Windhorst Weekly – December 20, 2020

Dear Friend,

Although the Illinois legislature has not met more than 4 days since March, you might believe the work of the General Assembly is done and everything is just fine.

If you’re like me, however, you might be wondering what in the world is going on in this State, and why the Governor and his staff and agency directors are the only officials making crucial decision in managing the COVID-19 crisis.

From unilaterally deciding which counties belong in which health care regions, to refusing to release data that shows community spread is tied directly to bars and restaurants, failures and fraud in the unemployment system on a massive scale at the Illinois Department of Employment Security, recent revelations of a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home, and an outright refusal to call the legislature back into Session, Governor Pritzker is responsible for the results we are witnessing.

He doesn’t have to be. The Speaker of the House and the Governor both possess the Constitutional power to call the Legislature into Session. We have seen that this can be done in a safe way. Not one outbreak was tied to the House gathering a four-day Session in May. We know more now than we did then about this virus. From day one, the Governor declared government employees ‘essential’.

I agreed with that decision. The people of Illinois deserve a functioning government all the time, but it is especially necessary that government work foo the people it serves in a time of crisis.

While my staff and I have been working regularly to address constituent concerns and resolve their issues with state government, I never believed that the entirety of the legislature would, for months on end, be completely cut out of managing the COVID-19 pandemic and overseeing the agencies charged with carrying out the business of the people of the State of Illinois.

I will continue to demand the legislature return to Springfield, in a safe way following IDPH guidelines, so that we may properly to the job we as Representatives and Senators were elected to do.

Democrat Stonewalling and Partisan Politics Shut Down Madigan Investigation

Southern Illinois – House Democrats shut down further proceedings of the House Special Investigating Committee formed to look into potential conduct unbecoming of a legislator by Mike Madigan on Monday. After the Committee met only twice previously and heard testimony from only one witness, Republican State Representatives from Southern Illinois are sounding off on the decision. 

State Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) says she watched in disgust as Special Investigating Committee Chair Emanuel “Chris” Welch squashed the ability of the committee to issue subpoenas to compel testimony from parties mentioned in the now infamous deferred prosecution agreement entered into by Commonwealth Edison. The deferred prosecution agreement requires ComEd to pay $200 million in fines to the Federal government for its role in a decade-long bribery scheme aimed at influencing and rewarding long-time House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.

“Quite simply, to Democrats that run Illinois government, ethics reform and holding public officials accountable for reprehensible behavior is just not that important,” Bryant said. “The evidence is clear. Chairman Welch called the House Special Investigating Committee a ‘show trial’ and a ‘stunt’. I couldn’t agree more. Chairman Welch’s leadership of this investigation will forever be remembered for its lack of seriousness, lack of due diligence, and lack of legitimate effort to get to the bottom of the serious charges contained in the deferred prosecution agreement that implicates House Speaker Michael J. Madigan as Public Official A.”

State Rep. Patrick Windhorst is a member of the Illinois House Joint Commission on Lobbying and Ethics Reform. Windhorst notes that Committee has not met since March and missed its deadline to file its first report.

“The House Special Investigating Committee was formed using Mike Madigan’s own House Rules. Those Rules allow fellow legislators to fully investigate any behavior, criminal or otherwise, that could be deemed unbecoming of a legislator,” Windhorst said. “This ‘investigating’ committee met only three times, heard from one single witness, and has now adjourned indefinitely. The political protection racket for Mike Madigan continues despite indictments, guilty pleas, and a swirling investigation. What we saw in the House Special Investigating Committee was politics as usual at its worst in Illinois.”

State Rep. Dave Severin says he looks forward to the day that Mike Madigan no longer makes the news. 

