• Greg Hinz On Politics
  • Greg Hinz On Politics

    Can this Oak Park lawyer tame Springfield's culture of corruption?

    That's Don Harmon's job now, along with passing a fair remap and Gov. Pritzker's graduated income tax.

    Illinois Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park
    WTTW News

    State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park


    After more than a decade, the Illinois Senate finally has a new leader. But newly installed Senate President Don Harmon will have to wrestle with the same cast of snapping demons as predecessor John Cullerton.

    Harmon, a 53-year-old Oak Park attorney, takes the helm at a time when state government is rapidly changing, but is also caught in long-festering trials, with everything from taxation to racial splits and political corruption claiming attention. Harmon was able to handily defeat challenger Kim Lightford for the post, thanks to his skill as a politician. Now he has to show his chops as a leader in both competition and cooperation with House Speaker Mike Madigan and Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

    79彩票注册网址Curbing corruption without alienating his members is job one. 

    Federal agents are crawling all over Springfield in a perhaps unprecedented probe of misconduct, with one of Harmon’s Democratic members awaiting trial on federal embezzlement charges, a second having recently resigned after raids on his office and a third reportedly agreeing to wear a wire after the feds started examining him.

    Cullerton was somewhat slow to deal with that, perhaps listening to his inner assistant public defender, his first job. Harmon knows there’s a problem, and in post-election remarks, he said senators must act to “change the culture” of Springfield. But how far he’s willing to go is a work in progress, with Harmon backing expanded economic disclosures but also being pushed to outlaw lobbying by public officials and perhaps second jobs at all, like his position as a lawyer.

    79彩票注册网址A related issue coming up fast is how the General Assembly will reapportion itself after this year’s U.S. Census.

    79彩票注册网址Harmon’s members clearly are most interested in getting themselves and their associates re-elected and keeping power. There’s good cause to think that’s a major reason why Harmon got more votes than Lightford.

    After all, Harmon has more than $2.2 million in his political war chest and has a reputation of going out of his way to help colleagues raise money and lend them precinct help from Oak Park, where he heads that township’s Democratic organization.

    But the new leader also is considered a bit of a reformer and is under strong pressure not to rubber-stamp a Democratic gerrymander. Asked about that recently by Harmon hedged, saying he’s “open to considering” remap reform but also describing the state’s current, Democrat-dominated map as “unusually fair.”

    79彩票注册网址Then there’s the fact that Harmon, who apparently gained from a split among African-American senators, will have to form alliances not only with minority lawmakers but women, who thought their time had come.

    One way to deal with that would be to intensify efforts to end, or at least limit, sexual harassment, another part of Springfield’s toxic culture. There’s a widespread feeling among female legislators I talk to that ruling boys so far have done only half the job.

    Another toughie: Passing real property tax relief.

    Harmon is a big backer of Pritzker’s proposed graduated income tax and helped push language authorizing the upcoming referendum through the Senate. But there’s increasing concern among some advocates that unless voters see proof that hated property taxes are going down, they’ll resist raising the income tax, if arguably only on wealthy people.

    A legislative commission examining ideas for property-tax reform so far has been split by partisan divisions. The subject badly needs a powerful leader to simplify the subject into three or four understandable notions, and then exercise some muscle to get them moving.

    Maybe it’s Harmon.

    All in all, you have to hand it to the guy for winning a race in which many thought he was a distinct underdog. Lots of folks were betting against Harmon, who is a little more conservative than Cullerton and, ironically, went to the same college prep high school as the currently much-derided Madigan: St. Ignatius.

    Now Harmon gets his chance. I wish him good luck.

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