Rich Miller

Rich Miller

Media ignoring black, Hispanic Dems

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By Rich Miller

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Two press conferences held after Gov. JB Pritzker’s recent budget address didn’t receive much news media attention. As the saying goes, coverage follows conflict, and the two pressers were far more subtle and polite in their criticisms of the governor’s plan than those held by Republicans, so they were mostly overlooked.

But clear undercurrents were visible during both events, one held by the Legislative Black Caucus and the other by the Legislative Latino Caucus. Unlike the Republicans, those two caucuses actually have considerable sway over the state’s lawmaking process.

While mostly couched in supportive language of the governor and the majority party leaders, the messages were distinct: Even after years of Democratic control, not nearly enough is still being done to help people in black and Latino communities on every level. Poverty, violence, childcare, healthcare, education, economic development, trade union membership, homelessness. You name it, the services and opportunities are lacking.

So, the two caucuses did a bit of flexing.

RichMiller

Rich Miller

“This year, we will be negotiating from a position of strength,” declared Black Caucus Chair Rep. Carol Ammons. “Our community and our members are the value-add in the General Assembly and nothing can be passed without our members.” Not counting the House Speaker, there are 19 black members in the House and 13 in the Senate, according to the caucus’ website. That’s enough to block a majority vote in both chambers, if they can stick together.

Rep. Ammons (D-Urbana) revealed during the press conference that the caucus plans to release a document in the coming weeks entitled “Leveling the playing field,” which will focus on how to spend state dollars to “invest in building an equitable state and eliminating structural racism.” Dollar figures will be attached to each proposal, Ammons said. If it’s done well, the report could have a significant impact, not only this year, but in years to come.

The Legislative Latino Caucus does not yet have nearly the same numerical strength as the Black Caucus. But the joint caucus now has 16 members, which is higher than ever before. Sen. Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago) firmly declared, “Latino families must benefit equitably from the investments that the state is making.”

Villanueva claimed the Latino population was undercounted in the 2020 U.S. Census; but, she said, “I want everyone to know as they’re hearing this, our community is only growing and our community is young. We aren’t going anywhere. We will be here.” She’s definitely right about that.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning noted a few years ago that while the black population declined in Northeastern Illinois by a few percentage points over 30 years, the Northeastern Illinois Hispanic population had grown to 24.2% of the region’s population, up from 11.5% in 1990. A study last year by the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute found that the average age of Illinois Latinos was 28, compared to 38 for Illinoisans overall. Indeed, a significant number of legislative districts were drawn in 2021 with the anticipation that large numbers of young Latinos would eventually reach an age where they could elect one of their own before the next Census.

On the policy side, Rep. Lilian Jiménez (D-Chicago) echoed criticisms of the budget by groups like the Illinois Partners for Human Service, which decried the lack of adequate funding for community care workers. SEIU Healthcare has a strong presence in the Latino community and some former union staffers are serving in the General Assembly. The union sharply criticized the budget for its lack of funding “to address the cause of the state’s care crisis—the fact is that the crucial jobs that provide home care and childcare services are not good and stable jobs.”

What I laid out above is not a complete picture by any means whatsoever. But I’ve been saying for years and years that the news media here, myself included, needs to focus much more on the internal debates within the super-majority party and its allies because that is where almost all policymaking decisions actually happen in the Illinois General Assembly. The Republicans (which have their own internal divisions and debates) shouldn’t be cut out of the coverage by any means, but the stark reality on the ground is not being conveyed and valid perspectives are too often ignored.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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