Progressive Caucus gels in state House

Reps. Guzzardi, Ammons, Mah seek to seize legislative initiative with majority of voters backing progressive issues

State Rep. Will Guzzardi is among the leaders of a group trying to form a Progressive Caucus in the House. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

State Rep. Will Guzzardi is among the leaders of a group trying to form a Progressive Caucus in the House. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

After last Tuesday’s election, key members of the state House of Representatives are seeking to seize on what they call a “critical moment” to form a Progressive Caucus in the General Assembly.

“We think that the state is heading toward a critical moment,” said state Rep. Will Guzzardi, a Chicago Democrat, on Wednesday. “Voters have handed power to the Democratic Party, and they want to see us do something with it. They’re frustrated with gridlock, they’re frustrated with government inaction, and they’re facing really serious challenges in their daily lives, and they need government to step in and help out.”

According to Guzzardi, he and his Democratic House colleagues Carol Ammons of Urbana and Theresa Mah of Chicago began talking about the possibility of forming a Progressive Caucus last spring, and reached out to about 10 potential members of the House. Last week’s election results convinced them it was time to push forward on the proposal.

“We’ve had good and exciting conversations with a number of people who were elected last Tuesday,” he said. “Some strong progressive voices won their elections,” Guzzardi added, by promoting progressive issues, “so we’re excited about the new batch of folks.”

Guzzardi said they’re going to reach out to those newly elected representatives, as well as the entire House Democratic Caucus, heading toward the next General Assembly to be installed with the new year.

“We’re going to have a proper rollout for this in January,” he said. “At that time, we’ll also roll out our sort of top-tier legislative initiatives.”

Guzzardi said the members of the caucus will determine what’s progressive and what they want to push forward, but he cited popular support for issues like a hike in the minimum wage and a graduated income tax, as reflected in a statewide poll released last month with the launch of the Forward Illinois umbrella group of progressive organizations.

“We have a lot of really good opportunities to partner with that group. We have a lot of shared values,” Guzzardi said. “There’s a lot of overlap there.

“What’s so exciting about this moment politically is that these sorts of progressive ideas” — considered “fringe issues” just a few years ago, he added — “they’ve now entered the mainstream of Democratic Party thinking.”

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker recited almost a laundry list of those issues at the end of his victory speech last week after defeating Gov. Bruce Rauner to set an ambitious agenda going into office. Even House Speaker Michael Madigan issued a statement this week saying he’d be receptive to legalizing marijuana and a graduated income tax.

“We’ve been able to demonstrate they’re broadly popular politically,” Guzzardui added, “not only among Democrats, but also independents and Republicans, too.

“There’s a lot of good forces acting in the same direction, and that really gives us an opportunity to make some meaningful changes next year.”