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Eye On Illinois: Lawmaker’s new podcast gives insight to House proceedings

Podcasts have been in my life for so long I used to download several episodes on dial-up internet — $10 a month through Juno — and burn the files to a CD to play in my car. My 1998 Buick Century didn’t have a CD player, which meant connecting a portable unit with a cassette adapter.

Despite dozens of shows in my feed, there’s always room for more relevant content. Enter “Have All Voted Who Wish,” from state Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, and Chris Crisanti, of Prairie State Policy, Zalewski’s constituent. (The Illinois House GOP uses the name for a Soundcloud series I’ll cover later.)

With only two episodes, critical judgment is premature. But the first 80 minutes indicate what to expect.

Zalewski is outspoken – he admits as much in the pilot, noting the show’s place on his to-do list for two years – so while the conceit is an insider’s view on the General Assembly, there’s no hiding the fact it’s a partisan production.

The Nov. 10 pilot is 23 minutes of the hosts breaking down the fall veto session. Zalewski discussed the daily structure of lawmakers’ jobs, then they bantered about things like electric vehicle incentives, changes to the sports betting laws and the Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

I might not have clicked play until learning episode two, released Monday, included state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, focusing primarily on his time as House GOP floor leader. Zalewski has been in office since 2009 and Batinick since 2015. Although they clearly chose some words carefully, it was interesting to hear a dissection of significant issues from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s term.

“It is a lot easier being (minority) floor leader when you don’t have the mansion,” Batinick said, acknowledging he turned down the job twice. Batinick, not seeking a fifth term, learned he’s not needed on major issues where his colleagues aren’t confused or conflicted, and that his personal position on a bill usually isn’t relevant to his job as leader.

“My main job is to protect my caucus, that they have the bill vetted out and they know how they’re going to vote,” Batinick said. “So if I don’t speak on a bill, that means I have to know exactly what it did, do my homework in advance, and when you’re doing that, when you’re voting on a hundred bills a day, it’s hard to do that.”

Zalewski countered by explaining concerns about giving Republicans a chance to pull threads leading to questions giving Democrats reason to doubt their own support.

The show thankfully goes beyond rehearsed talking points. Ardent Republicans aren’t the target audience, but open-minded listeners can learn a little about how the legislature works — and hopefully more why.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.