Pritzker calls on two Democratic senators to resign

In an effort to get past the latest scandals embroiled in Democratic state lawmakers as he seeks a second term, Governor JB Pritzker on Thursday called for the resignation of two state senators, one accused of bribery and the other with questions about his treatment of women. .

Pritzker’s appeal for longtime Senator Emil Jones III of Chicago and Michael Hastings of Frankfort to resign came a day after the governor tried to portray political corruption and misconduct by elected officials as a two-pronged problem in Illinois.

But a sweeping federal corruption investigation that went public in 2019 focused almost exclusively on Democrats who control the state government, putting Pritzker and other party leaders on the defensive.

“Integrity is essential to public service, and corruption for personal gain and abuse in private or public is unacceptable,” Pritzker said in a statement Thursday. “Illinoisans deserve to have elected leaders who are focused on representing them — not holding office when faced with serious and credible charges.”

The governor’s rebuke and the allegations that led to it are creating unwanted tensions among Democrats as they seek to maintain their dominance in Springfield, including a 41-18 majority over Republicans in the Illinois Senate in the fall election. Jones is unopposed in the Nov. 8 vote, but Hastings faces GOP challenger Patrick Sheehan of Lockport.

Hastings issued a defiant statement in response to Pritzker while Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat whose relationship with the governor is sometimes strained, did not join the governor in calling for the resignation of the two senators, who are recently on the Senate Democratic leadership team.

Republicans hope to use voters’ outcry over a series of federal charges and convictions against Democratic officials, including the landmark March indictment of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on bribery and racketeering charges, to increase their presence in the Capitol.

Jones, who did not respond to a request for comment and will be arraigned Friday, was charged Tuesday with allegedly taking $5,000 bribes from a director of a red light camera company to block unfavorable legislation and lie to the FBI. Jones, who took the seat from his father, former Senate President Emil Jones Jr., in 2009, was charged in a criminal information case rather than a charge, an indication that he may have intended to plead guilty.

Jones resigned Wednesday from his unpaid position as deputy leader of the Senate Democrats and his $11,098-a-year committee chair. Hastings stepped down from an unpaid leadership position in August, but retained the chair of the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee, along with the accompanying stipend. Both legislators get a base salary of $72,906.

Jones and Hastings “should answer the charges and have their day in court,” Pritzker said.

“But in the interest of their voters, these men must resign. Just laying down their leadership roles doesn’t live up to what the public may expect. I want to send a clear message to the people of Illinois: There is no room for corruption and abuse here.”

While Prizker was relatively quick to call for Jones to be put aside, Hastings has been controversial for nearly two months. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the discrepancy, or why he chose to take action against Hastings now.

Hastings, who took office in 2013, has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but his estranged wife accused him of domestic violence last year, according to court documents.

Police in the southwestern suburb of Frankfort have rejected the Tribune’s request for documents related to the alleged incident, citing waivers from the release of records in cases where no arrest was made and said the release was “an unwarranted violation of the law.” personal privacy”.

Hastings has filed a lawsuit against the Frankfort Police Department, alleging that someone from the Will County Department released “a fabricated police report containing false claims” of domestic violence.

Hastings said in a statement last month that the report was “deliberately leaked to the news media in a sinister attempt to influence the election, hurt me politically by tarnishing my reputation, and flip the divorce to blame me.” of the divorce by these false allegations of domestic violence.”

Separately, records from the Illinois Comptroller’s Officers show that the state paid $100,000 earlier this year to settle a 2019 lawsuit filed by Cassandra Matz, Hastings’ former chief of staff, alleging there was intimidation and retaliation.

And in an interview with public radio station WBEZ earlier this month, environmental lobbyist Jen Walling said Hastings had yelled at her, banged on the table, and behaved menacingly during negotiations for legislation in Springfield in recent years.

“I’ve heard from many others with similar stories who are terrified of the potential consequences of coming forward,” Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, said in a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday.

She called Hastings “a liability to the state of Illinois and the legislative process.”

Hastings opposed the governor on Thursday, calling the allegations in Pritzker’s statement “baseless and baseless.”

“I look forward to continuing to serve the interests of the hardworking men and women of the southern suburbs,” Hastings, a West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran, said in a statement. “Voters can choose between a civil servant who has selflessly served his country and community for 25 years, or a MAGA extremist who wants to take away women’s fundamental right to choose.”

A campaign spokesman for Sheehan, his GOP adversary, said the senator used the MAGA label — a reference to former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan — “to distract from the variety of serious issues and accusations.” against him.”

Sheehan, a Plainfield police officer, echoed Pritzker when he called for his opponent’s resignation.

“Taxpayers should not continue to pay for Senator Hastings’ unacceptable behavior, and they certainly should not continue to pay his Senate salary while he is dealing with these serious allegations,” Sheehan said in a statement.

Harmon’s campaign does not financially support Hastings’ bid for reelection. A Harmon spokesperson said that “the seriousness of the allegations required immediate action and consequences, which is why the Senate president has demanded and received resignation from their leadership posts.”

“Now it’s up to these individuals and their constituents to determine their future,” Harmon spokesman John Patterson said.

Harmon’s office has contacted the Legislative Inspector General to make sure the office is aware of the charges against Hastings and has offered to cooperate with any investigation.

Pritzker’s opponent in the November election, Republican Senator Xenia’s Darren Bailey, on Wednesday criticized the governor for not immediately calling on Jones to resign.

The state GOP issued similar criticisms of Harmon on Thursday, pointing to his statement in response to charges against Jones in which the Senate president said officials must conduct themselves to a “high ethical standard.”

“What is this ‘high ethical standard’ in today’s Democrat-controlled Senate?” Illinois Republican Party chairman Don Tracy said in a statement. “Is anything but a federal charge and conviction in order? Senate President Harmon should call on Senator Hastings and Senator Jones III to resign.”

Jones is the sixth state senator — and the fifth senate Democrat — charged with federal corruption since 2019.

The Tribune has reported that a federal investigation is underway into a seventh senator and sixth Democrat, Senator Elgie Sims of Chicago.

dpetrella@chicagotribune.com

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