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Expectations of the rookie legislators

Seven practice law, four are farmers, one is a paramedic, one is retired and the other 10 work at various public and private jobs. Five are women and 18 are men. Six are black, one is Hispanic and 16 are white. Nine come from Chicago, four from the collar counties and 10 from downstate. When the 85th Illinois General Assembly is gaveled into session on January 14, the 23 newcomers will join 154 holdovers from the 84th General Assembly to shape the laws that govern Illinois. In the House eight Republicans and six Democrats won election to seats they did not hold last spring. In the Senate the breakdown is six Democrats and three Republicans. But the differences are more complex than partisan labels. The new comers admire Harry Truman and Harold Washington. Two were inspired by John F. Kennedy and two by Ronald Reagan. Many worry about unemployment and the economy. One says those sentenced to death should be executed within three years; another wants some felony convictions sealed by courts. Some will use the General Assembly as a forum; others will quietly press their constituents' interests there. One praises the state's Build Illinois program; another calls it "bad pork.'' Some want to trim taxes; others would raise them to bail out local governments.

To become effective lawmakers the rookies have to learn the culture of the General Assembly, says Kent Redfield, associate director of Sangamon State University's Illinois Legislative Studies Center. He advises the freshmen to assume they have much to learn and to talk with experienced legislators, lobbyists and agency personnel. Some will be like Rep. Carol Moseley Braun (D-25, Chicago) and move quickly into leadership roles, while others — he uses Karen Hasara (R-100, Springfield) as an example — will experience initial frustration with the legislative pace.

Of the 23 newcomers, Democratic House legislators will arrive in Springfield after the most arduous campaigns. Four freshman House Democrats earned their seats by ousting incumbents in the primary or general election. A fifth won election to a seat she had contested unsuccessfully in the 1982 and 1984 primaries.

Mayor Harold Washington is popular with the Chicago freshmen. The need to create jobs is foremost in the minds of most Democratic newcomers, though few have specific legislative plans to do that.

Rep. Lovana S. Jones, 53 (D-23, Chicago), who bested incumbent Larry Bullock in the primary, represents a district with eight Chicago Housing Authority projects and a large number of female heads of households. A supervisor with the Chicago Department of Human Services, she sees needs for infant mortality and teenage pregnancy programs. But if she could pass a single law next term, it would provide money to train women for jobs so they could get off public aid. In turn, she says, that would increase the demand for government-funded day care programs.

Rep. Monique D. Davis, 50 (D-36, Chicago), an administrator with the Chicago Board of Education wants to "help my district get a fair share of the state money." She supports state mandates for gifted programs in public schools. She favors divestment of state funds from companies doing business in South Africa and admires Mayor Washington. "I don't think he allowed racism to become part of his political endeavors and I don't intend to let it become part of mine," she says.

To Rep. Paul L. Williams, 33 (D-24, Chicago), who bested freshman Rep. Jerry Washington in the primary, the mayor is a "father-like figure." A lawyer, Williams comes with a legislative background. He served an internship with Senate Democrats 10 years ago and has lobbied for eight years, primarily for the Illinois Association of Realtors. Williams would support a one-half percent increase in the state income tax, from 2.5 to 3 percent, to provide money to local governments hit by the loss of federal revenue sharing and other federal funds.

Tax increases will get no support from Rep. Robert Bugielski, 39 (D-11, Chicago), who comes to the House after a primary win over incumbent Steven G. Nash. Bugielski, a computer specialist with the city and former teacher and administrator at Weber High School, likes the Build Illinois program because people can see where their money goes. His legislative priority is mandatory automobile insurance: "That's part of the expense of driving, part of the responsibility of driving."

The only downstate Democratic newcomer, Rep. Kurt M. Granberg, 33 (D-109, Carlyle), will find the surroundings familiar from a 1976-1977 stint on the House staff. Granberg bested incumbent Dwight Friedrich, a member of the Republican leadership, to take the southern Illinois seat. His legislative agenda includes a constitutional amendment to force the legislature to follow the State Mandates Act and provide money for programs they force on local governments. He favors limiting campaign contributions from political action committees, because the money stimulates negative campaigns and turns off voters. "It looks like elective office is up for auction," he says.

When contrasted with the Democrats who scrapped for seats, the freshman Republican House members had an easy time.

January 1987/Illinois Issues/15

Only one took a seat away from a Democrat, and the others kept seats given up by fellow Republicans who ran for higher office or retired. The state's farming interests are represented in the delegation, and the support of several for education reform is mingled with the desire to ease the tax burden on property owners, including farmers.

