By WEN HUANG
New lawmakers: young but experienced
He was a coal miner while secretly nourishing the hope of becoming a politician. In 1979, at age 20, he was elected to the village board of Du Bois and was appointed village president in 1981. In last November's general election, he defeated an incumbent state representative who was assumed to be an easy winner.
Coal miner-turned-state Rep. Terry W. Deering (D-115, Du Bois) has become, at age 32, one of the 118 House members who will shape the laws that govern Illinois. Rep. Deering already has some ideas about his new job. A strong believer in individual town meetings, he plans to open one or two satellite offices and travel from town to town to make himself accessible to his constituents.
Deering considers education funding one of the top issues facing Illinois today, but he is against making the two-year income tax surcharge permanent: "We are losing business and industry in Illinois, and instead of taxing and taxing to make up the lost revenue, we need to get industry into the state and put more and more people to work."
Deering is one of 14 new state representatives sworn in on January 9. The House of Representatives opened the day in a festive mood. Amid flowers and cheers from families and friends, 11 Democrats and three Republicans took their oaths. "This [the ceremony] is something I'm going to treasure the rest of my life," Deering said afterwards.
Sworn in along with Deering were other young newcomers, like Rep. Dan Cronin (R-40, Elmhurst), 31. Although a new lawmaker, he is new neither to Springfield nor to the legislative process. He served from 1985 to 1987 as legal counsel to House Minority Leader Lee A. Daniels (R-46, Elmhurst).
He says that the biggest issue facing his district is property tax reform. "Before I came here, I had received numerous letters and calls from people who have just got their property assessment, and they are very frustrated. . . . People in my district are willing to sacrifice for education, but the system has pushed the taxpayers too far. Something needs to be done to stop creating new tax authorities and to reform the inequities in the system."
The only woman to take the oath of office for the first time was Rep. Janice D. "Jan" Schakowsky (D-4, Evanston). The first bill Schakowsky plans to introduce will be the Food Toxic Disclosure Act, which would require all food to be labeled if it contains cancer-causing chemicals.
Schakowsky is interested in health care and environmental issues in Illinois. She will also fight for women's freedom, their right to choose safe and legal abortion. She takes her predecessor Rep. Woody Bowman as an exemplary legislator and hopes to continue his progressive tradition in the House.
Steve Brown, Speaker Michael J. Madigan's press secretary, describes this new group of legislators as "young but with a lot of political experience in hand" and says that most of them have a good understanding of the problems facing Illinois. Brown hopes their backgrounds in education, business, and state and local government will contribute fresh ideas and new approaches in dealing with education and the state economy.
Although Speaker Madigan failed to put Democrat Neil F. Hartigan in the Executive Mansion, his coordinated campaigns did help Democrats win House seats, Democrats grabbed four seats from Republican incumbents and picked up the open seat vacated by John Hallock Jr.'s (R-67, Rockford) run for Congress, giving them their current 72-46 majority in the House.
That margin may grow: The race between six-year incumbent Robert P. Regan (R-80, Crete) and John A. Ostenburg, a Park Forest Democrat, is still uncertain, and the House will conduct an official inquiry later this year. With or without Regan's seat. Democrats have enough votes to override a veto by the governor.
The Democrat's 28-vote margin gives them a veto-proof House and strengthens Madigan's hand in drawing the legislative and congressional maps which will be crucial to Illinois politics in the 1990s, says David Everson, professor of political studies and public affairs at Sangamon State University.
The new seats will help Democrats. Says Brown: "It will be easier to advance programs that are important to the average working people, programs that will benefit education, to help issues that Republicans typically don't spend a lot of time on or pay much attention to. It will also provide a strong check on any potential excesses in the administration of the governor."
Republicans are not despondent because the Democrats' 31 Senate seats fall five short of what is needed to override the governor. But there will be new faces in the Senate. Sen. Dawn Clark Netsch (D-4, Chicago) and Sen. Bob Kustra (R-28, Park Ridge) resigned upon becoming comptroller and lieutenant governor, respectively. Martin J. Butler, 66, the mayor of Park Ridge, was named to Kustra's seat. On January 23, no replacement had been selected for Netsch or for Sen. Greg Zito (D-26, Melrose Park) who had resigned effective January 31.
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"It is very much preferable for the Republicans to have the governorship, especially in terms of upcoming redistricting," says Pam McDonough, House Minority Leader Daniels' chief of staff. "According to the recent census, there's been substantial population shift from Chicago to the collar counties, and that means two or more seats for the Republicans. . . .
Hopefully the governor will be able to veto a map if it is hideous gerrymandering," she says.
To be practical, McDonough says, a lot of issues like the funding of education in Illinois don't fall along partisan lines. Downstate Republicans or Democrats may have different views from those in Cook County because many downstate districts get back
New faces in Illinois General Assembly
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a lot more of their tax dollars than they have paid in. Those in Cook County have never been able to pull back all the taxes that they pay.
For the new legislators from both parties, the swearing-in marks the end of a triumphant campaign season but also the kick-off of another more complicated game. "Like starting a new job, there is a whole range of things they have to learn," says Everson. "They need to know about the different interest groups, how to deal with conflicts and how to speak on the floor, etc.; it is an incredible learning experience."
But sometimes learning about and getting acclimated to the whole process can be very frustrating, says McDonough. Some, who try to keep up with what happens on the House floor, will be confounded by the calendar because the order of consideration of bills can be changed if the House leaders decide not to push a certain bill. Some freshmen will feel a "culture shock" when they stand and deliver their first well-prepared speech and find nobody seems to listen, she says. At the Democrat-dominated committee meetings. Republican-sponsored bills may not easily get through the process or sometimes may be hijacked by the Democrats. Her advice to newcomers is to be patient and not to "take some of this stuff too seriously."
Apart from being patient, Brown encourages the rookie legislators to rely on the experienced ones. "By and large, most of the legislators are pretty cooperative and willing to share their experiences. They will go out of their way to help the newcomers get things accomplished."
Throughout the state, voters have fairly consistent needs and concerns and most of them consider their legislators their ombudsmen. With recession around the corner, 1991 is going to be a tough year for Illinoisans. How to weather the difficult economic times tops the agenda of every legislator, Brown says.
Wen Huang is a student in Sangamon State University's Public Affairs Reporting Program. A native Chinese, Huang completed his master's program in international journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai in 1989. He now works in the Illinois Issues Statehouse Bureau.
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