Mazzochi, House GOP Questions Pritzker Move to Vacate Patronage Ban amid Madigan/ComEd Scandal

In a recent court filing, Governor Pritzker is seeking to vacate a set of court decrees that seek to prevent politically motivated hiring, as well as politically motivated firings or other punishments against public employees known as the Shakman decrees. Against the backdrop of one of the largest patronage scandals in the history of the state involving House Speaker Michael Madigan and ComEd, State Representatives Deanne Mazzochi (R-Elmhurst), Tim Butler (R-Springfield), and Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) held a press conference questioning Pritzker’s move.

“This year we’ve seen federal authorities indict and secure guilty pleas from Democratic members of the General Assembly for bribery and fraud,” said Rep. Mazzochi. “ComEd admitted to multiple pay-to-play schemes to bribe the most powerful politician in the state, Mike Madigan, and his cabal of loyal minions. I caught Pritzker’s administration using state funds to hire his campaign worker through a no-bid vendor contract. And now Pritzker demands that the courts get rid of prohibitions designed to stop government employee political machines? Now is not the time to make corrupt government easier.”

The Shakman decrees consist of three federal court orders issued as a result of a class-action lawsuit filed by Michael Shakman against the Democratic Organization of Cook County. The decrees, issued in 1972, 1979 and 1983, prohibit politically motivated firings, demotions, transfers or other punishments of government employees. It is also unlawful to take any political factor into account when hiring public employees, except for positions such as policymaking.  These decrees are binding on more than 40 offices statewide, including the Governor’s office. 

“While Speaker Madigan is embroiled in one of the worst patronage hiring schemes in the history of our state, why is Gov. Pritzker trying to remove a system that prevents patronage hiring and firing in government? It makes no sense,” said Rep. Butler. “We should be taking steps to strengthen the law against patronage. If the Governor would stop trying to go it alone and work with the General Assembly, we could be doing that right now.”

Despite the Governor’s push to vacate the decrees, the court-appointed monitor for the state’s hiring practices, Noelle Brennan, reported earlier this year that Pritzker’s administration still has not completed a comprehensive employment plan to address the issues protected by the decrees. In fact, she said the administration began restricting communication between her staff and state agencies.

“This is a step in the wrong direction taking place at the wrong time,” said Rep. Wehrli. “We are continually hearing of new instances where people in high positions of public trust are abusing that trust and providing their friends with jobs. If Governor Pritzker is truly interested in raising the ethical bar for public officials in Illinois, rather than trying to vacate the decree he should be seeking to expand it.”

During the press conference, the representatives noted that this latest revelation gives even more credence to Republican calls for a special session to address the state’s ethics laws and the scandal surrounding Speaker Madigan and ComEd.

Video of the press conference is available here.