“The Democrats in charge of investigating Mike Madigan’s unethical behavior worked hard to protect him this time, stonewalling and completely shutting down the investigation into his potential wrongdoing,” Severin said. “I will be back for the 102nd General Assembly. My first vote will be a big NO on Mike Madigan for Speaker. His reign will come to an end sooner or later. Obviously, the Democrats on the House Special Investigating Committee are Madigan’s allies. There are more than enough Democrats that have indicated that Madigan will not be re-elected as Speaker. Why Democrat members of the House Special Investigating Committee felt the need to protect Mike Madigan and work to keep him in power is beyond my ability to comprehend. The people of our state deserve so much better than this political debacle and failed investigation.”


As Republicans Push for Subpoenas and Testimony, SIC Democrats Shut Down Madigan Investigation – Reaction from Republican SIC Members

House Democrats from the Special Investigating Committee (SIC) looking into the ethical conduct of Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan were successful in shutting down the committee’s work on Monday by refusing to call additional witnesses or to issue subpoenas to Madigan and others with intimate knowledge of a nine-year bribery scheme between Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and the Speaker. After truncating the committee’s work, Democrats voted that the Speaker did not engage in conduct unbecoming of a legislator which constituted a breach of the public trust. The federal investigation into political corruption and Michael J. Madigan continues.

The petition to investigate Speaker Madigan’s alleged involvement with the ComEd scandal was filed by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin in late August. After an initial organizational meeting, the panel met in late September and heard testimony from ComEd and Exelon’s Chief Compliance Officer David Glockner. Glockner provided several hours of testimony and outlined a pattern where Madigan’s closest ally Mike McClain pressured ComEd to provide payments, contracts, jobs and a seat on the ComEd Board of Directors in an effort to gain favor with Speaker Madigan. Subsequent emails supplied by ComEd cemented the notion that McClain was acting on behalf of the Speaker and that the Speaker was aware of the scheme.

Following Monday’s abrupt conclusion of SIC hearings, Leader Durkin said, “The Democratic Party shows again today there is no limit to the lengths they will go to protect Speaker Madigan. Chairman Welch, Rep. Hernandez and Rep. Manley have turned the rule of law on its head by refusing to investigate the charges and demand the testimony of Speaker Madigan in this scandal. I call on Governor Pritzker to finally demand Speaker Madigan resign as it is clear he refuses to answer any questions about his corrupt practices.”

After the meeting, State Rep. Tom Demmer, the ranking Republican member of the SIC, called it a “failure of the House of Representatives.” 

“It was our duty to conduct this investigation to support and try to rebuild the integrity and trust of the House of Representatives,” Demmer said. “But what we saw under the leadership of Chairman Welch was a process that sought not to hear from additional witnesses . . . and sought to bring the committee to a conclusion before we had the information necessary to make a qualified judgment . . . the people deserve to have a speaker of the House who is not the subject of a federal investigation.”

SIC member State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi stated, “If you’ve read these emails, the conduct of the Chairman defies belief. Today he once again spent valuable committee time prescribing all of the reasons why a subpoena to acquire witness testimony might not work. He’s apparently creating a justification for not doing anything.  So the leader of this House ethics investigation is saying that an investigation is too hard and therefore we shouldn’t do it. Allow that notion to search for logic in your brain; too hard equals we can’t and shouldn’t. 

“If, as my colleague Rep. Manley claims, there is nothing untoward about the Speaker’s conduct in his relationship with ComEd, then why won’t he assist the committee in clearing his name? In fact, why wouldn’t he insist on it?Why wouldn’t his allies on the committee who see no untoward behavior want his name fully cleared? An investigative committee is charged with doing all it can to get information relevant to its duty, not shying away from it. It takes neither a lawyer nor a soothsayer to connect the dots as to why that isn’t the case with this committee. 

“This is why people continue to lose faith in the integrity of Illinois government. I don’t blame them for their frustration and their disillusionment. I’m feeling the same way.”

