CAPITOL RECAP: Democrats choose Hernandez as new party chair

CAPITOL RECAP: Democrats choose Hernandez as new party chair

By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS

SPRINGFIELD – The vote for state Rep. Elizabeth “Lisa” Hernandez as the Democratic Party of Illinois’ first Latino chairwoman was unanimous and uneventful Saturday morning – the drama had occurred in the days prior in a power struggle of some of the state’s most prominent Democrats.

Hernandez was backed Gov. JB Pritzker and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch. She served with Welch on a special investigating committee of House Speaker Michael Madigan in 2020, which chose to take no action against the speaker for his alleged role in a yearslong bribery scheme with a public utility. Several months later, Madigan was indicted.

The new DPI chair also played prominently in the redistricting process last year in the General Assembly, chairing the House committee on redistricting and frequently stonewalling inquiries as to what data was used to draw new maps. Ultimately, Democrats passed the new maps on partisan lines.

The 34 members of the Democratic State Central Committee – one man and one woman for each of the state’s 17 congressional districts – elected her by voice vote over outgoing chair Robin Kelly, who was backed by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

Kelly, a congresswoman from suburban Matteson, pulled herself from the running less than 24 hours earlier after it became apparent Hernandez had secured the requisite number of votes to replace her.

Kelly was elected chair just more than 16 months ago in what was also a tight and contentious race between her and Pritzker’s chosen candidate, Chicago Ald. Michelle Harris. She maintained strong support this year among some members of the state central committee and drew high praise from its downstate members.

Hernandez offered praise for Kelly in a statement, and the pair shared a brief embrace before the meeting began. But the fact that neither Kelly nor Hernandez took questions from the media underscored the fact that the wounds of the fight might still be fresh.

Kelly read from a prepared statement as well in running her final meeting as DPI chair, saying its been a difficult month and she was proud of how she advanced the party as chair.

Kelly took over after former Speaker Madigan, who led the party from 1998 until February last year. Madigan frequently faced criticism for the party’s lack of outreach and the fact that he mostly used the party to elect state House Democrats. He stepped down after failing to gain reelection as speaker in January 2021.

Some of the committeemen serving downstate congressional districts said Friday once Kelly became chair, it was the first time they felt involved in the party.

State Rep. Will Davis, a Hazel Crest Democrat and member of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, said he didn’t like how the race played out on racial lines, and how the governor worked so hard to sway support to oust Kelly, the party’s first Black woman chair.

Davis accused the governor of “twisting arms,” saying that while “money and politics reared its ugly head,” Democrats now must work to unify to support candidates in November.

Pritzker’s camp maintained throughout the race that his opposition to Kelly’s re-election centered on the fact that she was a federal officeholder, which meant she wasn’t legally allowed to raise funds to directly support state candidates.

* * *

CONVENTION HOPES: Illinois Democrats are vying to make Chicago the host city for the Democratic National Convention in 2024.

Officials for the Democratic National Committee were in Chicago on Tuesday as state leaders, including Gov. JB Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, called a news conference to tout the city as a potential host for the Democrats’ 2024 nominating convention.

DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said at a Tuesday morning news conference in Chicago the committee was looking for a city that represents diversity, inclusion and opportunity. He said it will be the first big showcase for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who didn’t have a convention in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other finalist cities include New York City, Atlanta and Houston.

Pritzker, whose name has frequently been mentioned in the conversation as a potential replacement for Biden if he doesn’t run in 2024, said he looks at the convention as an opportunity “to show off” the city, which “represents what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris represent.”

“This is what it looks like when Americans vote for leaders who support hardworking families,” Pritzker said, citing “policies of a fair minimum wage, expanding voting rights, protecting civil rights and human rights, and standing up for the right to choose.”

Pritzker said the convention would bring “thousands of good-paying, labor-friendly jobs” and 50,000 visitors to the state. Lightfoot estimated it could generate $150 million to $200 million in spending in the local economy.