Rep. Gerald C. Weller, 29 (R-85, Morris), came out four votes ahead of incumbent Ray Christensen in the fall's tightest race. An aide for five years in Washington and Springfield to Illinois and U.S. agriculture chief John Block, Weller raises purebred Yorkshire, Hampshire and Duroc hogs on a farm near Dwight. He says the state should meet its constitutional mandate to provide 51 percent of school funding, should provide equitable distribution of aid and should leave control at the local level.

In the district he represents, Rep. Jay Ackerman, 53 (R-89, Morton), watched one grain elevator operate full tilt last fall while a nearby facility stood empty. The two bought their electricity from different utilities, and the closed elevator was waiting for the switch to lower winter rates before turning on electric dryers. The other elevator's utility had already changed. Ackerman says there should be a uniform and early date for the switch to allow farmers to get their crops out of the field and to get cash into their pockets. Ackerman served in the General Assembly from 1979 until 1983, when redistricting forced him into a primary he lost to Judy Koehler.

Another Republican farmer-legislator is Rep. Todd Sieben, 41 (R-73, Geneseo), successor to the retired Tom McMaster. He is co-owner and vice-president of Sieben Hybrids, a family seed business, and he operates a 400-acre livestock farm. Sieben praises lifting the inheritance tax and says it has helped preserve family farms. Sieben will take up the cause of delaying the state's March primary and shortening the campaign season, an effort in which others have failed. He thinks voters and candidates tire of the effort now. He also supports education reform, except for forced consolidation.

Rep. David Hultgren, 35 (R-94, Monmouth), who will take Carl Hawkinson's place, thinks school funding must be shifted from the property tax to broader based state taxes. "Yes, it's a wealth tax, but it taxes some very special forms of wealth," Hultgren says. Hultgren, who will leave a position as a clerk for the Third District Appellate Court in Ottawa, formerly worked in Illinois' Office of Public Instruction and the Department of Personnel.

A different inequity in the present school aid formula is criticized by Rep. Larry Wennlund, 45 (R-84, New Lenox), an attorney and former New Lenox elementary district school board member. Wennlund claims the present formula favors secondary over elementary schools, and says the state should provide 51 percent of the funding for education. His wife's experiences as a chemistry major prompt him to support legislation to require university instructors to be orally proficient in English.

A former school teacher cites education reform as an area where the General Assembly has made progress. Rep. DeLoris Doederlein, 61 (R-65, East Dundee), who had worked far other candidates for years and once poured tea in the Governor's Mansion for Dorothy Ogilvie, will replace Jill Zwick in the House. Doederlein supports state programs that help older people remain in their homes. She opposes legislation to restrict ownership of hand guns and thinks the state must do all it can for veterans.

Rep. Edward F. Petka, 43 (R-82, Plainfield), four-term Will County state's attorney, will bring the prosecutor's perspective to Springfield when he steps up from policy enforcer to policymaker.

Petka, who takes over for Dennis Hastert, thinks there should be a three-year time limit on appeals from a death sentence which now seem to drag on interminably. Citizens would be "ecstatic" with such a provision, he thinks. The former state's attorney likes President Reagan and praises his "ability to lead people."

Over in the Senate, which one newcomer described as more staid than the House, there were plenty of lively elections. Democratic newcomers include a challenger who upset an incumbent in the primary, the victor over an established Republican senator, a blunt four-term city mayor who acknowledges "a lot of politics is smoke and mirrors," and a Joliet attorney who wasn't supposed to be able to hold George Sangmeister's seat.

Sen. Denny Jacobs, 49 (D-36, East Moline), will bring to Springfield the lessons learned in 12 years as East Moline mayor. Jacobs claims success in luring firms, including Owens Corning, to the Quad Cities. East Moline drew attention to its industrial park with a "half price sale," but Jacobs says he is unsure how to spark similar development statewide. An admirer of Harry Truman's bluntness, Jacobs bluntly suggests the best legislative action would be a two-year hiatus on new laws to allow the General Assembly to review what is on the books. He admits that is not likely.

Sen. Miguel del Valle, 35 (D-5, Chicago), will shed the role of advocate for human services, which he carried as director of Chicago's Association House, to take up that of the legislator.

The victor over Edward Nedza in the primary looks forward to the public debate and to use of the Senate as a forum. Del Valle sees need for more work to curb absenteeism and for recognition of good schools. He also thinks Illinois and Chicago need to work better together on economic development and he questions incentives to keep factories in Chicago. Del Valle respects Harold Washington because, as an adviser the mayor on Hispanic affairs, he has been given freedom to speak his mind.

