Putting his message where his mouth is? Downstate Republican hopes to make a point by not wearing mask

Bailey said not wearing a mask is his way of making Democrats face facts. “These Chicago legislators are making more of a deal of wearing a mask in Springfield than they are about, you know, getting this $7.2 billion deficit that we’re staring at with our budget,” he said.

SHARE Putting his message where his mouth is? Downstate Republican hopes to make a point by not wearing mask
House Speaker Mike Madigan, left, in 2015; State Rep. Darren Bailey in 2019.

House Speaker Mike Madigan, left, in 2015; State Rep. Darren Bailey in 2019.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times; From Facebook.

SPRINGFIELD — For state Rep Darren Bailey, the decision to not wear a face covering when the General Assembly returns to Springfield this week is about making a point to “Chicago legislators.”

One of those legislators is state House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Southwest Side Democrat who is asking every lawmaker who comes to Springfield to put on a face mask. Madigan said that is one of the Illinois Department of Public Health’s recommendations to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Bailey, a Republican from downstate Xenia, said he doesn’t trust the health department.

“If I was concerned about my health — and if I firmly believed what the governor said about staying home — I would stay home,” Bailey said. “So, some of these Democrat representatives are buying all in to staying home, so why on Earth are they coming to Springfield to put themselves in harm’s way?”

Bailey said not wearing a mask is his way of making Democrats face facts.

“These Chicago legislators are making more of a deal of wearing a mask in Springfield than they are about, you know, getting this $7.2 billion deficit that we’re staring at with our budget,” he said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has forecast a budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1 ranging anywhere from $4.6 billion to $7.4 billion.

But Bailey, who is suing Pritzker over the Democrat’s stay-at-home order, isn’t just bucking Madigan by not covering his face.

Republican House Leader Jim Durkin said he wants his caucus to “comply” with mask-wearing guidelines.

But the Western Springs Republican also made it clear that any faceoff won’t be with him.

“I’m encouraging my members to comply, but after that, it’s up to the speaker,” Durkin said.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Whether Madigan will make legislators wear masks is still an open question.Madigan spokesman Steve Brown declined to say whether the guidelines would be enforced, only saying that “we remain very hopeful that all members respect their colleagues and staff.”

Bailey isn’t the only legislator who may show up in Springfield bare-faced.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and numerous other health experts recommend wearing face coverings in “public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” at least two other downstate Republicans question that advice.

State representatives Chris Miller, R-Oakland, and Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, said they doubt the face mask recommendations from state and federal public health experts and have yet to decide if they will wear a face covering during session this week.

For Halbrook, the decision comes down to “a matter of personal choice.” He said he wants to consult with his primary care doctor before he decides to put on a mask.Miller, like Bailey, questions whether the masks really prevent the spread of coronavirus.

State Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, left; state Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland, right.

State Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, left; state Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland, right.

rephalbrook.com; Facebook.

The Coles County farmer said wearing a mask might mean playing Madigan’s “reindeer games,” but he also is concerned that not wearing a mask might become a distraction.

“On the other hand, I don’t want the story to be about a few downstate representatives who refuse to wear masks,” Miller said. “I think that the bigger story is that we have a dictator governor who is weaponizing the department of health to make criminals out of business owners that are desperate and needing to get back to work.”

Masked legislators and lobbyists won’t be the only change when the Legislature convenes Wednesday for the first time since March 5. While the state Senate will meet at the state Capitol, the House will convene at the Bank of Springfield Convention Center to give representatives more space for social distancing.

Legislators are being asked to submit to temperature checks before they enter their chambers and to take a COVID-19 test before they arrive in Springfield.

Madigan, Durkin, Senate President Don Harmon and Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady have all tested negative for COVID-19, representativesfor each said.

Durkin and Brady said they knew of no confirmed cases among Republicans yet.

So far, at least two Democratic legislators have said they will not be going to Springfield. State Rep. Edgar Gonzalez Jr. posted on Facebook that he tested positive, and state Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook, said he tested negative last week, but came into contact Sunday with a person who tested positive.

Both said they would self-quarantine rather than make the trip to Springfield.

“I was hoping to return to Springfield and work with my colleagues to provide relief for all of Illinois,” Gonzalez wrote on his Facebook page. “I will not be attending the session and I have immediately begun to self-quarantine at home for the safety of my colleagues, my constituents, my family, and myself.”

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