* * *

MONKEYPOX: Gov. JB Pritzker issued a public health emergency declaration and declared Illinois a disaster area in response to the monkeypox virus Monday, a move his office said would help mobilize resources.

The governor’s office said the proclamation will aid in moving vaccines to the most impacted communities and will allow the Illinois Department of Public Health to expand vaccine and testing capacities with the help of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and state and federal funds.

The World Health Organization declared monkeypox a Public Health Emergency of International Concern last week, and Illinois has reported 520 cases thus far, according to the governor’s office.

With 85 percent of the cases in Chicago as of last week, the city had received 18,707 vaccine doses while the state had received 7,371, sending 4,631 of them to Chicago. Another 13,000 additional state doses are expected from the federal government “in the near future,” according to the governor’s office.

Last week, IDPH warned in a news release that vaccine demand was “outstripping supplies.” The department advised local public health officials that “unless people are in certain elevated risk categories, they should receive only an initial dose of the MPV vaccine until more supplies become available.”

According to IDPH, individuals in “high case burden areas” may contact their local health department about receiving the vaccine, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend widespread vaccination against monkeypox at this time.

The vaccine may be recommended to people who have been exposed to the virus or in close contact with someone testing positive for monkeypox.

According to the CDC, monkeypox symptoms can include headache, fever, respiratory symptoms, muscle aches, chills and exhaustion. But the most visible symptom is a rash that may be located on the face, mouth, hands, feet, chest, genitals or other areas. Most people who contract monkeypox will get the rash, which can look like pimples or blisters and may be painful or itchy. The rash goes through several stages, including scabs, before healing, per the CDC.

The disease spreads through close, personal contact, such as skin-to-skin contact, direct contact with the monkeypox rash or through the bodily fluids of an infected person, according to the CDC. It can also be spread by touching objects, fabrics and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox.

A person with monkeypox can spread it to others from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed, and the illness typically lasts 2-4 weeks, according to the CDC.

Pritzker described the virus as “rare but potentially serious,” and noted it has disproportionately impacted the LGBTQ+ community.

* * *

OPIOID SETTLEMENTS: Gov. JB Pritzker and Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced plans Friday for how the state will distribute its share of funds from a national settlement with opioid companies.

Illinois expects to receive approximately $760 million over 18 years from a $26 billion national settlement with three opioid distributers – Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen – and one opioid manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson.

“The opioid crisis will go down as one of the most disturbing examples of corporate greed and medical mismanagement in human history, giving way to an epidemic that has become more deadly almost every year of the last 40 years,” Pritzker said at a news conference in Chicago.

Under an executive order that Pritzker said he would sign Friday, the money will flow through a new Office of Opioid Settlement Administration to be set up within the Illinois Department of Human Services.

That agency will also appoint a Statewide Opioid Settlement Administrator to ensure that the funds are used in accordance with the State Overdose Action Plan, which Pritzker announced earlier this year, and that they are used to fund recovery and treatment programs in the counties and municipalities with the most urgent need.

Allocation of funds will be based on recommendations from a newly created advisory board, chaired by the state’s chief behavioral health officer and made up of state and local appointees. The board will work with an existing state opioid steering committee led by Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and the state’s directors of the Illinois Department of Public Health and IDHS.

“This crisis has reached into urban, suburban and rural areas, every kind of community,” Stratton said at the news conference. “It’s also true that opioids have disproportionately hurt BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) communities. In fact, in Illinois alone, the opioid fatality rate for Black communities was 55.3 per 100,000, and that is the highest of all demographics.”

The settlement, which was first announced in July 2021, resolves more than 4,000 lawsuits that were filed across the country by state and local governments against the drug companies.

In Illinois, Raoul said, 94 counties and 77 municipalities have signed on to the agreement. Terms of the settlement spell out what percentage of the proceeds each community will receive, and they require that at least 85 percent of the funds be used for programs that will help address the ongoing opioid crisis through treatment, education and prevention efforts.

Raoul noted that the state stands to receive even more money in the future from other national cases.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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