16/January 1987/Illinois Issues

While the Chicago Democratic legislators look to Washington as a model, Sen. Penny L. Severns, 34 (D-51, Decatur), admires U.S. Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and traces her interest in government and politics to her grammar school days and John F.Kennedy. "I still believe in the process. At a time when so many people have become cynical towards government, I still believe it's an honorable profession," she says. Severns commends progress in education reform and steps that have made the Illinois Commerce Commission more accountable. But she thinks the Build Illinois program has fallen short: "The misuse and abuse in Build Illinois was unfortunate and probably one of the more glaring examples of bad pork." Severns has a companion similarly inspired by John Kennedy. Sen. Thomas A. Dunn, 44 (D-42, Joliet), who held off a Republican challenge for George Sangmeister's seat, admires Kennedy for his integrity and concern for those who "didn't have clout." Dunn's current interest is a state law to require that building projects that affect commerce be given priority. He is prompted by the Cass Street Bridge in Joliet, which has been out of service nearly two years — an example, Dunn says, "of government inefficiency holding the public hostage." And across the aisle, new Republican senators include a rare Chicago winner, a representative who challenged and defeated the appointed successor to the late Sen. Prescott Bloom and the brother of Congressman Edward Madigan. As one might expect, the Republicans collectively are more conservative than their Democratic counterparts.

The victory of Sen. Robert M. Raica, 32 (R-24, Chicago), over incumbent LeRoy Lemke was one of the few his party could savor after its November effort to gain control of the Senate fell short. Raica, assistant chief paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department, describes himself as a lifelong Democrat who voted Republican. He would like to see strict penalties for drug pushers and will work to roll back city property taxes and put more money in people's pockets. He is an admirer of Ronald Reagan.

Sen. Robert A. Madigan, 44 (R-45, Lincoln), says 10 years as city clerk in Lincoln give him some sympathy for local governments required to carry out programs ordered, but not funded, by the legislature. In his first term Madigan would like to get some highways built in his district and find ways to create new jobs. He would like to try an experimental program that would have farmers set aside some of their acreage for upland game hunting. Sportsmen would buy a license and have a place to hunt while farmers would make some money, he says. Two other men will be new to the Senate, but not to the State-house. In January, Howard Brookins (D-18, Chicago) and Carl E. Hawkinson (R-47, Galesburg) will leave the House and trek across the Capitol rotunda to take up new duties in the Senate. Hawkinson, 39, a two-term House member and former Knox County state's attorney, says the four-year Senate term is appealing after eight contested elections in 10 years. He also relishes the smaller chamber and reduced Democratic majority. Hawkinson's agenda includes a rewrite of the juvenile code, to make first offenders aware of the conseqences of breaking the law. Current procedures mean a 13-to-16 year old must commit and be caught for four felonies before facing punishment, he says. By the time punishment is meted out, Hawkinson says it is often too late for intervention.

Brookins, 54, made the switch to the Senate because the smaller numbers allow more work. "The senators are laid back a little and relaxed," he says, adding that he won't be. Brookins argues that minorities have been left out of programs proposed by the governor, and says incentives must be offered to retain existing factories in Chicago. He says he will oppose state help to move the Bears and White Sox from Chicago. He would like to reform the lottery distribution. Under his plan the state would keep half of the profits; another 30 percent would go to the city in which the ticket was sold and 20 percent to the county. The current formula, he says, "robs and deprives the underprivileged and puts money where it is not needed."

Besides the truly new legislators and the House-Senate transferees, there are three nearly new legislators who have taken up new duties since the General Assembly adjourned its spring session on July 2.

After three months in the legislature, Rep. Robert F. Olson, 56 (R-90, Broadwell), is warmed by the acceptance given him by other legislators. He was appointed September 9 to succeed the colorful Sam Vinson, and has found the legislature similar to the coffeeshop talk he knew as a farmer. "My intent was to be seen and not heard for some time," Olson says, a departure from the Vinson style. He supports education reform but believes there is still some distance to go.

The most senior of the nearly new is Sen. Ethel Skyles Alexander, 61 (D-16, Chicago), who moved from the House when Sen. Charles Chew died. She would like to pass a bill sealing records of people convicted of less serious felonies "to let them get on with their lives." And, Alexander would favor a reasonable tax hike to provide funds to local governments. She cast the first House vote in favor of the 1983 temporary income tax hike and thinks that increase should have been made permanent.

Taking over Alexander's House seat on July 12, Rep. Charles G. Morrow III, 30 (D-32, Chicago), also would like to keep a low profile and be thorough in gathering facts. Morrow thinks the drunk driving crackdown has prompted people to be more aware of drinking and driving. He would like to craft legislation to strengthen child protection laws.

It is possible in Illinois for freshmen to make an impact, Sangamon State's Redfield says. That will be easiest for Democrats who enjoy majorities in both houses, and for those with mentors to guide them through the complexities of the process, he adds. And, some will decide the legislature's compromise and consensus is not for them. He adds, "There are members who are frustrated and don't stay around very long because they don't learn the process or can't accept the process."

January 1987/IIIinois Issues/17

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