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House Speaker Welch picks diverse leadership team for ‘tough session and some tough decisions ahead’

“Our caucus has a very deep bench of people who love this state,” Welch told the Chicago Sun-Times, ahead of his official announcement on Thursday. “In many ways, it’s a diverse caucus. I think this is reflective of that diversity.”

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, stands to vote for himself as Illinois Speaker of the House last week at the Bank of Springfield Center.
State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, stands to vote for himself as Illinois Speaker of the House last week at the Bank of Springfield Center.
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP file

There’ll be new faces — and some familiar ones — on the leadership team that newly sworn-in state House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch plans to announce Thursday, calling it a racially and geographically diverse group that he argues “can move Illinois forward working collaboratively together.”

Welch’s team will keep state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, as majority leader and state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, as deputy majority leader.

Both are holdovers from the era of House Speaker Mike Madigan, the Democratic powerhouse who abandoned his bid to continue his nearly four-decade reign, giving Welch the opportunity to become the state’s first African American speaker.

Democratic state Representatives Greg Harris of Chicago, left, and Jehan Gordon-Booth of Peoria.
Democratic state Representatives Greg Harris of Chicago, left, and Jehan Gordon-Booth of Peoria.
Sun-Times file; Facebook.

Welch’s top ranks will also feature new faces, including state Rep. Mary Flowers as deputy majority leader and dean of the House Democratic Caucus, the latter an honorary title reflecting the South Side Democrat’s 36 years in the House.

Democratic state representatives moving up to the role of assistant majority leader are North Siders Jaime Andrade and Delia Ramirez, South Sider Marcus Evans Jr. and Robyn Gabel of Evanston.

State Rep. Mary E. Flowers.
State Rep. Mary E. Flowers.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

State Rep. Carol Ammons of Urbana moves up to chair of the Democratic Caucus. That position was previously held by state Rep. Kathleen Willis of Addison, who also ran for speaker but dropped out to support a candidate other than Welch.

Democratic Reps. Natalie Manley of Joliet, Elizabeth Hernandez of Cicero and Jay Hoffman of Swansea will remain as assistant majority leaders in Welch’s ranks. Hoffman was also an unsuccessful candidate for speaker.

State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez
State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Gone from leadership posts are Reps. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates and Will Davis of Homewood who both served as assistant majority leaders.

Members of the Latinx and Black caucuses held elections for their leaders and submitted names to Welch for inclusion in the team, the new speaker said.

“Our caucus has a very deep bench of people who love this state,” Welch told the Chicago Sun-Times. “In many ways, it’s a diverse caucus. I think this is reflective of that diversity in terms of racial makeup — it’s diverse in terms of geographic makeup, it represents people from all areas of our state, and I think it’s a leadership list that we can be proud of and we can move Illinois forward working collaboratively together.”

Along with the leadership posts, Welch chose Democrats to serve as “whips” to help round up votes. Northwest Side state Rep. Will Guzzardi will be the whip of the Progressive Caucus; Southwest Side state Rep. Theresa Mah, whip of the Asian Caucus; state Rep. Larry Walsh Jr. of Elwood, whip for the Downstate Caucus and Southwest Side state Rep. Aaron Ortiz, Latinx Caucus whip.

State Rep. Kam Buckner will be the Black Caucus’ whip, and state Rep. Deb Conroy of Villa Park will serve as the whip for the women’s caucus.

Those decisions were based on trust and the respect those reps have gained in their respective caucuses, Welch said.

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch speaks at the Bank of Springfield Center in January.
House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch speaks at the Bank of Springfield Center last week.
Justin L. Fowler /The State Journal-Register, distributed by the Associated Press

“We’re going to have a tough session and some tough decisions ahead and I believe they will be people that colleagues will look at and be able to get good, honest information from and, when they cast a vote, they’re casting it for the right reasons,” Welch said.

Welch has promised House member that he will discuss changes to the chambers’ rules, which previously consolidated power under Madigan. The House Democratic Caucus plans to meet at 2:30 p.m. Friday to begin discussions about the guidelines of their procedures, Welch said.

Besides getting the rules of the House worked out, Welch listed the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the state’s budget woes, as chief challenges as he settles into the leadership position.