. But what happens when he leaves the stage? Which group will be the next King maker?

    The next 10 years are going to be an interesting period for people who like to watch Illinois politics.


  6. - Retired School Board Member - Monday, Feb 26, 24 @ 10:29 am:

    “That’s all representative democracy is in the end huh?”
    Of course not. But we need to hear what these young people are thinking. Of course I had the conversation about saving democracy. These young people have lost faith in the process and I am not sure we can blame them. We need to hear them, validate that their concerns are real and then implore them to vote in spite of the seemingly futility of it.


  7. - Jibba - Monday, Feb 26, 24 @ 1:49 pm:

    ==They aren’t interested in showing up for a system that is there to just keep people’s (read electeds’) jobs.==

    This is a totally understandable sentiment, but it lacks the wisdom of age. They need to know that SOMEONE is going to be in that job, and that person might be actually antagonistic to their interests, which is far worse than someone who is favorable but perhaps ineffective due to political constraints. The lesser of 2 evils is a necessary vote, even if it is uninspiring.


  8. - Candy Dogood - Monday, Feb 26, 24 @ 4:00 pm:

    Comments about the progressive income tax amendment might be at dead horse status, but the Governor dealing with legislators using this kind of lever after what was a very strong budget address at the general assembly is fallout from the Governor choosing the wrong people to quarterback that effort and not building out a stronger and more broad organization to push that amendment over the line.

    ===Which group will be the next King maker? ===

    There’s no one group that is a Queen maker. There are at least a couple of potential next Governors of Illinois that seem to be very aware that they need to build coalitions of support and the best way to do that is to prevent prominent individual leaders from being able to pick their personal preferred candidate.


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