Hailed as a “passionate advocate for what’s fair and just,” Illinois House Majority Leader Greg Harris on Monday announced he will not seek reelection, capping a 15-year legislative career that saw him rise to the second most powerful position in the state House.
The North Side Democrat’s nearly three years as majority leader in the House under former Speaker Michael Madigan and current Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch made Harris the first openly gay member of the legislative leadership team. Harris is also HIV positive.
As for whether he’s retiring from politics for good, Harris said he’s taking things “one day at a time” and hasn’t thought beyond making the announcement about not seeking another term.
“I think we all think about other things you can do with your life beyond politics,” Harris told the Sun-Times. “There are certainly things I’d like to pursue personally, but largely it was thinking about have I done the things that, in my mind, I wanted to get done when I came into this office, and I think, yeah I have.”
Asked about his plans after this term, the majority leader said “we’ll see — I don’t have a plan at this point.”
Harris has served in the House since 2006 representing a North Side district that includes all or parts of Uptown, Ravenswood, Lincoln Square North Center, West Ridge and Bowmanville.
He said he thought he’d spent enough time in the House and wanted to allow time for others interested in succeeding him to start working on their plans and circulating petitions for the role in January.
“It’s something that we all think about every few years when it’s time to make a decision about going back out and passing petitions and, for me, this will be 16 years in the office, and that seemed like a good amount of time,” Harris told the Sun-Times.
In a statement announcing his decision, Harris said he took office “committed to making change” and offered improving the lives of LGBTQ people, supporting the state’s immigrant communities and fighting “for those who for so long have been ignored” as his main focal points.
Harris pointed to his chief sponsorship of legislation that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the state as one of the moments he’s proudest of in his tenure. That law took effect in 2014.
Other highlights include sponsoring legislation that allows transgender Illinoisans to correct their birth certificates as well as other bills focused on the LGBTQ community, trying to reduce drug prices and other legislation targeting disparities in health care.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in a tweeted statement state residents would be “hard pressed to find a recent Illinois legislative achievement that Leader Greg Harris didn’t help shape.”
“His service defines what it means to fight for all Illinoisans,” the governor said.
Welch said Harris embodies “public service and throughout his fifteen-year career, he has been a passionate advocate for what’s fair and just.
“His command of a wide range of public policy issues, particularly Medicaid and our state budget, has been such a vital asset to the entire state,” the House speaker said in a statement.
“Greg led the way to deliver marriage equality, protected social service programs during the budget impasse and helped lower medical costs for everyday families. As a values-oriented leader and as the first openly gay majority leader, Greg has given a voice to so many who have continuously felt left out of state government.”
State Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago, lauded Harris, whom he called a “personal inspiration,” and said he’s “shown up and done the work for our communities, often without fanfare” while blazing a trail as House majority leader.
Simmons, who is also gay, succeeded former state Sen. Heather Steans in February to represent an area that includes Harris’ district.
“While I am sad that he will soon retire, I appreciate the keen example he has set for the next generation,” Simmons’ statement continued. “Leader Harris has given back so much, and I look forward to working with him over the next legislative session to deliver for our constituents back home.”
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) took to Twitter to “thank and commend” Harris on his “outstanding leadership and dedicated service to the citizens of Chicago and Illinois.”
Our community has been fortunate to have Greg represent us in Springfield. His hard work and achievements will have a lasting impact. We wish him good health and toast him all the best as he maps his next chapter. pic.twitter.com/2veY8zy7wd— Alderman Harry Osterman (@48Ward) November 29, 2021
“Our community has been fortunate to have Greg represent us in Springfield,” Osterman said in a tweet. “His hard work and achievements will have a lasting impact. We wish him good health and toast him all the best as he maps his next chapter.”
Ald. Matt Martin (47th) said Harris was a “true pleasure to work with, someone who understands the importance that government at all levels can have.”
The two first worked together to implement funds from a 2019 capital bill, putting the money toward school improvements in Martin’s North Side ward.
“His door was always open. ... It’s hard to put into words how much I’ll miss having him as a colleague,” Martin said, adding that wherever Harris goes next will be “lucky” to have him.
“I think he really epitomizes what civil service, public service should look like,” Martin said.
U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, said in a statement Harris “represents the very best of Illinois” and added his “fearless advocacy and commitment to service” for the state sets an example for others.
“Because of Greg Harris, our state is a better place for all its residents,” the Matteson Democrat said. “Congratulations, Leader Harris, it was an honor to serve with you, and I wish you well in the next chapter of your life.”
One candidate has already surfaced for Harris’ job.
A spokesman for Rebecca Levin, the executive director of public policy for the Cook County Sheriff’s office, is said to be “seriously thinking” about making a run for the office and is expected to make a final decision “shortly.”