“The SIC was charged with conducting a thorough investigation, but in the end we met three times and heard from just one voluntary witness,” said SIC member State Rep. Grant Wehrli. “There’s not a soul who can say we conducted a thorough investigation. What we did learn through these three meetings, however, is that House Democrats will go to whatever lengths are necessary to protect Mike Madigan from having to testify under oath about his involvement in the bribery scheme. We also learned that corruption and a lack of ethics runs very deep within the House Democrat caucus, and that House Rules may apply to some lawmakers, but they don’t apply to Mike Madigan.”

Wehrli continued, “After decades of corruption in our state, today we had an opportunity to hold one of our own accountable for blatant unethical and possible criminal behavior. Instead, Chairman Welch and committee members Natalie Manley and Elizabeth Hernandez chose protecting their Speaker over taking any tangible steps that would help restore trust in Illinois government. It’s an embarrassment.”


Illinois’ budget deficit leads to spending cuts, push for higher taxes

House and Senate Democrats passed a blatantly unbalanced budget in May 2020 that included a $6.2 billion deficit. This “budget,” to pay bills in Fiscal Year 2021 (which began on July 1, 2020), pledged money the State of Illinois did not have, and still does not have.When asked about this non-existent money, Governor JBPritzker and his Democrat allies predicted that additional federal stimulus funds would arrive and that their income tax constitutional amendment would be approved by Illinois voters in November 2020, giving them the go-ahead to scrape up the missing money.  

However, the November 2020 tax hike amendment was soundly rejected by the voters of Illinois.  The prospects of additional federal relief continue to dim, leading to a major dilemma for the Democrats on how to fill their FY21budget hole.  This week the Governor offered up $711million in spending reductions, including a hiring freeze, grant reductions and operational savings.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin issued the following statement in response to Governor Pritzker’s remarks on his self-inflicted budgetary disaster: 

“Governor Pritzker, President Harmon and Mike Madigan were repeatedly warned about the dire shortfalls in the fantasy budget that relied upon the passage of the graduated tax and a ‘fingers crossed’ hope for a federal bailout. Instead of living within our means, they attempted to trick voters into raising taxes, and were sorely rejected by Democrat, Republican and Independent voters across the state. We hope the Governor uses his authority to call the General Assembly into session so that we can look to move Illinois forward by fixing the problems the Democrats have created.”

Meanwhile, Speaker Madigan faces serious threats from within his own party to his political leadership. Attempting to hold on to the role of Speaker, Madigan is making major promises to members of the House Democratic caucus – including an income tax increase. The Speaker is also positioning himself as the only person with the immense body of political connections needed to pass an alternative package of tax increases that he says are the solution toIllinois’ disastrous finances. The Speaker also soundly rejected the topic of budget cuts in an attempt to put himself in a favorable light within his own tax-and-spend caucus. This position by the Speaker obviously ignores the decades-long span of poor policy choices, fiscal irresponsibility, and alleged criminal conduct in high places over Madigan’s half-century (1971-2020) in office. Our State now has no choice, Speaker Madigan says, but to make him more powerful than ever.  

Illinoisans are fighting back against the tax increases “promised” by Speaker Madigan. To show your opposition to higher taxes, please Sign Our Petition to Say NO to Madigan’s Tax Increases!

IDES – Delays and Fraud Continue on Massive Scale

Rep. Keicher, Rep. Murphy call for hearing on rampant fraud plaguing IDES.  

Two Illinois House Republican legislators are calling for the House State Government Administration Committee to hold an immediate hearing following news of Illinois residents being hung up on, unable to get through by telephone, or having their identity stolen stemming from fraudulent claims for benefits filed in their name with the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).

State Rep. Jeff Keicher, the lone Republican member of the Agency Operation Subcommittee, said “People across Illinois are having their identity stolen left and right in an avalanche of phony unemployment claims. An estimated 250,000 fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits havebeen filed in Illinois since the onset of the pandemic. We have a responsibility to act on this matter not only to hold the Administration accountable on behalf of our constituents, but to fix the damn problem that’s been largely ignored thus far.”

