There’s government, then there’s politics. The intrigue often is in the overlap.
I’m no insider, but it’s plausible politics is the reason government took a back seat in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. When the official decision came out June 28, Gov. JB Pritzker and other Democrats quickly made noise about convening a special session to strengthen Illinois’ abortion access laws. But within a few weeks, the tone shifted.
The official line is it’s too early to go back to Springfield until there’s more understanding of the national fallout. That position gained credence as advocates waited for the White House to define its own action steps, which didn’t happen until after Independence Day.
However, the political calendar is unavoidable. June 28 was Illinois’ primary, and the full extent of the November ballot certainly wasn’t known then and still is subject to minor changes in coming weeks. So while the people in government had impulse to act, the same people had to weigh the potential for those actions to influence their campaigns.
That’s not a criticism. Generally rushing to vote isn’t ideal, and the General Assembly’s structure provides plenty of room to do meaningful preparatory work, including public sessions, while crafting whatever response seems most practical. But voters should consider that most everything public officials say and do between now and November comes with at least a little – if not predominant – consideration for the electoral implications.
The same can be said of the other white-hot button issue, that of whether the state should enact any new gun safety legislation. Such a topic seemed safely suppressed until the Highland Park Fourth of July parade massacre. Exhibit A for that truth is House Bill 5522, which state Rep. Maura Hirschauer, D-Batavia, introduced Jan. 28. After one reading it went to the Rules Committee, on Feb. 9 it was assigned to the Judiciary-Criminal Committee and on Feb. 18 it went back to Rules.
According to Capitol News Illinois, the bill would make it a felony to buy or sell assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, would require existing owners to register such weapons with state police and prohibit those owners from selling them in-state to anyone but a federally licensed firearms dealer.
State Rep. Margaret Croke, D-Chicago, signed on as a co-sponsor on June 8. She and Hirschauer are first-term lawmakers. Between July 6 and July 11, 50 other House Democrats also became bill sponsors.
The letter of the proposed law hasn’t changed, but political motives are significantly different. Democrats’ muscle here makes it likely Illinois becomes a laboratory for challenging the ability of the federal government to limit the state’s right to address abortion and guns.
The questions are both if and especially when.