SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Illinois state government emerged from political gridlock and hurtled leftward in overdrive in 2019, fueled by the election and inauguration of Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker.
Here are the Top 19 Political Headlines in 2019:
Jan. 14 – Inauguration of Governor J.B. Pritzker
Democrat J.B. Pritzker swore the oath of office to become Illinois’ 43rd Governor after spending $171.5 million on his election campaign, setting a national record.
Feb. 19 – Democrats raise hourly minimum wage to $15 by 2025
Just 33 days into office, the rookie governor flexed his political muscle and moved quickly to approve a new minimum wage increase that will gradually rise to $15 per hour by 2025. Business groups argued the higher wage floor would negatively impact small businesses, especially in rural parts of downstate Illinois.
April 2 – Chicago elects Lori Lightfoot mayor
Democrat Lori Lightfoot, a former prosecutor with experience in police reform, wins a landslide election against Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Lightfoot becomes the first black woman and openly gay person to take the reins in Chicago’s City Hall.
April 24 – Reports claim Pritzker under federal investigation
Federal investigators opened a criminal probe into Governor J.B. Pritzker, his wife, and his brother-in-law for a property tax break worth $331,000, which former Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios’ office approved. Pritzker shrugged the investigation off and said he has “no concerns” about the new development. The issue became a political
June 12 – Reproductive Health Act signed into law
During a time when several conservative states were enacting restrictive laws to stifle access to legal abortion, Illinois pushed hard left, enacting the Reproductive Health Act, which guaranteed women a “fundamental right” to an abortion. Governor Pritzker declared Illinois “the most progressive state in the nation” for reproductive rights.
June 25 – Illinois legalizes recreational cannabis
The Land of Lincoln becomes the 13th state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana for adult use, but the first state to fully legalize through the statehouse process instead of through a ballot initiative. Supporters promised the plan would include a leg up for minority communities who were harmed in the war on drugs to gain a foothold in the legal industry.
June 28 – Illinois legalizes sports betting, expands gambling
State lawmakers celebrate the passage of a law that allowed six new casino licenses, drastically expanded video gaming, and approved legal sports betting. Illinois becomes the first state in the nation to allow sports betting facilities inside sports stadiums.
June 28 – New ‘Rebuild Illinois’ capital infrastructure plan approved
After going nearly two decades without a fully funded capital bill, the legislature approved a bipartisan plan to ‘Rebuild Illinois’ for a price tag of $45 billion, most of which would come from higher gas taxes, vehicle registration fee increases, gambling revenues, and borrowing.
July 1 – Illinois motor fuel tax jumps from $0.19 to $0.38 per gallon
The price at the pump jumps in Illinois as the state adopts a plan to double the gas tax. Moving forward, the state’s motor fuel tax will automatically increase to adjust to inflation.
Aug. 2 – Senator Tom Cullerton charged for alleged embezzlement
Federal prosecutors accuse state Senator Tom Cullerton of illegally accepting salary and benefits on a “ghost payroll” from a Teamsters union. Cullerton is fighting the charges in court.
Aug. 14 – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Springfield
Illinois Democrats invite Speaker Nancy Pelosi to deliver the keynote address at the annual Democratic County Chair Association Brunch.
Aug. 15 – U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise visits State Fair
Illinois Republicans host Representative Steve Scalise, the second ranking Republican in Congress, to rally with them at the Illinois State Fair.
Sept. 24 – FBI agents raid Senator Martin Sandoval’s offices
Federal agents launch a joint raid of state Senator Martin Sandoval’s offices in Springfield and Chicago and his home in Cicero. FBI agents removed computers, hard drives, paper records, and other evidence. Subpoenas later revealed the investigation included names of at least 70 other associates or companies linked to Springfield through political activity or lobbying.
Oct. 18 – ComEd under investigation for hiring Madigan aides
Reports reveal ComEd and its parent company Exelon are under federal investigation for unlawful lobbying practices after several political aides close to House Speaker Michael Madigan landed lucrative lobbying jobs for the utility company.
Oct. 28 – Representative Luis Arroyo arrested on bribery charge
House Representative Luis Arroyo is charged with bribing a state Senator to help promote sweepstakes games. House Speaker Michael Madigan called for Arroyo’s resignation. Amid swirling reports linking the federal investigation to Jay Doherty, one of Madigan’s son’s business partners, and to Madigan’s son’s insurance contracts with local governments, Madigan told reporters, “I’m not a target of anything.”
Nov. 14 – Senate President John Cullerton announces retirement
On the final day of the Fall veto session, Senate President John Cullerton told Senate Democrats he would not return to finish his term in January. Cullerton’s abrupt exit caught nearly everyone by surprise, especially since it came at a time when Democrats had amassed more political power than ever before in the state, and before Cullerton could have a hand in drawing the electoral maps that would define the next decade of politics in the state.
Nov. 29 – House Speaker Michael Madigan settles harassment suit
Several campaign committees run by Speaker Madigan, including the Democratic Party of Illinois, settles a sexual harassment lawsuit with former campaign worker Alaina Hampton for $275,000. Hampton’s suit revealed harassing text messages from Kevin Quinn, a Madigan operative. Quinn was fired from his job, but later received several payments from ComEd lobbyists who were loyal to Madigan, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Dec. 11 – First convictions overturned under marijuana expungement
Governor Pritzker and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announce the first expungements in the push to wipe clean the criminal convictions and arrest records of more than 300,000 people who had blemishes on their record for the sale or possession of marijuana.
Dec. 18 – Pritzker signs local police, fire pension consolidation plan
The state legislature moved to consolidate 649 suburban and downstate police and fire pension funds into two superfunds, one for police and one for firefighters. The Pritzker administration celebrated the move as one that had been long sought after, and predicted it could save $2.5 billion over the next five years.