“The fraud plaguing the administration’s handling of unemployment claims at IDES is urgent,” said State Rep. Mike Murphy, the Republican member of the Government Process Subcommittee. “We must have public hearings to get to the root problem and find solutions to not only rein in this problem, but to ensure the families rightfully in need of unemployment benefits have access to them.” 

Keicher and Murphy believe Democratic and Republican members of the House State Government Administration Committee have a responsibility as a co-equal House and a co-equal branch of government to provide oversight, call witnesses, and get to the bottom of exactly why IDES continues to suffer grievous lapses in its ability to process claims in a timely manner, distinguish between valid claims and fraudulent claims, and protect the personal information of Illinois residents.

The representatives assert the committee should be able to schedule an in-person hearing, in accordance with appropriate health and safety procedures, on fraud within the IDES system now that the Veterans’ Affairs Committee has safely held an in-person hearing on Wednesday regarding the recent COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans Home.  

“This is a critical support structure for our residents.  I’m crushed that we cannot get the Administration to be more responsive in the face of such overwhelming need,” said Keicher, “I’m hopeful Chairwoman Kifowit will agree our work is urgent.”

Hearing on COVID-19 outbreak at LaSalle Veterans Home illustrates Pritzker Administration’s slow response.  

On Wednesday, December 16, the Illinois House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held an in-person hearing in Chicago in response to the tragic deaths of 33 veterans at the LaSalle Veterans Home.

State Rep. Jeff Keicher participated in the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on the recent COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans Home and the Pritzker Administration’s response.

“The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is thankful for the opportunity to meet safely to work to get to the bottom of what exactly happened at LaSalle Veterans Home.  I am determined to honor the lives lost by doing what we can to get answers and provide oversight to avoid another situation like this from occurring in the future,” Rep. Keicher said. “I am encouraged about the implementation of Dr. Avery Hart’s specific recommendations to improve symptom screening, testing and staff management at our veterans’ homes in addition to the plan in place to vaccinate residents beginning later this month in partnership with CVS.  However, there were failures here that cannot go unaddressed.”

Rep. Keicher joined all Republican members of the committee in sending a letter on November 10 to Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, the Chairperson of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, requesting an immediate hearing and swift response to the outbreak, pledging to work together on a bipartisan basis. Kifowit did not respond to the Republicans’ request until December 4, and the hearing itself was not held until December 16. 

Wednesday’s hearing revealed that, inexplicably, it took twelve days from the initial outbreak at LaSalle before the Illinois Department of Public Health sent personnel to conduct an infection control assessment, by which time the outbreak had spread throughout the Home and lives had already been lost. It was not until December 10 that Governor Pritzker announced that Illinois National Guard medical staff were being sent to the LaSalle Veterans Home to assist with COVID-19 testing and screening at the facility.

“I remain extremely frustrated by the slowness of the Administration’s initial response to the outbreak, and how long it took for this hearing to be scheduled,” Rep. Keicher added. “We grieve the 33 lives that have been lost among our heroes living at LaSalle. They and their families deserved better protection from the state responsible for their care during the crucial first days of the outbreak.”

State Representative Brad Stephens, a member of theHouse Veterans’ Affairs Committee, released the following statement after participating in the hearing looking into the Covid-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans Home:

“During the hearing, we learned that several safety protocols and CDC recommendations were not followed, and the Covid-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans Home could have been prevented. There were issues with staff not being equipped with the right PPE as well as the home using non-CDC recommended hand sanitizer. It was deeply concerning how asymptomatic workers who tested positive were encouraged to continue working their shift after they learned of their positive test result.

“The testimony from the Department of Veterans Affairs has brought up many more questions than it answered. I am committed to working with both my Republican and Democrat colleagues and the administration to determine the cause of this outbreak and find solutions.

