Speaker Welch taps first Latina to run House elections — ex-ComEd lobbyist and staffer who promises ‘inclusion and inclusiveness’
Lizbeth Ramirez, 36, said it would be “naive of anyone, including myself, to consolidate my professional career, which started about 13 years ago, with just one role at ComEd.” “I think pulling just that one factor takes away from everything I have done in the last 12 or 13 years.”
Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch picked a new election czar Tuesday, tapping a former House Democratic staff member — and former ComEd lobbyist — to ensure the party keeps and builds its supermajority in the chamber.
Lizbeth Ramirez, 36, will oversee full and part time staff in the state’s lower legislative chamber, fundraising for the caucus’ campaign fund — Democrats for the Illinois House, as well as the coffers of individual House Democrats. She was chosen executive director of the House Democrats’ campaign fund by a committee of members of the House Democratic Caucus and staff.
Ramirez will also take on recruiting Democratic candidates to run for House seats.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times on her first day on the job, Ramirez said Tuesday that she was nervous, but, “more than anything, excited to be here.”
The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Ramirez came to Illinois when she was eight. She was undocumented and didn’t know English, but her parents taught her the value of hard work, preparedness and finding “opportunities for those who are looking to improve their lives,” she said.
“That’s one thing that I’ve always strived to and pushed for in anything I do,” Ramirez said. “Working hard and bringing fairness and opportunities for communities and neighborhoods that I work in or work for — in this case, the state of Illinois.”
Ramirez became a U.S. citizen when she was 16. She worked on staff in the House from 2008 to 2015 before becoming a legislative liaison for ComEd, serving as one of the utility’s in-house lobbyists. That meant she worked with the House’s Democratic Caucus for about three years before moving to ComEd’s external affairs office.
She stayed at the utility until about six months ago when she left to form her own consulting firm.
Asked how she’d respond to those who view that former position with ComEd — and her move to a new one within the House — negatively, Ramirez said it would be “naive of anyone, including myself, to consolidate my professional career, which started about 13 years ago, with just one role at ComEd.”
“My first job was at Telemundo, and then I started, after that, my career in government affairs for the Illinois House of Representatives, eventually transitioning to the Democratic Party and then, shortly after, starting at ComEd and then starting my own firm after working for them,” Ramirez said. “I think pulling just that one factor takes away from everything I have done in the last 12 or 13 years.”
Last year, ComEd was charged in federal court with bribery and is expected to pay a $200 million fine — believed to be the largest criminal fine ever in Chicago’s federal court. Former House Speaker Michael Madigan was implicated in that scheme, although he has not been charged with a crime and denies any wrongdoing.
Ramirez said she started in politics when she was 22 and worked on numerous campaigns, including managing state Rep. Kathy Willis’ 2012 race, which ended in victory over 20-year incumbent Republican state Rep. Angelo “Skip” Saviano. Ramirez also worked on former state Rep. Carol Sente’s 2014 reelection race.
Ramirez said her experience in those races — and as a former staff member — “have given me the knowledge or experience for this role.”
Ramirez follows Mary Morrissey, who stepped into the role of the campaign fund’s executive director after Tim Mapes, Madigan’s former chief of staff, resigned in 2018 amid a string of damning harassment allegations.
Then in May, Mapes was charged with perjury and attempted obstruction of justice related to the feds’ ongoing bribery investigation of ComEd. He has pleaded not guilty.
Ramirez didn’t work with Morrissey, but she said she did work with Mapes and plans to bring the “discipline and work structure” she experienced under the disgraced former chief of staff to the position.
“The discipline that he brought to the table is one thing I look forward to doing in this role, but I also as a woman, and a woman of color, want to make sure there’s more inclusion and inclusiveness ... for this committee,” Ramirez said, adding that she’d like to add more women — especially women of color — to the House’s ranks.
While she hasn’t had much time to start drawing up election plans, Ramirez said her goal in managing elections for the Democrats is to “help push the mission of Speaker Welch, which is to bring in more diverse staff to the team.”
That goal also includes maintaining — and, potentially, increasing — the Democrats’ majority in the chamber. The party now holds a supermajority of 73 of the House’s 118 seats.
Ramirez couldn’t yet say how her relationship with U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly would look. Kelly, the recently elected chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois, was barred from raising money for state and local races by the Federal Election Commission in July because she holds federal office.
Though she hasn’t talked to her team yet about the coming election season, Ramirez said that she does foresee some challenges since there will be new legislative districts and seats up for grabs.
That could mean new blocs of voters who “may not know you, and you may not know them,” forcing members of the caucus to get to know their voters again, Ramirez said.