The message was clear and the call for action united as members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus gathered outside the Senate chamber to voice their response to Governor Rauner’s State of the State address.
The press conference began with ILBC Chair Kimberly Lightford giving opening remarks setting the stage for a number of initiatives important to the African-American community to be discussed, including education equity, restoring essential social services and police brutality and incarceration reform.
She then introduced Senator Donne Trotter to the podium.
I would like to stand before you and say, ‘Wow, wasn’t that a great speech,’” said Trotter, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations II Committee. “But I, along with my [fellow] members standing with me, was totally underwhelmed by the governors’ story… pointing the blame to the people who are suffering.”
The Black Caucus has continued to focus on social justice for needy children going without mental health services, struggling parents who have lost home care and the elderly who now have to consider high-cost nursing homes. The caucus fights for these causes while advocating for responsible fiscal management on behalf of state government without saddling these vulnerable populations with an undo financial burden.
“We were all created equal, but that does not mean we were all created equally as rich,” said Sen. Trotter. “We need the support of a governor who understands that, and is willing to lend a hand and direction and governorship to the cause.”
Rep. LaShawn K. Ford talked about the path to economic success, job innovation and a reduction in criminal activity as dependent upon Illinois students being prepared for the workforce – prepared to fill these highly competitive positions.
“We know that without funding community colleges, it is a direct attack on job readiness in the state of Illinois,” said Rep. Ford. He continued, “And we can reduce crime by putting people to work.”
The caucus believes reforming our K-12 education system to benefit all students and giving poorer students just as much of a chance at success as those in the wealthier suburbs is our only just path forward. Illinois can stay competitive with other states when it comes to higher education, but we cannot do it by taking away our state’s biggest tool – MAP grants.
“We need to make sure we are no longer playing games with those who have gotten MAP grants who could be the first generation in their family to go to college, helping their family grasp that wrung of economic opportunity. We need to end [the games] now,” said Mitchell. “And we need to fix the formula now. We need more funding for [K-12] public education.”
Rep. Sonya Harris spoke on the importance of senior care and their lack of assistance under this governor. Due to rising thresholds for service eligibility and staff cuts, there are many seniors who depend on Community Cares and other programs, who are finding themselves without proper care, such as medication monitoring and hot meals.
Rep. Welch pointed out that the caucus didn’t hear the governor talk about ways to keep our universities open to produce the talent we need to stay competitive, while Sen. Van Pelt strongly advocated for a stronger focus on police brutality that the governor did not lay out in his speech.
According to her, police brutality should be a primary concern for the governor, as well as prisoner reintegration, prevention programs and keeping our police accountable.
A sense of lost confidence among African Americans has left many in the community feeling unsure of how to engage the police forces sworn to protect them. Sen. Van Pelt introduced legislation addressing police misconduct records and public access to video and audio records of police encounters.
As the press conference closed, Senator Lightford summed up the Black Caucus’ feelings on the speech, which, according to them, lacked “scope” and “vision.”
“I’m in awe with governor’s speech. He absolutely said nothing to address the homelessness that has taken shape and our [lack of] affordable housing,” said Kimberly A. Lightford. “He said nothing about his lack of governing. In fact, he just spent a lot of time accusing everyone else for not doing their job, when in fact, he has done a lousy job as governor.”
Members of the ILBC speaking at the press conference included, Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chair Senator Kimberly A. Lightford, Senator Donne Trotter, Representative LaShawn K. Ford, Representative Christian Mitchell, Representative Sonya Harper, Representative Chris Welch and Senator Patricia Van Pelt.