“My heart goes out to the nearly three dozen families that lost their loved one due to this preventable outbreak. At this moment, we don’t need finger-pointing. We need answers. The committee should hold those at fault in the Department accountable, but more importantly, should ensure no other home has an outbreak and that our veterans are safe.”

Rep. Severin on LaSalle Veterans’ Home COVID-19 Outbreak and Administrative Failures

My friend and fellow Southern Illinois Republican State Representative Dave Severin penned an op-ed after he attended a hearing of the Illinois House Veterans’ Affairs Committee this week. I wanted to say thank you to Dave for his passion in caring for the health and well-being of our Veterans’ and for offering the following op-ed explaining the breakdowns and failures at LaSalle.

Op-Ed from State Rep. Dave Severin on the COVID-19 Outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home

On Wednesday, I traveled to Chicago to attend the first of what I hope are several hearings into the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home.

Committee testimony revealed systemic communications breakdowns and inexcusable delays from the top down across several agencies. Gov. JB Pritzker, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Linda Chapa LaVia, and the Illinois Department of Public Health all bear responsibility for the delayed response. That delay has now lead to the death of 33 Illinois veterans in the care of the State of Illinois from COVID-19.

A few examples include the admission by Veterans’ Affairs Director Chapa LaVia that she herself did not talk to the Governor about the outbreak at LaSalle for several days into the crisis. Also, after the first case was detected on November 1, it took 11 full days before the Illinois Department of Public Health had staff inside the facility to help mitigate the outbreak. Also, it was revealed that some hand sanitizer that was being used did not meet the requirements necessary to ensure coronavirus bacteria was being eliminated.

There were also major concerns we had about staffing levels, the behavior of staff acting outside of the facility (attending large gatherings around Halloween), and issues with the HVAC system and leaving open doors of rooms where COVID-19 positive patients were being treated. Because this is an airborne disease, these issues will undoubtedly continue to come up because of the aging infrastructure at many Illinois State Veterans’ Homes.
What we learned at the first hearing into the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the LaSalle Veterans’ Home is disturbing, and we believe based on witness testimony that this outbreak likely could have been prevented and lives could have been saved. The people in charge didn’t move fast enough, and the consequences have been deadly and tragic.

At the very least, Illinois’  Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and most certainly the Governor could have moved faster to stem the tide of the outbreak. There was little to no communication between the ‘top-brass’ at any department involved for far too long into the crisis.

While we all join the families in mourning the lives of 33 Illinois heroes under the care of the State of Illinois that have been lost, the appropriate parties have not come forward to say “This is on me.” And take some responsibility for this tragedy.

This is not political. There are serious issues we must investigate so we can ensure veterans under the care of the State of Illinois at LaSalle and at all Illinois Veterans’ Homes are protected.

When it was my turn to address the Committee, I spoke of my own experience as a young man working as an employee for my family’s nursing home in Benton.

My parents taught their 9 children to take pride in meeting and exceeding state standards for care. Whether state inspectors were coming that day or not, we worked diligently to provide the best care to the residents of our facility because we loved and respected them.

The residents we served were beloved mothers, fathers, brothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, business owners, community leaders, and the list goes on. Quite simply, they were an extension of our family and they deserved the best.

This attitude should be instilled from the top down at LaSalle Veterans’ Home and in fact, every Veterans’ home under the jurisdiction of the State of Illinois.

I will continue to demand hearings into the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at LaSalle Veterans’ Home and I will continue to monitor the situation at all veterans’ homes in Illinois. We cannot tolerate the kinds of breaches in protocol and breakdowns in communications as we have uncovered at LaSalle.

Our veterans and their families deserve the truth, and we must work collaboratively harder than ever to ensure this never happens again.
We can save lives in the future if we can get answers to questions about the tragic COVID-19 outbreak at LaSalle Veterans’ Home. The legislature must have a continuing role in overseeing the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and indeed all agencies that serve the people of Illinois.

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