‘Ceiling has been broken’ — Harris named first gay state House majority leader
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SPRINGFIELD —House Speaker Mike Madigan on Thursday named state Rep. Greg Harris his top lieutenant, making the North Side Democrat the first openly gay House majority leader in the state’s history.
The move comes as Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker announced the appointment of a handful of women to key leadership positions in his administration.
“I consider it to be really sort of amazing that again a ceiling has been broken,” Harris said of his appointment. “And if you look at our caucus right now, there is a tremendous amount of diversity.”
“As somebody who grew up in the time that I grew up when you’d never even talked about it. There wasn’t even a word for gay. There were a lot of other words out there. Just getting elected to office and getting this position is an amazing feeling.”
In a statement, Madigan credited Harris with leading the effort to make Illinois one of the first states to pass marriage equality, overhauling Medicaid and taking the lead during the budget crisis. In 2016, as the state grappled with a devastating budget impasse, the speaker appointed Harris his point person for budget negotiations.
Harris follows in the steps of retiring Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Hyde Park Democrat who became the state’s first female majority leader in 1997. Madigan on Wednesday said Flynn Currie had been hospitalized and is being treated for severe pneumonia.
Harris said his No. 1 priority is to work with Republicans in the House and Senate as well as the governor to restore the state’s fiscal stability.
“This is going to be a long, hard task,” Harris said. “This is not a one-year thing. It’s going to take several years to get out of he hole that was dug the last four years.”
He said he plans to focus on the budget and working with different stakeholders, as well as health care issues.
Equality Illinois applauded the decision, saying it shows Madigan’s priorities.
“We thank Speaker Madigan for his significant leadership in advancing LGBTQ equality in Illinois. Just yesterday, we heard in nominating speeches of the Speaker’s critical role in passing marriage equality legislation in Illinois,” Brian Johnson, Equality Illinois CEO said in a statement. “Today, his appointment of Leader Harris further demonstrates the Speaker’s commitment to LGBTQ equality and representation.”
Harris was elected in 2006 and became the first openly gay elected official to serve in leadership when he was appointed assistant majority leader. More leadership posts will be announced in the coming days, according to the speaker’s office.
Also on Thursday, Pritzker named a number of women to key state department roles — many coming from Mayor Emanuel’s staff.
Tiffany Newbern-Johnson, who currently leads Emanuel’s state legislative agenda, will serve as deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs. Alicia Tate-Naudeau, who had been overseeing Chicago’s overhaul of its 911 center, will serve as the director of Homeland Security and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Emily Bittner, who served as chief of strategy for Emanuel, will serve as deputy chief of staff for Communications.
Jordan Abudayyeh, who served as press secretary for Pritzker’s campaign, will serve the comparable role in his administration. Theresa Eagleson, who served as the executive director of the Office of Medicaid Innovation at the University of Illinois system, will serve as director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
Heidi Mueller, appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2016, will continue to lead the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. And Matt Perez will continue to serve as the Illinois State Fire Marshal.